Where is Wario?
Nintendo has always needed more characters who fight the company’s stereotype of only making games for kids and families. Mario and Link are nearly-silent protagonists who are so uncontroversial that they have become boring for many players, despite their legendary status in the gaming world. Pokémon is for all ages, but the extraneous facets of the franchise skew young every time one sees a plushie or a trading card of Pikachu in a mall or grocery store. Enter one of the company’s most under-appreciated and underutilized icons: Wario. The smellier, freer, and fatter alternative to Nintendo’s mascot used to have multiple franchises dedicated to his greedy, garlic-obsessed ways, but in the last several years, he has faded into the background. His versatility as a character, reflected in the way his inappropriate behavior is portrayed in kid-friendly ways, allows all ages to enjoy his madness. I don’t know whether it’s just me or whether there is even a demand for the character to be featured more prominently in future games, but I thought it was a good time to bring up the merits of a Wario revival at a time when there has been a drought in new material on the Switch.
The console where Wario belongs is where we start. Nintendo hasn’t released a game in the Wario franchise for a home console since Game & Wario for the Wii U in 2013. A spinoff of the WarioWare series, the game was Nintendo’s evolution of the party game genre in which our friend of flatulence has been the head of for nearly two decades now. Like many of the shake-ups Nintendo does to its regulars, it wasn’t a big hit and they went back to the tried and true gameplay of the series with best-hits compilation WarioWare: Gold for 3DS in the summer of 2018. Filled with partly new, but mostly old microgames, the release should have been on the Switch, and was an unfortunate omen that Nintendo views the lovable oaf as being just as retired as the last console we’ve seen him on. Pulling Wario’s shirt over his curdled belly and tickling a pig’s nose would be even more fun on modern equipment, and also would introduce the nauseating yet innocent anti-hero to the many new gamers who have become engaged in Nintendo’s work solely through the Switch. Better yet, if you follow the series, you know a WarioWare game has always been a title that gets released in the early years of a console’s shelf life, signifying that it is a showcase for the new hardware that Nintendo has gifted us.
The Big N has had a habit of trying on an innovative gimmick for size since at least the DS back in the mid-2000s. One of the first titles released for the dual-screen handheld was WarioWare: Touched. Each microgame displayed the creativity and evolution of touchscreen gaming, and there was even a set of microgames showing off the microphone on the console, which was the secondary innovation Nintendo added to the DS. As a kid, there was nothing cooler than blowing into the mic and seeing a balloon grow, or blasting fog onto a window on a winter’s day. It really made me feel the game was more than just a game; Wario’s pals imitated real-life activities in the most absurd ways, and this continued in WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Wii. Nintendo’s foray into the experience of motion-controlled gaming was never more hilarious and uncouth than in this game. Demonstrating every single way you could use the remote controller for the new console, with forms ranging from “The Elephant” to “The Big Cheese”, this game was the definition of unadulterated joy. Sadly, Nintendo has forgotten the overweight innovator of their company and his rich history of introducing the greatness of unique control schemes to the masses. My hope is that with remembering these past experiences, Wario and his microgames will once again show off what the Switch has been hiding from us, perhaps with microgames that require docking and undocking the console from the television to complete the required task. But the Wario revival shouldn’t stop at just the WarioWare games; the character’s platforming chops were some of the best in the industry for so many years, yet we haven’t seen a single adventure game from the fatty for over a decade!
We were just talking about the Wii, and it’s been quite a while since we were shaking the Wii remote to grasp as many coins as possible in Wario Land: Shake It. The adventure was released all the way back in 2008. A childhood favorite of mine, it’s hard for me to remember a 2D side-scrolling platform game from my youth that combined puzzles, jumping, and the unique characteristics of Wario more than this game. Much like the WarioWare series, Wario Land games have a flare that is just special. They always integrate Wario’s character into the level design, whether that be catching the obese oaf on fire to burn a specialized object that is blocking the way, or rolling his doughy form down a hill, Wario separates himself from other Nintendo protagonists for his personified integration of skills within the environments of his games. His personality is embedded in his games in such a way that doesn’t allow there to be any type of copycat character in the entire industry, within or outside of Nintendo. This is a quality that is sorely missing from the medium at the moment, as fans complain that developers copy and paste character traits and gameplay mechanics from one game to the next, even within the same series of games. For example, before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, many complained that the Zelda franchise regurgitated the same formula game in and game out. Hero goes to dungeon, collects a new item, talks to witty NPCs out in the field, and repeats said process about eight to ten times. Zelda had then been shoddily mimicked by other adventure games through the decades, and Nintendo got lazy with their own franchise, knowing that it could never be duplicated to the same level of quality. The launch title for the Switch brought the franchise into the open world and signified that Nintendo was taking hold of their IP in a bold new way. This was obviously a large boon for the company, which leads me to believe that a Wario platform game could be used as the next adrenaline shot to the Switch during its current dry spell. While obviously a much smaller franchise than Zelda, the point is still there that Wario has been taken for granted too long as simply a side character in Mario sports and racing titles!
Between the WarioWare series and the Wario Land titles, Nintendo’s most churlish property has multiples genres and decades of material to work from in creating a new game in this universe. The Switch has been out for over three years now, yet there is no sign that Wario will be adding his greedy and ill-mannered presence to the dual-purpose system. This means it is a great time for a reintroduction! For veterans like me, it will be a blast from the past like no other. For the newbies to the grubby garlic-eater, they’ll be taken down a smelly rabbit hole full of obscure characters, character-driven platforming, and farts. But at least virtual ones don’t smell. They only knock out your opponent in Super Smash Bros.