Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.
This week we’ll be phonetically belching out the history of Wario Land. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.
Though I will be citing my research throughout the article, I’d like to draw particular attention to a few major sources:
- The Super Mario Wiki – Wario Land Section
- Chris Kohler for Kotaku – Nintendo’s Line of Wario Platformers Ended Far Too Long Ago
- Jeremy Parish – Wario Land II Retrospective: Colour my WAAAAAAHrld | Game Boy Works Color #3 [YouTube]
The story of Wario Land is connected inextricably with the story of Nintendo’s Research & Development No. 1 department. R&D1, which had been created when Nintendo entered the video game market in 1978, spent its early years developing Japanese Game and Watch devices like Fire (1980), Ball (1980), and Octopus (1981); this product line soon expanded into lightly animated portable adaptations of major arcade properties like Donkey Kong (1982) and Mario Bros. (1983). The original version of these arcade games were often the result of collaboration between Nintendo’s units, as R&D1 designed software and user interfaces for hardware produced by R&D2 and R&D3; Many of the game ideas themselves had been worked up by R&D4. By the late 1980s, the studio had begun to create original properties like Kid Icarus (1986) and Metroid (1986) under the direction of Chief Producer and Designer Gunpei Yokoi. Yokoi himself would become best known for his guiding role in the development of Nintendo’s hugely successful portable Game Boy device.
Wario was created by Nintendo’s Hiroji Kiyotake as a nemesis for Mario, the studio’s plumber mascot. His name, a playful riff on the name Mario and the Japanese word warui (“bad”) instantly establishes his identity as a sinister mirror image for the protagonist during his debut appearance in Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins (1992). Artist Yoichi Kotabe contributed heavily to Wario’s grotesque appearance, drawing inspiration from Popeye’s rival Bluto and the evil circus owner in Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). In retrospect, it seems almost inevitable that such a distinctive character would become the star of his own platforming saga.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1993)
The first Wario Land game is, strangely, the third and final Super Mario Land title. This sub-series of the broader Mario franchise, which was a core software pillar of the Game Boy hardware line since 1989, had already produced two very different platforming adventures. It was not a major leap to design a still-more experimental third iteration, but Nintendo’s R&D1 studio took a bigger risk by almost entirely omitting the sub-series’ title character.
In Mario’s place was Wario, fresh off of his debut appearance as the final boss in Super Mario Land 2 and AI-controlled rival in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s competitive puzzle game Wario’s Woods (1993). Wario Land‘s narrative proceeds directly from Super Mario Land 2‘s conclusion, in which Mario successfully won his castle back from the nefarious Wario. Wario now embarks on his own adventure to steal an expensive statue of Peach and ransom it for the money needed to one-up his rival by buying his own palatial estate. Of course, the devil’s in the details when it comes to the quirky charm of the Wario Land series.
Without a team of allies, Wario spends much of his journey encountering larger-than-life foes. His primary opponent is Captain Syrup, the leader of the Brown Sugar Pirates and owner of the Princess Peach statue upon which Wario’s avaricious gaze is fixed. In the idiosyncratic spirit of earlier Mario Land titles, Wario encounters bosses with Japanese names like Bifun the bull and Hinyari the penguin as well as more standard localized bosses Spiked Koopa and Genie. All must be overcome for Wario to amass his lost treasure.
Game mechanics are distinctive, though not entirely dissimilar to Super Mario Land 2. Wario has two default states: a full size sprite which confers two hit points and a smaller sprite which indicates that one more point of damage will cause a fail state. Wario can be damaged by enemies wielding weapons, though running sideways into an enemy without a weapon will not harm the player character. Wario can’t defeat enemies purely by jumping on them, so he must instead stun them through horizontal dash moves, body slams, or jumps and then hurl them at other enemies to conclusively destroy them. The expansion of this increased physicality and decreased vulnerability sets Wario’s largely ground-oriented moveset apart from his noble nemesis.
