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4 Features

History Lesson: Wario

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 1st Dec 2013 at 10:00 AM UTC

Wario is the joker in Nintendo's pack.

Mario, Link and Samus - the weight of expectation always falls heavily on their shoulders. With each new release, they have to jump, roll and scan like Nintendo's very future depends on it. Not so with Wario.

There's a lightness, a levity to his body of work's expectations that Nintendo's developers clearly find liberating. It's as if his next game could break his career, be bad enough to wipe Wario from the face of the world, and Nintendo couldn't care less.

Perhaps in some small way it would love the garlic-scoffing anti-Mario to one day fall flat on his big mauve hooter; he began life as a semi-spiteful parody of Nintendo's beloved mascot, and Wario's enduring popularity in the face of adversary says something quite damning about the Disneyfied land of morals inhabited by Mario and Wario.

Perhaps secretly we empathise more with the hopelessly materialistic Wario than goody brown-shoes Mario. Deep down, we'd all rather chase pounds over princesses.

Wario first appeared on the scene as the antagonist in Super Mario Land: 6 Golden Coins, a portable title developed by Gunpei Yokoi's Nintendo Research & Development 1 team. Although the idea of an evil counter-Mario might seem obvious, his creation supposedly stemmed from R&D1's dissatisfaction with having to work with Mario, a character it hadn't invented.

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Wario was its counter-culture, an overblown doppelganger who was everything Mario was not. The name was a portmanteau of 'Mario' and 'warui', the Japanese adjective for 'wrong', and the symmetry between Mario's M and Wario's W meant that this in-joke carried into English effortlessly.

Hiroji Kiyotake, perhaps most famous for designing Samus Aran, ensured that its perversion of the Mario character was reflected in Wario's design, with Mario's rounded, friendly features distorted into a mass of uneven teeth and serrated moustache hair. Far from a mere palette swap, the Wario character was one with its own mystique.

Part of this is because Wario has no real official backstory, although Nintendo's official magazine once ran a comic explaining that Mario and Wario were childhood chums, but their youthful frolics would always end up with Wario on the wrong end of a Thwomp-flattening or similar, embittering the purple-dungareed young man.

Despite his unexpected popularity, it was still a big surprise when R&D1 chose to give the distended chubster top billing for Mario Land 3 (aka Wario Land). Wario Land was a supremely inventive title, both in terms of mechanics and in terms of the premise.

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For the first time, Nintendo gamers had the chance to take a walk on the evil side. Wario had no nobler goal than to earn enough money to blag himself a replacement castle, and his overpowered frame allowed him to take out most enemies simply by butting into them. After years of siding with frail buffoons such as Mario and Luigi, to have this amount of power was nothing short of cathartic.

The Wario Land series continued to operate with a healthy degree of distance between the player and Wario, however, allowing R&D1 to play around with Wario's flair for the slapstick. To progress, the player had to set Ol' Greedychops on fire, or flatten him, or fatten him up foie gras style. But it was okay. He's an evil idiot, and he's hard enough to take it, anyway.

Despite Wario Land's critical success, Wario as a character floundered, reduced to making up the numbers in Mario sports titles, until R&D1 (operating under the SPD moniker after an internal reshuffle) happened upon what would become WarioWare's microgame formula.

The discovery was made while SPD was playing around with the minigames lurking within the ill-fated N64 DD's Mario Artist: Polygon Studio package, which followed the same template albeit at a more sedate pace. According to sources within SPD, Wario was chosen to head up the series mainly because it had nothing else for him at the time, but also because it felt that Wario's penchant for doing stupid things (and affinity for getting hurt in comical ways) would be a perfect fit for WarioWare's madcap insanity.

History shows that it was right on the money. Wario was once again lifted into the public's conscious and is now one of Nintendo's most famous mascots. When you can go to a game store and buy a Wario plushie off the peg, you know that a line has been crossed. No matter how many times Nintendo shuffles its pack from now on, there will always be Wario - the joker - somewhere in the deck.

Diary of a badman

Wario has now been around for 21 years, and in that time he's been involved in more than his fair share of unique and bonkers Nintendo experiences.

To list every game Wario ever appeared in would be an enormous (and tiresome) feat, so instead here's a potted history of the key highlights in the career of Nintendo's finest anti-hero.