Platforming Needs More Wario

As Mario villains go, Wario has been one of the most fascinating characters to ever square off against Nintendo’s portly plumber. With his trademark grin, Wario is an anti-hero through and through, but despite his unique character and microgame empire, he’s been under-represented in the platforming market. That needs to change. It’s time to get Wario back on stage.

Wario first appeared in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the Game Boy. Designed as the “anti-Mario”, Wario had a twisted appearance, the perfect parallel to Nintendo’s iconic hero. After an enthusiastic reception from gamers, he re-appeared as a villain in the Japan-only game Mario and Wario. It was Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 that gave Wario his first role as a protagonist. The Wario Land series’ stylistic action gave it a distinct identity, and Wario Land 3 and 4 both earned mass critical acclaim. Even the ill-fated Virtual Boy has a respectable Wario Land entry to call its own. Wario was a dominant force on Nintendo’s handhelds as he waddled into the new millenium.

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But Wario’s true claim to fame is the bizarre WarioWare series. Beginning on the Game Boy Advance, each WarioWare game features Wario and his team developing “microgames” to sell to the public. Each microgame is barely seconds long, requiring very simple button inputs to complete. The catch is that these short bursts are delivered in quick succession, getting faster and trickier as the player moves forward. Back in the aughts, WarioWare was a huge departure from the pitch-perfect platforming of Wario Land, but its original premise and wacky design made it the ideal on-the-go game. The barrage of microgames continued, with WarioWare games appearing on the Gamecube, Nintendo DS, Wii and even the DSi Shop.

While WarioWare is a fantastic series rich with originality, Wario’s platforming empire has fallen a ways since his glory days on the Game Boy Advance. Wario World for Gamecube presents a weird mix of puzzles, platforming and beat-em-up mechanics that suffers from repetition, despite its creative art design. Wario: Master of Disguise on DS is a mediocre excuse for a platformer, while Wario Land: Shake It! on Wii is fantastic but sadly far too short. In the new decade Wario has had a quieter life. Game & Wario represents WarioWare-style gaming on Wii U, while Wario’s platformer series has been notoriously quiet.

Over time, Nintendo was able to distinguish Wario from Mario by giving the character plenty of greedy charm. Wario’s desire for coin makes him the perfect anti-hero, a character driven by avarice instead of honor. Every game Wario stars in has been a cash grab (for Wario, I mean). His goal is always to earn as much treasure and wealth as possible, even if it means pushing aside allies or friends to get it. Unlike Mario’s mindless heroism, Wario does good, but not for good’s sake. He’s by far one of Nintendo’s best developed characters, a fat, greedy miser worth rooting for.

Wario’s future is secure as long as WarioWare exists, but it would be interesting to see Wario return to platforming for a change. His games are more action-focused than Mario’s nimble platforming, and the introduction of puzzles and secrets has given the series a great sense of depth. Wario charges into enemies instead of only jumping on them. He uses powerful helmets instead of quirky power-up items. He ruthlessly hoards gems to up his bank account. He’d rather cut the crap and get rich than save any sort of princess.

But how can Wario Land survive in an age of Meat Boys and Shovel Knights? The last major Wario Land game, Wario Land: Shake It! on Wii, relied on an unnecessary gimmick that overshadowed some fantastic level design. In this world of downloadable games, however, Wario Land’s bite-sized addiction can find a home for an affordable price. Even better, why not get the under-represented Waluigi on board? Waluigi has been ridiculed over the years as being no more than an “anti-Luigi”, so getting him involved in a Wario Land platformer sounds like a no-brainer. If you thought New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s coin grabbing was chaotic, think of cooperative hoarding with Wario and Waluigi  (New Super Wario Brothers?). It might be greedy to ask for such a game, but as Wario would say, “greed is good.”

Wario is a character that needs more exposure. From his distinctive personality to his edgier platforming, he’s the definitive anti-hero. His games have always been unique in the face of Mario’s, especially his spacey platforming adventures. The Wario Land series has become one of the best received series on the Game Boy hardware, so it fits to revisit the retro charm for a new generation. The eShop is ripe for greed to grow and Wario is the gardener to cultivate the crops.