As in Super Mario Land 2, hats serve as power-ups which alter Wario’s abilities once acquired from pots hidden in the environment. Bull Wario can ram enemies with impunity and destroy blocks arranged horizontally, Dragon Wario can blow fire, and Jet Wario can fly in short bursts. Most powered-up forms – including the full-sized Normal Wario but not Dragon Wario – can use a body slam attack to stun enemies. Sustaining damage in any powered-up form reverts Wario to his vulnerable small sprite.
Gameplay is oriented around collecting treasure in stages rather than simply reaching a goal. The player is encouraged to break blocks and other objects in their surroundings and defeat enemies to obtain gold coins, with the greatest haul coming from conquered bosses. At the end of the game, Wario’s total treasure count is tallied and results in one of several endings. In the worst/funniest of these, Mario makes a cameo to steal back Wario’s Princess Peach statue and restore the status quo.
Wario Land was released on the Game Boy in Japan on January 21, 1994, and was localized for North American audiences less than two months later. A re-release on the 3DS’ Virtual Console service finally made the long out-of-print game available to new players in 2011/2012. Critical reception has been strong over time, as the game was well-received for its unique take on Nintendo’s house platformer style and enduringly odd character sprites. Wario’s next outing would continue this trend on a very different piece of hardware.
Virtual Boy Wario Land (1995)
Originally in development under the names Wario’s Treasure Hunt and then Wario Cruise, Virtual Boy Wario Land was released on the much-maligned Virtual Boy console in 1995. In contrast to its second working title, Wario’s second adventure is entirely set in a single underground location beneath the thematically on-point Awazon River Basin. Despite the change in name, pre-release screenshots suggest little changed between these versions. Virtual Boy Wario Land successfully continues to differentiate the Wario series from its Mario forebears but does not significantly innovate on its direct predecessor.
The player again steps into the shoes of Wario as he seeks to amass treasure across ten stages. The color palette is monochromatic, as had been the case in his preceding adventure, but the Virtual Boy’s more expansive display allowed the developers to enhance one of Wario Land‘s most celebrated elements: its highly expressive oversized sprites. Wario’s appearance is more malleable than ever as he jumps and rams his way through a system of labyrinthine caves. Bosses are similarly impressive, with the snorkle-wearing Sand Fish and massive Demon Head being rendered in particularly comic detail.
The stripped-down level selection belies a greater mechanical variety than had been present in Wario Land. Playing to the three-dimensional depth which characterized the Virtual Boy’s headset, Wario can now leap between foreground and background 2D planes to explore and overcome obstacles. To do so, he hops on small trampolines and hurls himself cartoonishly towards or away from the player.
Several new power-ups have also replaced those of Wario Land. Bull Wario returns, though Jet Wario is replaced with the similarly-functioning Eagle Wario and the barely-altered Sea Dragon Wario replaces Dragon Wario. In a new twist, acquiring a Dragon Statue as Eagle Wario or an Eagle Statue as Sea Dragon Wario allows the player character to transform into King Dragon Wario. This power-up effectively gives Wario enhanced versions of its two constituent forms, conveying the power of long-distance flight and flame breath. If Wario is wounded, he reverts to his fragile small form.
Virtual Boy Wario Land, despite its lush presentation, is a comparatively unambitious entry in an otherwise consistently surprising series. Its mechanics are almost entirely carried over from its Game Boy predecessor and its scope is actually reduced from that game. Still, the ability to leap between foreground and background at least proves to be an evocative use of its platform. Sadly, this last point seems to have become a problem over the long term: Virtual Boy Wario Land has never been re-released at the time of writing, making it playable only through emulation or the use of increasingly rare original hardware.
The commercial and critical failure of the Virtual Boy would more generally be seen as a pivotal moment in the evolution of R&D1. Gunpei Yokoi, who had steadily guided the studio since its inception in the 1970s, resigned in 1996 following his prominent role in the development of Nintendo’s misguided device. Secondary sources like David Sheff’s Game Over (1999) later suggested that Yokoi was a scapegoat for corporate mismanagement rushing untested hardware to market while Nintendo itself claimed that the resignation had no connection to the Virtual Boy’s poor performance. Whatever the case, the departure of Yokoi coincided with a decreased emphasis on hardware development and an increasing focus on new entries in the studio’s intellectual properties. The most visible beneficiary of this reorientation – at least until the reappearance of 2D Metroid titles in 2002 – was the Wario Land franchise.
