Posted by Kris Randazzo on Aug 25th 2021
Wario is Missing
I should start by saying that I think WarioWare is great. I bear no ill will towards the WarioWare series at all. They’re a ton of fun, and I’m glad they exist. HOWEVER…
This is not the Wario I think of when I think of Wario. And I do think of him.
No, this is my Wario.
For many like myself, this was our first glimpse at Mario’s newest big bad, which was still a thing that could happen back in those days. Here in the US, Mario went up against Donkey Kong, then Bowser, then Wart, then Tatanga, and then Bowser again with the Koopa Kids. When we got the repeat performance of Bowser yet again in Super Mario World, it never occurred to me that the Mario Bros. would simply face off against Bowser again and again for the rest of eternity, but wouldn’t you know, Nintendo gave them one last new rogue in the form of Wario, an evil mirror version of Mario himself full of personality and greed.
That image above comes from the first commercial for Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, and it featured Wario in all his villainous glory. The character was such a success that when it came time for Super Mario Land 3, they put him in the starring role instead of Mario, which spawned his very own series of unique platformers. An unfortunate side effect was that Mario would no longer have Wario as a villain to face off against, and Bowser would indeed become the one and only bad guy in all future Mario platformers. But it was a small price to pay in order to get the true wonderfulness that was the Wario Land franchise.
No Land for Wario Wares
So now here we are in the year 2021. A brand new WarioWare title is just around the corner, and it’s absolutely a welcome return of a franchise that’s been more or less on ice for years. The last release was actually only 3 years ago, but WarioWare Gold for 3DS wasn’t really a new game so much as a compilation of previous microgames bundled together. The last proper original WarioWare game came in the form of Game & Wario for Wii U which was released 8 years ago. That’s a pretty long time to go between iterations, especially when it could be argued that Game & Wario wasn’t even a proper WarioWare release.
But what about the games that made Wario a name in the first place? What the heck happened to Wario Land? Why has the series that spawned such a popular character been silent for over 13 years?
The series has certainly had an interesting ride, but not necessarily one that’s out of character for something that takes place inside the Super Mario universe. Super Mario Bros. itself is technically a spinoff from the Donkey Kong franchise, after all. So Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land being the first proper chapter in the adventures of Wario has a lovely sense of symmetry to it. It was also a pretty fantastic game, and seems to have been a solid success story for Nintendo.
Its first sequel though was a bit more troubled. Not in terms of it being a good game though. The second Wario Land game was actually one of the best in the series and a genuine masterpiece of platforming goodness. The trouble came from the platform it was released on, the Virtual Boy.
Virtual Boy Wario Land was THE reason to own a Virtual Boy. Yes, there were other good games released during the red menace’s brief lifetime, but Virtual Boy Wario Land is legitimately a phenomenal game top to bottom, and it built on what Super Mario Land 3 started in fantastic ways.
But as you can imagine, very few people played the game since it was and still is a Virtual Boy exclusive. Fortunately for us all, the next entry in the series would land somewhere with considerably more exposure.
Wario Land II was released for the Game Boy in 1998 and Game Boy Color a year later in 1999, marking the first time a Wario Land game had been released in full color. It further built on what was set up in Virtual Boy Wario Land and added a new element of exploration into the mix.
From that point onward, things maintained a pretty steady release schedule for Wario. Wario Land 3 hit the Game Boy Color in 2000, Wario Land 4 hit Game Boy Advance in 2001, and even after 2003’s release of the original WarioWare, things kept moving forward with the Wario platformers at a respectable click with Wario World for GameCube releasing later that same year, and Wario: Master of Disguise releasing on Nintendo DS in 2007.
A Work of WAH-rt!
But it’s the end of the Wario Land series that makes its absence sting the most. In 2008, Nintendo released Wario Land: Shake It for Wii, and what a game this was.
Like Virtual Boy Wario Land, the game’s biggest limitation was the system it was created for. The Wii was home to several platforming success stories including the absolute juggernauts that were Donkey Kong country Returns and New Super Mario Bros. But for reasons I still can’t fathom to this day, the Wii’s super casual audience passed on Wario Land: Shake It.
Of course, the Wii wasn’t known for having a ton of great games selling super well, but the install base was absolutely massive, and it’s not like 2D platformers didn’t have the potential to do big numbers there. Maybe Wario doesn’t have the same appeal as Mario or Donkey Kong. Maybe the whole “shake” gimmick was a turn off. All I know is this game was great, and it’s nothing short of tragic that this specific line of Wario games hasn’t been allowed to continue.
I mean, look at this thing.
Sure, games like Cuphead and Wonder Boy: the Dragon’s Trap are fairly commonplace nowadays, but this was 2008 and Nintendo released a Wario platformer on their primary console with traditional hand drawn 2D animation, and it was drop dead gorgeous! Sure, it didn’t run natively in widescreen, nor was it in HD thanks to the Wii being notoriously not in HD, but even still, this game was and still is a looker.
On one hand, it isn’t too difficult to see why this one hasn’t been remastered, what with remastering hand drawn animation being a pretty different process from bumping something polygonal into HD, but why oh why hasn’t Nintendo at least given the Wario Land series another shake?
In a world where classics being remastered for a new audience is pretty much the standard of the day, it’s completely crazy to me that Nintendo hasn’t gone back to this particular well. I only hope that if/when they eventually do, they look to titles like Shake It and Virtual Boy Wario Land for inspiration.
Wario Land Returns?
Metroid Dread looks like it’s going to finally put 2D Metroid games on the map in a way that they always should have been, and if they decided to fund another Wario Land project that looks like this and release it on Switch, I'd like to believe that the same thing could happen here.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll download the demo for WarioWare: Get it Together and hope for a more traditionally animated future.