Pizza Tower Is the Best New Wario Land Game We’ll Probably Ever Get

Pizza Tower isn't one of the biggest games of 2023, but it's a slice of heaven for Wario Land fans everywhere.

Pizza Tower
Photo: Tour De Pizza

Though delays and disappointments are inevitable, 2023 really is shaping up to be an all-time great year for gaming. In fact, it’s the kind of year that is so stacked that some games (even great ones) will inevitably get lost in the shuffle. There’s just sadly never enough time to play everything worth playing.

Yet, for fans of the long-dormant Wario Land franchise, there is only one game in 2023 that really matters. It’s called Pizza Tower, and I’m not kidding when I tell you that it has the potential to be one of the year’s best games.

Pizza Tower (available on Steam) is a 2D platformer that tells the tale of a “surprisingly agile and powerful fat balding Italian” (the developer’s words, not mine) chef named Peppino Spaghetti. Spaghetti’s peaceful life running a pizza shop is interrupted one day when the nefarious Pizza Face informs the chef that he intends to shoot a laser from atop Pizza Tower and destroy Spaghetti’s pizza store. Naturally, Spaghetti must climb to the top of Pizza Tower in order to stop Pizza Face and save his store.

You probably won’t believe me when I tell you that Pizza Tower boasts an emotionally rewarding and thematically complex story, and you’d be right to be skeptical. The game is…silly, and that’s putting it mildly. However, the game embraces that silliness like few others could ever hope to do. Its ’90s Nickelodeon-style visuals and humor invoke that rare style of childish surrealism that is often funny yet vaguely dangerous. This game walks a fine line between jovial and mean-spirited in a way that few recent examples of that style come close to achieving.

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You’re not really coming to Pizza Tower for the story and style, though. Those are the topping atop the pizza pie of its Wario Land-like gameplay.

What is Wario Land-like gameplay? Well, besides the obvious, it’s a style of 2D platforming gameplay that emphasizes momentum, abilities, and almost Metroidvania-like exploration over precision jumps and similar genre tropes. Such games often see you tear through levels, destroying much in your path as you use transformative abilities and special items to solve progression-based puzzles and find hidden items.

If you’re not necessarily familiar with that style, that’s probably because we haven’t gotten a new Wario Land game in about 15 years. Tributes to those titles have also been few and far between. Once upon a time, though, the Wario Land formula attracted a pretty sizeable cult following. Some went so far as to say that they began to prefer the Wario Land games to 2D Super Mario titles of the time. That’s especially true of 2001’s Wario Land 4, which might be the Game Boy Advance’s best game and one of Nintendo’s finest 2D platformers ever.

From the jump, Pizza Tower emphasizes one of the most missed elements of that gameplay formula: momentum. Notice that I said momentum and not speed. Peppino Spaghetti is not a particularly speedy man, but through a series of special techniques, you can help him reach speeds nature clearly never intended for him to see. What’s especially impressive about the game’s tightly tuned-momentum system is that the Wario Land games were never quite this fast. They emphasized weight-based momentum, but they rarely allowed you to become the absolute wrecking ball that Peppino Spaghetti so often is. It’s a truly impressive bit of design that goes far beyond tribute.

Much like Wario Land, though, much of the joy of controlling Peppino Spaghetti stems from the fact that he’s essentially invincible outside of the game’s excellent boss fights. You occasionally have to race against the clock and collect items needed to progress, but nothing can really stop you. The only serious consequence of taking “damage” (such as it is) is losing your momentum and sacrificing some points from the game’s Devil May Cry-like grading system. Even still, the game remains challenging enough to ensure that it never reduces itself to the level of a power fantasy. You always feel satisfyingly in control, and you’ll always strive to do a little better or a little more just to see what kind of things you can get away with. 

Actually, much like the Wario Land games, the word that really separates Pizza Tower from pretty much everything else out there is “mischief.” 

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It always feels like you’re getting away with something in Pizza Tower. As you acquire new abilities (some of which are limited to specific stages) that allow you to do things like fly, spit fire, wear a suit of armor, become a ghost, and so much more, you’ll gleefully begin to explore all the places you can reach and do all the things you can do that weren’t possible before. Some levels even introduce more elaborate gimmicks that effectively change the game’s genre. Some of them honestly work a bit better than others, but most of them simply allow you to refresh your love for the core game design and appreciate it in a slightly new light.

You see similar ideas in most Metroidvania titles, but Pizza Tower never feels like an intricate labyrinth-sized puzzle that you slowly piece together (even when that’s exactly what it is). Actually, it always feels like you’re breaking something or getting through a level in a way that was never intended. There is method (and skill) to the madness of uncovering the game’s various hidden items and unlocking new areas, but the joy of the thing is often found in uncovering them without having to sacrifice the maniacal pleasure of the core gameplay. 

Remember that feeling of discovering that first hidden block in Super Mario Bros? Imagine constantly recreating that sensation while blazing through a level as a middle-aged cannonball of a pizza chef who is typically fueled by some malady inflicted upon him by an enemy and is more than happy to return the favor. 

The fear of returning to any game (or game concept) that has been dormant for a long time is the distinct possibility that you’ll realize you miss the idea of a thing, or your memories of it, more than the thing itself. Remarkably, that fear has been baked into Pizza Tower’s DNA. It’s a game that seems more interested in recreating your memories of Wario Land rather than exactly how those games played. As a result, Pizza Tower is faster, crazier, sillier, and, dare I say, sometimes even better than the material that so clearly inspired it. 

I’d love to tell you that Nintendo will make another Wario Land game. However, I’m not confident they ever will, and you shouldn’t be either. Franchises don’t get revived just because they deserve it, and if took this long to get a proper new Metroid game, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath for Wario to make a comeback. The shame of it is that I’m sure Nintendo could knock a new Wario Land game out of the park and that fans of the franchise would flock to that revival sooner than they would give Pizza Tower a shot. 

However, don’t overlook Pizza Tower just because the name on the box says Peppino Spaghetti. It’s a slice of Wario Land built upon the sauce that makes that franchise so special and topped with a generous helping of cheese. It can be difficult to find room for games like Pizza Tower when our eyes are locked in on the biggest titles coming out this year, but when you play a game like this that is smaller, made with love, and designed to be fun above all else, you start to realize that it’s exactly the kind of game that’s often missing from the modern gaming experience. Wario Land fans certainly knead it in their lives, but dough not overlook this one if you’ve been finding yourself dreaming of a game that just wants to be a good time. 

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