Wario Land II (1998)
The second numbered Wario game, paradoxically the third in its franchise, bears a rather unique release history. It was developed first for the Game Boy, released in North America and Europe in early 1998 with Super Game Boy color enhancements that did not fully mask its grayscale origins, re-released in Japan as a Game Boy Color launch title with a more robust color palette in late 1998, and then re-released in its Game Boy Color format worldwide in 1999. The reasons for this uncharacteristically convoluted release schedule remain unclear two decades later.
The game itself represents a significant improvement on its predecessors and, indeed, on virtually all other platformers produced so far for the Game Boy. Nintendo R&D1 made the bold decision to entirely remove a health gauge or life system, rendering Wario functionally invincible in the process. Upturning this basic tenet of platformer fundamentals allows the resulting title to more successfully emphasize its player character’s unique characteristics.
Wario’s greed takes center-stage as he plows through 25 levels set across five chapters in an attempt to gather treasure from enemies and environmental features. Rather than killing the player character, sustaining damage from standard opponents instead results in Wario losing coins. Since the total amount of gathered treasure leads to one of five distinct endings, this currency mechanic dovetails more elegantly with the game’s overall theme than a standard health system would have done. Bosses, on the other hand, kick the player back to the start of their arena if they successfully attack Wario; this unfortunately serves as a frustration more than an instance of ludo-narrative consonance.
In one of its most ambitious innovations, Wario Land II largely replaces power-ups with health statuses. Through sustaining damage from specific enemies or hazards, Wario can be transformed into one of 11 conditions that impact his movement and abilities for better or worse. These include Ball ni Naru, a spherical form caused when Wario is struck by an enemy named Dunk; Bouncy Wario, a spring-like form that lets Wario reach normally out of reach locations after he is slammed by a mallet; Bubble Wario, a form that encapsulates Wario inside a water bubble and floats him past currents until he strikes a ceiling or other hard obstacle; Crazy Wario, a stumbling, difficult-to-control state which was referred to as Inebriated Wario in the Japanese version of the game; Fat Wario, an oversized form caused by eating cake which makes up for lost mobility with the ability to defeat any enemy who touches the player character; and others.
The plot shares more in common with Wario Land than Virtual Boy Wario Land, picking up directly after the former title’s conclusion. The castle and treasure which Wario had acquired in Wario Land are stolen by Captain Syrup and the Black Sugar Gang while the protagonist sleeps. Upon waking, Wario must scour a variety of lands and steal back his own ill-gotten gains.
In a twist worthy of Donkey Kong ’94 (1994), reaching the end of the campaign is not the conclusion of Wario Land II. This instead unlocks a treasure map revealing all stages played and hinting at the presence of 25 challenging bonus stages. The player can select any stage from the map that they’ve already completed, exploring carefully to discover hidden exits in a manner reminiscent of Super Mario World (1991). Its illusion of linearity shattered, Wario Land II would establish an ambitious precedent for future titles in the franchise.
The game was successful at launch and has maintained a generally positive impression over the following decades, with modern critics lauding its scale and unique gameplay while noting that it suffers from some sluggish performance and quirky save issues. A re-release on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 ensured that it could be enjoyed in its fully colorized form by modern audiences. Nintendo’s next Wario game would improve still further upon the foundation of Wario Land II, though, capitalizing on its status as the first series entry developed from the ground up for a color display.
Wario Land 3 (2000)
The Game Boy Color’s Wario Land 3 serves as an evolution on the mechanics of Wario Land II while introducing a few major additions of its own. The protagonist remains functionally invincible, aside from a unique Game Over possible during the final boss encounter, and is otherwise impacted by enemies either through being temporarily stunned or bodily transformed. In addition to returning transformations, a host of humorous new conditions debut in Wario Land 3: Ball O’ String Wario, a spherical form that bounces off of walls until it eventually unfurls; Electric Wario, a very brief transformation in which the player character stumbles backwards while enveloped in electricity, destroying any enemy he touches; Hot Wario, who is propelled rapidly forward by flaming pants; the slippery, statuesque Ice Skatin’ Wario; Invisible Wario, which renders Wario incorporeal to the player and enemies; Puffy Wario, an apparent anaphylactic stinger reaction that lets Wario float; Snowman Wario, a snow-covered form that lets the player character roll down hills and break blocks; and Vampire Wario, which can further shift between a humanoid and flying bat shape at the tap of a button.
