Originally posted on Kombo.
It all began with a Foreman named Spike.
Appearing in the 1985 Nintendo game Wrecking Crew, Spike appeared as a rival to Mario and Luigi, wreaking havoc around the construction sites at which they worked, and periodically racing the players to find hidden gold coins in bonus stages. While whether or not this R&D1 character was a direct inspiration is unclear, he helped establish that an anti-Mario character would be something of a greedy troublemaker. However, Wrecking Crew would be the last time we would see anything of the sort from Nintendo… until 1992.
Greed is Good
Fifteen years ago in November, Nintendo released Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the portable Game Boy system. Created by Gumpei Yokoi’s R&D1 team, Super Mario Land 2 was a different Mario game from the norm. As was characteristic of the team’s other games, such as Metroid and Kid Icarus, the first Super Mario Land, released in 1989, seemed to adhere a little more closely to conventions of science fiction and mythology than those of Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. Utilizing settings reminiscent of ancient Egypt and China, and granting Mario the ability to fly airplanes and pilot submarines to fight aliens and running Easter Island-styled heads, R&D1’s Mario game held its own distinct flavor from its contemporaries.
Of course, as good as Super Mario Land was, it has been said that the team had a distaste for developing games for someone else’s character, one whom they had no creative passion for. And so it was that a solution seemed to present itself as they were developing the second-such game, Super Mario Land 2. For within, they were able to create a new character, one of their very own that would “symbolize their situation.”
Upon his return from saving Sarasaland in the first Super Mario Land, Nintendo’s heroic plumber discovered that the castle of Mario Land had been taken over by a dastardly new villain. Through sunken submarines, giant clockwork statues, and even the moon itself, Mario ventured forth to gather the titular 6 Golden Coins which would unlock the final castle, and allow him to face his new nemesis.
Unlike the giant gorillas, aliens, or demon turtles Mario had tangled with over the years, this villain was of a different sort, one the likes of which has been passed down through the ages, from the Doppelgänger of folklore, the Bizarro Superman and Venom of comic books, or even the Mirror Universe of Star Trek. And so one that fit the style of R&D1.
And so came the creation of Wario, whose name seems to come from the Japanese adjective for bad, “warui” and “Mario,” literally meaning “bad Mario.” That the two words would combine together so seamlessly, that the first initial would be the inverse of Mario’s, could be considered nothing less than a masterstroke to Hiroji Kiyotake’s design.
Mario’s googly-eyed, pointy-eared opposite proved to be everything he was, only not. Whereas Mario was a little portly, Wario could make the walls shake with his massive girth, and where Mario was strong, Wario was virtually Herculean. Mario’s features held a friendly roundness to them, while Wario’s were jagged and pointy, from their ears to their noses to their shoes, and even their signature mustaches. While Mario was seen as a kind, helpful, generous soul, Wario was mean, belligerent, and most of all, greedy. And as players would find out upon reaching the end of the final level of Super Mario Land 2, Wario was capable of using all the same powers Mario could, alongside a handful of other sneaky tricks.
In retrospect, one has to wonder if perhaps it was R&D1’s distaste of being “forced into developing Mario Land games” that lead to the creation of a character whose very concept owes to being everything Nintendo’s mascot was not. One might even speculate that if such resentment were to exist, that Wario might be akin to how the developers had come to view Mario. And if that were indeed the case, then there’s little doubt that his creators would have allowed themselves a small chuckle as Wario’s popularity took off, allowing him to effectively become to R&D1 what Mario was to Nintendo EAD.
I’m-a Gonna Win!
Shortly after Wario made his debut appearance, Nintendo opted to give him his very own origin story, one that would actually leave fans scratching their heads for years to come.
Mario had always been billed as being an Italian plumber from Brooklyn, who in some form or fashion found himself in the weird, wild, and wacky world of the Mushroom Kingdom, where he apparently decided to stick around. But when it came time to flesh out his new rival’s storyline in a comic titled “Mario vs. Wario,” published within the pages of Nintendo Power magazine, it seemed Nintendo was ready to abandon that premise. Instead, Mario and Wario were childhood friends at a young age, living in the Mushroom Kingdom, where they would get into various mischief. Unfortunately for Wario, it seems that their games always went awry when it was his turn to play. He was flattened by a Thwomp during an experiment to flatten coins, and when Mario wanted help harvesting crops, Wario was left to pick Piranha Plants instead, who instead preferred to pick him. The worst thing to Wario was playing “Sheriff and Rustler,” since Mario was the Sheriff every time but one (and in Wario’s version of the story, all Mario did was laugh at him then).
