I’m going to share something with you, readers: I love Wario. I love everything about the grossly overweight yet strangely agile man in yellow and purple. He’s perhaps the most honest Nintendo character. He doesn’t masquerade as some altruistic crusader selflessly rescuing princesses – let’s face it, Mario probably has more on his mind than world peace when he saves Peach from Bowser’s weird fetish dungeons. Not Wario. Wario doesn’t even seem interested in ladies. He only has one thing on his mind: cold, hard cash. He’s a big, hairy, greasy, disgusting, greedy slob, and he doesn’t give a damn who knows it. He wants treasure, and you better believe he’s gonna get it.
Wario’s one of Nintendo’s most recognizable mascots from his appearances in Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Super Smash Brothers, but he’s never been one of the most prolific stars. He’s best known these days for the Wario Ware minigame collections, which showcase his typical filthy lust for money but don’t give him much play time of his own. But there’s another series that made him famous: Wario Land, which first appeared on the Gameboy in 1994.
Technically this game is the third entry in the Mario Land franchise. Wario made his first appearance in Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins as the antagonist and final boss, but he shows up here in his first starring role. The plot? Oh, it’s a real gem. This is from the instruction booklet:
One day, Wario was practicing being mean when he thought to himself, “Rumour has it that the pirates of Kitchen Island have stolen the giant golden statue of Princess Toadstool. Mario is looking for it, but if I find it first, I could cash it in for a princess’ ransom. With that cash and the pirates’ other treasures and coins, I could buy a palace that is way bigger than Mario’s pathetic excuse for a castle. Ga, ha, ha! What am I waiting for!?”
Hell yes. Wario is the man, and ain’t no pirates led by some chump named “Captain Syrup” gonna stand between him and a golden statue. The real beauty here is that Wario is kind of the bad guy. Sure, the pirates are jerkwads and probably deserve what’s coming to them, but is Wario any better? Who cares! There’s treasure on the line!
The basic gameplay is somewhat similar to the Mario franchise. Wario can jump on enemies, and if he gets hit he reverts to a puny, hatless form which is small enough to fit in tight spaces (this game is actually the only appearance of Small Wario). That’s where the similarities end, though. Wario is much more aggressive than his heroic counterpart: his basic attack is a forward body slam that can knock out enemies or break blocks. Once enemies are knocked out, Wario can pick them up and hurl them at other enemies or objects, cause he’s just that rude.
Wario Land really shines when power-ups come into play. Instead of gross mushrooms, Wario eats garlic to get stronger, like a true man’s man who loves his ruthless body odor and wants to share it with the world. From his basic form he turns into Bull Wario, which makes his charge stronger, let’s him stick to the ceiling with his horns, and gives him a punishing ground pound – because what more sadistic way to murder an enemy than with Wario’s flabby butt?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. Wario can also become Jet Wario, which replaces the body slam with a short burst of flight, and Dragon Wario, which shoots a steady stream of fire from his helmet. All three forms are unique and versatile, and you’ll find yourself switching constantly throughout the game’s many stages depending on the situation or your particular preference. The game has no shortage of enemies and bosses, many of them somewhat tricky, although nothing in the game is super difficult. It all chugs along at a reasonable challenge level that urges you to do better but never outright blocks your progress.
Kitchen Island is vibrant and full of diverse locales to explore. All your standard video game destinations are here: beach, mountain, ice world, fire world, pirate ship, forest, cavern, creepy castle. Nothing groundbreaking there. It’s in the stage design and the way the levels interconnect that the game gets creative. Most stages are fairly straightforward, but on occasion you’ll notice something weird, like a ledge just out of reach or a spike filled chamber you’re unable to traverse. Completing later stages often has an affect on earlier ones. For example, the tide comes into Rice Beach, flooding some stages. Or the water is drained from Parsley Woods, opening up new areas down below. Or a switch is flipped in Syrup Castle that actually blows up a good chunk of the structure. The game is full of cool touches like this.
There are secret exits a-plenty, many of which can only be accessed if Wario is wearing the correct hat. There’s even a whole secret world that has nothing but treasure and an extra boss waiting. Fifteen big treasures lie hidden on Kitchen Island, and they all require finding a key in a stage and carrying it to a giant skull lock hidden elsewhere in the level. These are all entirely optional, and many are well-hidden. Getting all of them is necessary to obtain the best ending. This is honestly my favorite part of the game, because I love rewarding secrets and each treasure has a unique sprite and a creepy skull crypt that makes them feel really special.
At the end of the game we learn that the notorious Captain Syrup is actually a sexy lady pirate who summons a genie to do her bidding. Wario, of course, just pummels the genie into submission and blows up Syrup Castle, revealing the golden Peach statue. But just at his moment of sublime victory, Mario shows up in a helicopter to snatch the statue away. Who’s the real dick here, I ask you?
The genie, sufficiently cowed, offers to grant Wario’s wish… for the right price. So Wario bribes this supernatural being into giving him an amazing home of his home, which varies depending on the amount of overall loot you’ve gotten your grubby meathooks on over the course of the game. These range from a birdhouse on the low end to a fucking planet with Wario’s face on it.
This is one of my all time favorite games, if you couldn’t tell. It has everything: amazing gameplay, copious secrets, decent challenge, and the hilarious overconfidence of an anti-hero the instruction manual calls “mean and ugly.” Games just don’t get much better than this. You can pick up Wario Land, and many of its sequels, on Nintendo’s eShop, and if you haven’t played it before it’s definitely worth your five dollars or whatever pittance they’re asking for it. Forget saving the world or stopping a heartless villain. Listen to the words of the 1994 ad campaign for Wario Land and be the bad guy.