These conditions are augmented by power-ups which serve similar functions to suit upgrades in Metroid games developed in the 1980s and 1990s by R&D1 staff. A viking hat serves the purpose of Wario Land and Virtual Wario Land‘s Bull Wario while garlic helps Wario smash open blocks, though other new abilities open up entirely new modes of traversal. Jumping boots allow Wario to leap higher and Prince Frog’s gloves let Wario swim against currents, granting access to new areas and treasure.
Wario can complete the game without obtaining every treasure, but – like earlier Wario Land series entries – the ending depends on how much of the game’s available treasure was stolen by Nintendo’s avaricious adventurer. Echosing the level design of Metroid, many treasures only become available once the player has acquired a later piece of gear. Other stages remain entirely inaccessible until the player has acquired another stage’s treasure or triggered a major environmental alteration by progressing through the game. This serves to make Wario Land 3‘s nonlinear level design the strongest in the franchise so far.
The game’s narrative, though not its chief focus, is also impressive. An opening cutscene introduces the player to Music Box World, a land within a music box in which Wario becomes trapped. Wario must collect five scattered music boxes and turn them over to a mysterious figure who claims that he can get Wario out of Music Box World. The tale grows somewhat more complex than that, and its twists are hardly novel, but this framing device adds value and humor to what is already a mechanically engaging experience.
Finally, Wario Land 3 introduces the series’ first major minigame. Upon discovering designated areas in certain stages, Wario can pay to engage in a bizarre side-scrolling golf minigame not entirely dissimilar to Itchy and Scratchy in Miniature Golf Madness (1994). The player is tasked with using a two-phase rhythm-based golf meter to smack a Para-Goom enemy into a goal before he or she can progress. By collecting seven crayons during the main quest, the player can also access an area of Music Box World where he or she can play multiple rounds of the miniature golf minigame.
Wario Land 3 was celebrated upon its worldwide release as a spectacularly ambitious puzzle-platformer which improved on virtually every aspect of its predecessor. Its expressive visuals and cutscenes were praised alongside its consistently smart gameplay, rendering it perhaps the best of the franchise so far. By the time of its 2012 re-release on the 3DS Virtual Console, its reputation had only grown as a touch point for an entirely new generation of Metroid-influenced nonlinear platformers.
Wario Land 4 (2001)
The Wario Land series made its leap from the Game Boy Color to the Game Boy Advance in 2001. Though this translated to richer animations, overall scope is scaled back in Wario Land‘s fifth iteration. A strong foundation of tight gameplay carried over from earlier entries, along with a couple of interesting new ideas, keeps this diminished scale from feeling like a step down from Wario Land 3.
The story, as with its direct predecessor, is conveyed through an animated introduction. Wario learns of the recently discovered Golden Pyramid from a newspaper and speeds off to claim its booty, arriving and being led by a black cat into its core. Four color-coded passages containing five stages each are accessible from this central location after Wario completes a two-stage Entry Passage. Wario can access a final area and battle the Golden Pyramid’s usurper ruler, the Golden Diva, following the successful conquest of all five passages. At this point, the hidden identity of his black cat ally is revealed.
Though his basic moveset remains largely unchanged from earlier series entries, Wario is now limited by the addition of a health gauge. Wario dies after he sustains enough damage and the player must restart the stage. This concession to more typical platformer gameplay does not come at the expense of transformations, which are scaled back in number but expanded in function; among other additions, Zombie Wario can now slip through thin floors and Flaming Wario can now destroy newly introduced Bonfire Blocks. The ability of some forms to mitigate damage is helpful, given Wario’s new health gauge, but being transformed by an enemy attack can itself incur damage.