As of a result of this story, a curious shift in Wario began, moving him into “sympathetic antagonist” territory. But, as Wario’s future appearances and marketing would show, he was still far from being one of the good guys. His next appearance was in Japan only, in one of the few games to ever utilize the Super NES Mouse, Mario & Wario. Developed by Game Freak, perhaps best known then for Yoshi’s eponymous puzzle game and now for Pokémon, Wario took to the skies in a plane to drop things on Mario, Yoshi, and even Peach as they searched the fairy woods for Luigi. True to his mischievous nature, he covered their heads with vision-obscuring items like buckets, causing them to rely on the help of a fairy named Wanda, who players controlled to give Mario & Co. safe passage.
Foiled once again in his attempts to get even with Mario, Nintendo took a very different tact for Wario’s next appearance…
You Are Getting Greedy…
In 1994’s Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, Wario took center stage as the protagonist, as well as top-billing over his adversary Mario, cementing his place as a breakout star for Nintendo. Long before games like Grand Theft Auto or titles which allowed you to decide how much of a good guy or bad guy you wanted to be, Nintendo used Wario Land to appeal to gamers who wanted to be the bad guy. This even carried over to the gameplay; whereas in most games, touching an enemy would harm you, Wario’s villainous vibe allowed him to upend foes by simply walking into them. That is, unless they had a weapon or other appropriate defense aimed at you.
The story of the game helped expand Wario’s character from simply being revenge-driven to one who is actually quite greedy, as well. Upon hearing about a gold statue of Princess Peach being stolen by Captain Syrup’s Brown Sugar Pirates, Wario sets out to retrieve the statue– not for the purpose of returning it to Peach, but instead so he can ransom it to her. And in the process, he figures he might as well rob the pirates blind, too. His ultimate goal: a castle to call his very own, and one bigger than Mario’s at that. And speaking of Mario, he was nowhere to be found in the game… at least, up until the very end, when he snatches the gold statue right out from under Wario, leaving him with a strangely saddened smile which you can’t help but feel a little bad for.
Wario Land shifted things from the Mario norm quite a bit, and in a R&D1 style not unfamiliar to fans of Metroid, wherein backtracking to earlier parts of the game would reveal new treasures, such as when the tide would come in at the beach. And while one could simply blaze through the levels, greed played its part as multiple endings were introduced. One treasure Wario gets from the pirates at the end is a magic lamp, complete with genie. And interestingly enough, this genie grants Wario’s fondest desire based on how much treasure he’s found. If you haven’t collected very much, then Wario has to squeeze into a meager birdhouse, but if you gather all fifteen hidden treasures (and a few bags full of gold coins, to boot), Wario gets his dream castle. And there were various other steads which Wario could earn in between.
But in a way that foreshadows Nintendo’s recent DS title, Freshly Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, gathering riches isn’t as easy as preceding titles would have you believe. Whenever Mario gathers coins, they would simply add bonus points to his score, and lives for every 100 gained. But in Wario Land, Hearts replace the normal function of coins, which are collected from shoulder-ramming enemies and beating bosses, as well as the more typical floating or hiding around. The game seeks to part you from your money in other ways as well, including doors with coin slots which require a ten-piece to open (or which can be used to chuck at enemies, after which you’d collect the money again), or by betting it in games of chance at the end of a level.
Among these other differences, Wario also took to using different power-ups from Mario. Whenever he was shrunk down to size, a Garlic Pot bulked him back up, and from there, other different pots would grant him stronger powers through different hats, two years before Mario tried the same hat trick. The Bull Pot gave Wario a viking-like helm with horns that allowed him to stick to ceilings, cause earthquakes with a ground-pound which preceded Mario and Yoshi’s use of the move, and destroy strong blocks with a single blow. The Jet Pot gave him a rocket-powered hat with wings, which allowed him to move more quickly and glide through the air. And the Dragon Pot gives Wario a dragon-shaped hat which looks like a souvenir from an Disney World, but can fry blocks and enemies with ease, even underwater.
