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Posted by:
David Oxford
Senior Editor
The History of Wario: Part 1
Part one of our huge, in-depth two-part series.
February 01, 2008 | 12:09 PM PST

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 Doppelg´┐Żnger 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 Pokemon, 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.
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9:09 PM PST
Since I'm avoiding nearly all of my usual sites (the gaming-affiliated ones anyway) until Brawl is released, I read this article to pass my free time.

I actually thought it was going to be boring, but I enjoyed it.
It's a very well-written article - Good job!

The commercials were very cool. It kind of makes me wish I was into video games back then; they seem to have more fun with the games.

Video games take themselves too seriously these days!

6:21 AM PST
I'm still waiting and hoping for a Wario Land compilation for the DS.

10:58 PM PST
Wario is awesome, and so is the article. :)

9:30 PM PST
Very good article! I'm a huge Wario fan!

Wario Land is a great game, same with Mario Land 2. They need those to come out for the VC.

6:00 PM PST
Great article, and excellent job finding all of those old commercials!

2:47 PM PST
Awesome. Can't wait for part two.

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