Though its four passages can be tackled in any order, level designs are more linear than those in Wario Land 3. Wario does not gain access to additional abilities or equipment as the game goes on, so returning to earlier stages is not necessarily rewarded. Stages timers are broadly eschewed, though each stage includes a switch that must be triggered to begin a timed backtrack race to the goal; this sequence sometimes opens up additional routes to explore or treasures to collect. At the end of each passage is another timed challenge, as bosses reward Wario with additional treasure based on how quickly they’re defeated. The final tally of treasure has a misguided impact on Wario Land 4‘s ending cutscene, determining the beauty of the princess who kisses Wario.
Building on a trend established by Wario Land 3, Wario Land 4 offers three new optional minigames before the boss of each passage. Wario can spend points to play these and acquire medals to buy power-ups from an item shop for use when battling the passage’s boss. These minigames include Wario’s Home Run Derby, a reflex-based baseball simulator where Wario attempts to hit three home runs; Wario Hop, an auto-scrolling sequence in which Wario must leap over obstacles while riding a single tire through the desert; and Wario Roulette, a relatively straightforward roulette game with an amusing visual twist – the player initially sees an illustration of Wario in a barber’s chair with a randomly selected variations on his eyebrows, eyes, and mouth, and must successfully land the spinning roulette wheel on the correct facial features.
Wario Land 4 was well-received and would later be offered as a limited re-release on the 3DS’ Ambassador Program as well as a general re-release on the Wii U Virtual Console. Though one final Wario Land game would be released seven years later, it is hard not to see Wario Land 4 as the passing of the torch between the series and its successor. This was the last Wario game developed by character creator Hiroji Kiyotake and the first to involve Goro Abe and Ko Takeuchi, two of the foundational designers behind successful microgame series WarioWare (2003-2018).
Wario Land: Shake It! (2008)
Wario Land: Shake It! was not developed by R&D1, as that studio had fully moved on to the aforementioned WarioWare series following Wario Land 4 and had then been restructured into Nintendo Software Planning and Development in 2005. Development responsibilities for Wario Land‘s final chapter fell instead to Good-Feel, a third-party studio which had formerly been known primarily for its DS educational games. Good-Feel became involved in the creation of a sequel to Wario Land 4 when veteran Nintendo programmer Takahiro Harada successfully pitched the project to its founder, Etsunobu Ebisu.
Wario Land: Shake It! became the franchise’s first dedicated home console entry (depending upon how one looks at the Virtual Boy) when it was released on the Wii in 2008. Consequently, its presentation is a major update on the heretofore handheld-based series. A fully-animated opening cutscene by animation studio Production I.G. reintroduces players to Wario’s greedy nature and features the return of Captain Syrup for the first time since Wario Land II when she enlists Wario’s help in the retrieval of a legendary Bottomless Coin Sack from the Shake Dimension. Once inside this dimension, itself contained within a snow globe stolen from a museum by Captain Syrup, Wario becomes embroiled in a quest to save Queen Merelda and her Merfle subjects from the nefarious Shake King.
In-game graphics are staggeringly detailed due to Good-Feel’s decision to hand-animate all characters and backgrounds. This initially caused tension between game director Madoka Yamauchi, who had proposed the idea, and design director Tadanori Tsukawaki, as hand-animating characters rather than using consistent polygonal models meant that any later changes to character designs would need to be reproduced in every individual frame of animation; Wario alone required over 2000 frames of animation. Tsukawaki eventually grew to believe that the intense effort was worth the final result, however, and his team respectively collaborated with outside studios Production I.G. and Kusanagi to make their beautiful characters and backgrounds possible.
Aside from Wario’s dash attack and the ability to throw stunned enemies, Shake It! abandons many of the mechanics which had defined the Wario Land series since Wario Land II. Transformations are no longer possible and level designs are more linear, with the player attempting to save a Merfle at the end of each stage. The mad dash back to a starting location after flipping a switch is retained from Wario Land 4, however, as is the presence of three treasures in each stage.
Players can still replay each world’s five stages to complete optional objectives or acquire more money, but the campaign’s emphasis is clearly on forward momentum through its five worlds. Though there is an intended progression to these worlds, accessed by purchasing increasingly expensive treasure maps from a shop run by Captain Syrup, the player can alter that order by amassing enough in-game currency to unlock them in any order he or she chooses. Two secret stages within each world can be played once the player discovers maps hidden within that world’s standard stages.