It’s a Blast
Taking over the Super Mario Land series wasn’t the only outlet for Nintendo’s launch of the bad boy into video game superstardom, however. His next adventure was an American-exclusive title called Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman! for the Game Boy, a modified version of what would be the Wario-less Bomberman GB in Japan.
For all intents and purposes, Wario Blast was a Bomberman game with the option to play as Wario, who had somehow stumbled into Bomberman’s world. Making the best of a bad situation, he promptly decides to loot the place, leaving Bomberman to try to stop him. This game is seemingly where his penchant for using bombs was introduced, and his ending depicts him astride a motorcycle, an image which would see repetition in the years to come.
Shortly after, Wario would receive another chance to torment Mario’s friends– specifically Toad, who until then was seen as perhaps the strongest playable Mario character– in Wario’s Woods for the NES and Super NES. The game was a puzzle type in the vein of Tetris, Dr. Mario, Yoshi, and others before it, and Nintendo wasn’t afraid to give it a twist once more. For whatever reason, Wario decides to take over some woods, and sends in a small army to do so, only to be thwarted by Peach’s #1 Mushroom Retainer, as well as classic Super Mario Bros. 2 villain-turned-hero Birdo and old nemesis Wanda the Fairy. Using color-coded bombs, they blast Wario’s army to smithereens.
Wario’s return to side-scrolling adventure would become a tale of triumph, and of tragedy.
In 1995, Nintendo released a new creation of Gumpei Yokoi called the Virtual Boy. Touted as a portable 32-bit system with true 3D graphics, the technical limitations of the day made providing such a system at an acceptable cost a difficult task, even for the renowned creator of the Game & Watch and Game Boy systems. Though the system was technically portable, in that it operated as a stand-alone unit that did not require TV connections or a connection to an electrical outlet, the device was still fairly cumbersome, resting on a tripod that would sit atop a table.
However, the difficulty in adjusting it to eye-level made use uncomfortable for many, and long periods of staring into black space with bright red visuals overlaid lead to many a Virtual Boy gamer complaining of headaches. And with a slow trickle of titles with typically mediocre quality, despite their 3D visuals, most gamers simply weren’t buying into what some called a stalling tactic as Nintendo continued to delay their next console, the Nintendo 64. Those more optimistic simply felt that the Virtual Boy was an idea simply too far ahead of its time, but it mattered not: the widely-regarded failure of the Virtual Boy was enough to effectively end the 31-year tenure of Gumpei Yokoi at Nintendo.
But though games such as Teleroboxer, Red Alert, and even Mario Clash did little to excite gamers, many feel that there was at least one diamond in the rough of the Virtual Boy, the creatively-titled Virtual Boy Wario Land.
Originally titled “Wario Cruise” on the back of the Virtual Boy’s packaging, Virtual Boy Wario Land (with the subtitle “Secret Treasure of the Awazon” in Japan) was a full-fledged sequel to Wario’s original solo outing, retaining many of the same exploration and gameplay qualities as the original, but with better graphics and animation– if you could get past the fact it was all red and black.
The story follows Wario on vacation, where he’s awakened by some strange creatures taking treasure behind a waterfall. Greedy as ever, Wario follows them in an attempt to snatch the treasure, only to have a trap sprung which sends him deep into tunnels below, where he must fight his way out… while grabbing as much loot as he can find.
Many of his hats’ abilities were tweaked, and even combining hats was possible: with both the Eagle Hat and the Dragon Hat, Wario would obtain the King Dragon Hat, which gave him all the powers rolled into one, except that it would negate his charging attack. But the most noteworthy change came in the Virtual Boy’s 3D abilities, as special blocks would launch Wario into the background, where more items, enemies, and hidden goodies were placed, forcing Wario to move between the two planes if he wanted to get everything. In addition, there were boss fights presented in 3D as well, with Wario’s back to the screen as he faced off against enemies who were further back on the Z-axis.
