Twenty years after its launch, the GBA basic Wario Land 4 stays an enchanting artifact. It’s not solely an achieved platformer that would rival any 2D Mario outing from the identical period, but additionally a transparent dedication to growing an aesthetic texture for Wario video games that has knowledgeable lots of Wario’s subsequent appearances. There are lots of components that contribute to this texture, corresponding to Wario’s now-iconic sleazy charms or Charles Martinet’s vocal efficiency. However, the side that leaves the most important impression in 2021 is the vary of weird audio experiences within the game. Wario Land 4’s soundtrack, notably the game’s haunting “sound room” unlockables, talk a novel sound for Wario that’s still related to the character a long time later.

In order to grasp Wario Land 4, you want solely take a look at its introductory cutscene and title display. Sound rumbles from the Game Boy Advance’s small audio system as Wario begins up his automobile and units out on his journey, listening to a vibrant funk track with lyrics which are troublesome to discern due the audio’s hefty compression. This similar observe rings out on the primary menu as Wario drives throughout an infinite desert panorama, till you finally hit the beginning button, prompting him to advance. There’s a rhythmic high quality to this intro sequence that by no means loses its power irrespective of what number of instances you expertise it.

Wario Land 4 Game Boy game screenshot, Wario is jumping over lava. The art style is pixelated.

Image: Nintendo

In gameplay, the soundtrack spans a powerful number of genres to accompany the frenetic nature of Wario hopping between completely different worlds. Most of those tracks are catchy, lyricless loops that attempt to complement the places they’re utilized in, that includes every little thing from upbeat romantic pop to the visceral progressive rock that accompanies the timed escapes from every degree.

The game’s sound room, nevertheless, is the place the audio expertise of Wario Land 4 takes a flip for the bizarre. There are 16 solely new tracks within the sound room, that are unlocked by discovering discs hidden inside secret passages in every of the degrees. Each of those tracks goads you with ominously summary titles corresponding to “About That Shepherd” or “Tomorrow’s Blood Pressure.” You can be forgiven for considering that you just’re immediately accessing the soundtrack of one other game, particularly when you hit play and let the weird audio sequences play out.

On first pay attention, you may attempt to invent a connection between the names of the tracks and the sounds they label. The first observe, “About That Shepherd,” is just a few canines barking in a windy area, with rare sheep sounds. Sure, you may suppose, a shepherd’s life may sound like that. “Tomorrow’s Blood Pressure” has a heavy, industrial really feel to it, a moody sequence of whirring equipment and discordant notes that convey a way of looming hazard. This is becoming to the thought of tomorrow’s blood stress, which evokes anxiousness just because it’s a future occasion, forcing you to ponder all the harmful potentialities of this upcoming blood stress within the time spent ready for it. Whilst these two tracks have the strongest hyperlink between their names and sounds, there’s still a contact of ambiguity that’s key to the central weirdness of the Wario Land 4 sound room.

The two tracks above current a false sense of safety, nevertheless, because the connections between Wario Land 4’s sound room tracks and their titles solely get extra nebulous. For a lot of the sound room audio, there isn’t an apparent hyperlink between the titles, sounds and the small quantity of visuals that accompany them. “The Moon’s Lamppost” merely reverses the melody of the game’s most upbeat lyrical observe, “Palm Tree Paradise,” with a purpose to create one thing far more whimsical and eerie. “The Short Futon” can solely be described as an trade of terse whispers with an underlying musical accompaniment: it’s one thing extremely regular that’s made weirder by Wario Land 4 combining it with music. These unsettling sounds make the most of the Game Boy’s restricted audio capabilities, a obscure title and an abrasive premise to create complicated and even barely scary sound bytes.

Wario Land 4’s sound room is a digital music field that’s equal components humorous and unsettling. It intrigued me after I first performed the game as a baby, and it continues to intrigue me as we speak. While many video games as we speak have unlockable bonus content material, few are an experimental artwork piece that incentivizes discovering collectables as a way to giggle at (and maybe uneasily ponder) no matter unusual disc might be unearthed subsequent. In hindsight, it feels at residence as a part of a Wario game. The sound room is a surprisingly satisfying set of musical distractions that orbit the understated strangeness that WarioWare titles have turn into all about.

Although we could by no means get one other game within the Wario Land sequence, facets of its allure dwell on within the expertise of WarioWare. The WarioWare sequence relishes within the odd audio that Wario Land 4 largely saved remoted to this sound room, embracing the fusion of the mundane and the musical to create some profoundly offbeat microgames. Through its audio, Wario Land 4 appears like a key evolutionary hyperlink in what Wario has gone on to turn into. The sound room was a necessary a part of that, even whether it is still fairly unsettling.