Nintendo is known for its memorable characters; the plucky and helpful Mario, his cowardly yet determined brother Luigi, the quiet and heroic Link. But then there’s Wario. Within 20 years a character that embodies just about every negative aspect of humanity has become a beloved character with fame almost equal to Mario. So how did a character that started out as an antagonist created in a non-Miyamoto Mario game turn into a Nintendo regular and fan-favorite with more games than Luigi under his belt? With Game & Wario, which serves to be a spiritual successor to WarioWare, on the way I decided to look into Wario as a character and examine what exactly keeps this anti-hero going.
The team behind the Super Mario Land series, Nintendo R&D1, didn’t like making a game based around someone else’s character, (and considering that character was the one-dimensional Mario it’s no wonder) so Hiroji Kiyotake, one of the team’s directors and graphic designers, designed a character to be a grotesque caricature of the family-friendly plumber. And so Wario was born. But Wario doesn’t simply serve as an antithesis to Mario in appearance alone, but personality. Where Mario collects coins, Wario craves money and treasure. Where Mario finds power in mushrooms, Wario finds it in garlic. Where Mario is humble and helpful, Wario is a self-serving show-off.
In the Wario Land series you can see his personality reflected in the gameplay. Wario picks up his enemies and uses them as projectiles to get him through obstacles and has no problem using brute force to smash through blocks or plow over enemies. In Wario World he uses wrestling-style moves, taking advantage of his girth to take down enemies. The hyper-suction (where he opens his mouth to suck in treasure in a way that would make Kirby blush) is practically all of Wario’s personality summed up into one move.
Wario’s personality is a main component of his ads.
Wario is a fat, greedy, brutish slob who would likely sell his mother for a slice of pizza (without any garlic), so why the hell is he so popular? The fact is characters like Wario have always appealed to audiences. From Fred Flintstone to Homer Simpson to Deadpool to Bender, people have always seemed to love ill-tempered, slobby jerks, but the one trait that I believe seals the deal of appeal is Wario’s confidence. In just about every one of Wario’s appearances (outside of maybe a few sports spin-offs) Wario seems perfectly content with who he is and what he does. Deep down I think we all have a bit of Wario inside of us looking to get out because Wario is an embodiment of Id, our primal urges and desire to tell common courtesy and social norms to fuck off for a while. Wario lacks a sense a shame, which is, in a way, admirable. In a cut scene in Wario Land: Shake it, Wario literally shoves aside the chance at romance with a princess for treasure, a choice many real men would be willing to take. I think we all wish we could be a fat thief who does nothing but eat all day, maybe just for a little while at least.
Wario has gone from a parody serving as a villain, to the star of an excellent series of platformers and a constant competitor in Mario’s sports and party game spin-offs, and now seems to have found an as-of-now permanent place as a party game mascot. While I’ve enjoyed some of the earlier WarioWare games I’m not sure how to feel about Game & Wario, even with the developer being Nintendo SPD (which is made up of several members from Nintendo R&D1). Just like Rayman, Wario has fallen into the trap of hosting party games instead of his own games, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Wario is definitely the most popular character of the WarioWare franchise, I’d be worried he would get phased out like Rayman was for a while. Still, being the mascot of a game series, and being the playable star are two very different things.
It’s been five years since Wario’s last true game, Wario Land: Shake it, and with Game & Wario being released it may be even longer before we see Wario return to true form. While I’m sure Wario will never be tossed away, I’m concerned we won’t get a game that matches the glory of the Wario Land series for a while. If we’re lucky maybe we’ll get “Wario Origins” in a few years.