Unfortunately, due to the general lack of interest in the Virtual Boy as a whole, the game is considered a sort of lost treasure, and without any similar hardware available, the possibility of a port or re-release of Wario’s Awazonian adventure remains dubious, at best.
At this point, Wario took another break from adventuring, instead focusing on other pursuits. Or perhaps more appropriately, other peoples’ pursuits, as he started popping up in other characters’ games, much as his rival Mario was known to do. One such instance came in the 1996 Nintendo 64 launch title Pilotwings 64. Wario may have been left out of the Nintendo 64’s premiere title, Super Mario 64 (and he wasn’t alone– just ask Luigi), but he got the last laugh when players discovered that launching a rocket at Mario’s face in a Mt. Rushmore-like setting would turn the face of the mountain into Wario’s wicked visage.
Wario’s world tour continued in 1997’s sequel to Super Mario Kart, titled Mario Kart 64. Having become something of a marquee name for Nintendo, it was decided to give the small-but-nimble Koopa Troopa the boot from the circuit, leaving the empty go-kart to creak and moan from having to fit Wario’s massive frame in his place. Though this disappointed some fans, it was great news to others, and Wario has been a series mainstay ever since, even bringing his own monster-truck/BMX-styled arena into the mix. It was also at this point that the voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, began to voice the greedy doppleganger, giving him a sound that was a little deeper, but still reminiscent of his animated commercial appearances prior.
Skipping ahead a little bit, it was just prior to the turn of the century when Nintendo had begun to expand the scope of their Mario brand titles, inserting the same zany brand of wackiness which made the Mario Kart series such a hit into other genres and games. 1999 saw the release of Mario Party, a board and mini-game title with Mario characters and themes, and Mario Golf, where Mario and his cast would hit the links with varying twists, such as Chain-Chomps in the sand traps. Now, as a regular part of the cast, Wario would find himself involved in whatever fun the others found, even in inter-company crossovers.
2000 brought a twist for Wario, however, as Mario Tennis hit the Nintendo 64, bringing with it Waluigi, who acted as Wario’s doubles partner. Never appearing in a significant role outside of these side-games, Waluigi’s relationship to Wario has been ambiguous at best. Nintendo of Europe’s since-revamped Mario site stated that the two were brothers, which makes the most sense, but no other sense of an official confirmation has ever been stated. But just as Wario was seemingly created as an over-exaggerated parody of Mario, so too was Waluigi made in such fashion as an antagonist for Luigi by Camelot Software’s Fumihide Aoki. Where Luigi was taller and thinner than Mario, Waluigi was much taller and significantly thinner than Wario, and sported a Snidely Whiplash styled mustache. Just as Mario’s “M” was inverted for Wario’s hat, so too was Luigi’s “L” for Waluigi… leaving many gamers simply scratching their heads.
Waluigi’s acceptance by fans has been, at best, divided. Many feel that he’s simply a cheap cash-in character, not even a “real” Mario character, nor do many of them appreciate that his design and name follow Wario’s, with it acting as a combination of “warui” and “Luigi” to make a name that means “bad Luigi.” Unfortunately for him, most felt that just flipping Mario’s “M” was much more clever, without understanding the true origins. Fun fact: Unknown to many fans, the character of Boshi from Super Mario RPG was named “Washi” in Japan, so there was actually a running theme going before Waluigi appeared.
Since Mario Tennis, Waluigi has teamed up with Wario whenever there’s a sport, party, or race afoot, and the pair have even starred in a few hilarious Camelot game intros that see them get into trouble whenever they try to best the Mario Bros.
Incidentally, Waluigi has also been noted as having several aspects of his character that relate to Foreman Spike of Wrecking Crew, including similar noses, grins, and color schemes. In addition, Waluigi’s special baseball pitch involves eggplants (enemies in the Wrecking Crew games), his special kart in Mario Kart DS is a construction crane, and in Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix (a title in which Waluigi stars as villain), his theme is the song from Wrecking Crew.
Other Wario guest-shots worth mentioning are his role as a playable character in 2001’s Dr. Mario 64, a dance-floor foe in 2004’s GameCube hit Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, and a supporting role in the Japan-exclusive 2004 GBA game Legend of Stafy 3.
For part 2 of this feature, click here.