WarioWare: Wario

WarioWare, Inc. is divided into a series of levels, each with its own set of microgames and its own host character who supposedly authored that section and also needs your help to get through the situation depicted in the level’s intro and epilogue. There’s some serious confusion of levels going on there; it’s as if Deus Ex started off with a cutscene of Warren Spector begging for the player’s help at defeating the secret organization pursuing him. No, that’s not quite right. That suggests a connection between the frame and the content. It’s more like Deus Ex starting with Waren Spector playing baseball at a company picnic, and every time you complete a mission, you get a cutscene of him hitting a home run.

The first and last levels are hosted by Wario himself. Because I’m primarily a PC gamer, this is the first significant exposure I’ve had to the character. I know of him, certainly. I was aware that he was a sort of evil twin to Mario, but I didn’t really know the details. Having seen him in action, I’d describe him not so much evil as somewhere between rotten and naughty, misbehaving like a little kid. He’s explicitly described as “sneaky” and “greedy”, and makes no bones about it, apparently considering those good qualities, because they’re his qualities and everything about him is by definition awesome. Which is also why most of the microgames on his own levels are about him. So I’d add “conceited” to the list, as well as “denigrating others”: he cheerfully tosses barbs at the player along the lines of “Huh? You beat that level? You?!?”

Come to think of it, he’s a lot like Strong Bad.

Also like Strong Bad, he comes off as childish partly because of his eagerness for characteristics that seem manly to him, like riding a motorcycle and punching at punching bags. Mario also has a sort of weird mix of adult and childlike traits, but they harmonize a lot better there, and seem to hit something of a sweet spot for acceptability by an American audience (unlike some Nintendo characters). Wario comes off like a grotesque caricature of this, exaggerated like a Mad Magazine parody. “No need to satirize us”, Nintendo seems to be saying, “We’ll satirize ourselves!” Since this is Wario’s game, it’s his world now, and it’s much more urban than the Mushroom Kingdom, more random and full of pointless conflict. The most innocent-looking of the hosts is pursued by police cars for speeding, and evades them by dropping banana peels in their path, making them skid and crash. They’re not bad guys, they’re just doing their job.

So, given this grotesque, childish, selfish, greedy, sneaky, antihero of a character, what role does he play in the game’s story? Why, that of game publisher, of course! His scheme is to get all these people, his supposed “friends”, to develop games for him, and then abscond with all of the profits himself. I can’t help but see this as reflecting the designers’ personal experience, and I’m a little surprised that Nintendo executives thought it acceptable — perhaps they didn’t understand what it was saying? Or perhaps from their perspective it looked more like a dig at little independent game companies trying to cash in on fields pioneered by others. Who knows.

2 Comments so far

  1. Mark on 4 Sep 2010

    Wario began as the villain in the Game Boy title Super Mario Land 2. Since then, he’s mostly starred in his own games, of which the most prominent (pre-Wario Ware) were the Wario Land titles. Wario Land is sort of a twisted spin on Mario: platforming adventures with floating blocks and iconic enemies, gathering coins. Story-wise, the difference is that he is motivated by his own ego and laziness: his motivation in Mario Land 2 was that Mario came into possession of a castle somehow and Wario wanted it, so he took it. In Wario Land, his goal was to gather as much treasure as he could in order to buy a castle of his own. This title is more prototypical than the ones after it, though.

    Wario Land 2 is where the character came into his own. A female pirate, Captain Syrup, broke into Wario’s castle, trashed the place, and stole his treasure. Naturally, he set out to make things right. In Wario Land 3 and Wario Land 4, he gets embroiled in treasure hunts, where he is antagonized by an evil genie and usually ends up helping somebody entirely incidentally in the process of getting his loot.

    The important differences, though, are gameplay-wise. Wario’s physics feel noticeably heavier than Mario’s. He relies extensively on brute force: whereas Mario has his acrobatic jumping and quick running speed, Wario has a jump and a tackle attack, which disable enemies so that they can be tossed at other enemies. Additionally, in addition to merely reaching the end of the level, he was often called to find and unlock a hidden treasure within it. In Wario Land 2 and 3, considered the apex of his platforming career, he exhibited his defining character ability: total indestructibility. There are no bottomless pits to fall down, and being hit by a common enemy just causes him to drop coins. There are a wide variety of status impairments he can receive by being hit by particular enemies, however: being flattened, set on fire, turned into a zombie… the list goes on and on. Each of them is temporary, and, despite being ultimately an impairment, grant him particular abilities which he must use to solve environmental puzzles. Being stung by a bee, for instance, will cause him to swell up like a balloon and lift up off the ground. Catching fire lets him burn through flammable blocks, and so forth.

    He’s not so much a caricature of Mario as a perversion of him; crass where Mario is noble, ugly where Mario is dashing, and utterly self-interested where Mario is heroic. He’s the only certifiable anti-hero in Nintendo’s stable of intellectual properties, and lets them be satirical in ways that other characters can’t.

    His games were developed by the R&D1 studio within Nintendo, originally produced by the late Gunpei Yokoi, whereas the Shigeru Miyamoto-produced EAD studio develops most Mario titles. R&D1’s reputation is for developing more experimental titles with a focus on technological innovation, rather than more market-oriented polish EAD provides. It makes sense that R&D1 would be behind the development of Wario Ware, as that’s an ultra-experimental series for which each title works on exploring atomic interactions with the hardware at the lowest possible level. Since they “own” the Wario character, and there’s really no satisfactory way to give context to a microgame collection, depicting it as one of his hair-brained get-rich-quick schemes seemed like a natural choice. Lampooning their own job was a fringe benefit.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 8 Sep 2010

    Looking at his appearances in other games, it seems he’s also changed his costume a bit. Wario Land Wario dresses more like Mario, with a simple overalls, shirt, and cap combo, just with a more garish color scheme. WarioWare Wario wears belted trousers, a jeans jacket with cut-off sleeves, and goggles on top of his cap, reinforcing his tough-guy biker image. If you ask me, it helps to establish him as a his own character, existing apart from Mario’s adventures, just like the switch to an urban environment does.

Leave a reply