Wario speaks to me on many levels. Of Nintendo’s classics, he is their anti-hero, a villain who steals castles and scatters the keys to it around all of Super Mario Land 2. Also, he is something of a fool; I had those keys rounded up in a week during one of the busiest Christmases of my life so many years ago. Wario could certainly of tried harder, or done the smart thing and kept them to himself. But I enjoyed hearing that he was getting his chance to earn a castle of his own, and I remember playing his own adventure in its launch year of 1994, but through a rental. I just downloaded the eShop version the other day, and am reveling in the wickedness of it all.
Wario is decidedly greedy, and his whole motivation for desiring so much money is to make Mario jealous of the monumental castle he can build with the loot. His amorality is worn on his sleeve, where so many of Nintendo’s other classics are only questionably so, or wind up in the considerable grey space of right-wrong debates that violence opens up. Wario charges headlong into it, embracing the mess he’s making and dreaming of the boon he thinks awaits him. To this day, I love losing in this game more than winning, as seeing Wario claim his final prize, anything less than a castle, is priceless.
Recently, Bob Mackay at 1up did a feature on Wario’s creators, the rule bending team at Nintendo R&D1. They’re other works are like a hit list of my favorite games, including Mario Paint, Kid Icarus, and Excite Bike. Okay, my list of favorite games is substantially larger, but these games figure prominently, and R&D1 are at the helm.
Wario is an extreme carichature of Mario, created when Nintendo compelled the team to make only platformers. The series holds up as strange and fun, while gleefully breaking all of the rules of platformers including no or very limited deaths, free form transformations, and a goofy sense of humor. Wario Ware D.I.Y. is so far the only game in his rival series that I’ve tried, finding something absent from my long years with Mario Paint. But I’m glad to see Wario Land holding up so well after all of this time.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 features the following aesthetics. You explore an awful lot of levels, turning over every last stone to find every last coin, gaming the system by throwing enemies at or into other enemies for more coins, or just letting the thwomps pound them for a 10 coin. Challenge features, but a generous life system keeps it light and fun. Only a retro gamer fueled by nostalgia could think of the visual and audio sense aesthetic, but I love every second of it. There’s a certain glee to the fantasy of becoming Wario, and creatively wringing every last coin from enemies, so I’ll note that one too. The narrative is extra light, and there really isn’t much in the way of expression or fellowship here. Gamers looking for a game with lots of discovery, light challenge, and willing to put up with the Gameboy aesthetic, will find a true gem in Wario Land. In case it needs restating, I’m referencing Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek in their article MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research (2004). Extra Credits has a brilliant video on it here, and the article itself is here.