Shake It!‘s chief innovation on its predecessors is the integration of motion controls. Players control Wario’s basic movements using the familiar directional pad, dash, and jump buttons, but shaking the Wiimote controller allows Wario to do a special attack that stuns nearby enemies and shakes the entire screen. Additionally, vehicular sequences are controlled by tilting the Wiimote. As with many other Wii titles, this novel input mechanism introduces a layer of unreliability to its controls and the game’s overall difficulty is reduced to compensate for its limited accuracy.
Critical reception for Wario Land: Shake It! was mixed. The game’s visual design was uniformly regarded as a triumph, outclassing virtually all 2D games of its era. Its gameplay was less successful, being widely regarded as a step down from the complexity of earlier Wario Land releases. While it would be the last Wario Land game published at the time of writing in 2019, Wario Land: Shake It! is important for its role in establishing a strong relationship between Nintendo and Good-Feel. This partnership would result in many of Nintendo’s most lushly animated games of the 2010s, including Kirby’s Epic Yarn (2010) and Yoshi’s Crafted World (2019).
The most significant spinoff of Wario Land is surely WarioWare. From the Game Boy Advance’s WarioWare: Mega Microgame$ (2003) to the 3DS’ WarioWare Gold (2018), this series actually produced more individual entries across more platforms than the Wario Land franchise. Its heavily metatextual story about the fictional WarioWare. Inc. and impressively experimental gameplay won it a place of honor among the most beloved cult classics in Nintendo’s portfolio during the early 21st Century. Since it constitutes an interesting story in its own right, though, I’d like to leave a more detailed exploration aside for its own likely Franchise Festival entry.
I’ll draw the reader’s attention instead to Wario World, a 2003 Gamecube title produced from a collaboration between R&D1 and Treasure. Nintendo had been interested in another project with Treasure following their work together on the Nintendo 64 rail shooter Sin and Punishment (2000) while R&D1’s staff had been hoping to develop their boorish antihero’s first 3D outing but were likely siloed within Nintendo into projects designed exclusively for the Game Boy Advance. The resulting second-party game translates many of Wario Land‘s characteristic features, including dash attacks, throwing enemies, and treasure hunting, into 3D environments.
Wario World‘s story, introduced through a pre-rendered computer-generated cutscene, begins with its eponymous star at the height of his misguided quest. Having finally acquired the wealth he had craved, Wario is relaxing in his palatial estate when a stolen jewel suddenly casts the castle into darkness. Wario must explore four worlds – each containing two stages and a boss battle – to restore his home to its gaudy glory.
In contrast to R&D1’s 2D adventures, gameplay largely eschews puzzles in favor of brawler mechanics. The health system is an interesting combination of Wario Land 4’s heart gauge and earlier entries’ emphasis on coin collecting; if Wario runs out of health, he can simply pay to return to life at the expense of some gathered treasure. Unlike earlier Wario games, though, accumulated treasure does not impact the ending. Instead, the size of Wario’s castle at the game’s conclusion is dependent on how many of the game’s 40 hidden Spriteling non-player characters were rescued throughout its stages.
Wario World was a critical and commercial success in spite of an uncharacteristically short playtime. The praise for its numerous boss battles, including the comical Clown-a-Round and the challenging Spideraticus, was contrasted sharply with boss encounters’ reputation as the worst moments in earlier Wario Land titles. Unfortunately, Wario World would be the last collaboration between Nintendo and Treasure at the time of writing aside from 2009’s Sin and Punishment: Star Successor. The once-celebrated studio would slowly lose employees throughout the 2000s as it focused on licensed titles and has not released any new games since 2014.
Wario: Master of Disguise was the next unique spinoff based on the rough foundation of Wario Land and, like Wario World, it was developed by a second-party studio. In this case, Suzak developed the game for the DS and brought their vision more in line with the core series’ classic 2D entries. Wario gets sucked into a television during a lightly animated opening cutscene which also serves to introduce his new nemesis, Count Cannoli/The Silver Zephyr.
Stages – referred to here as episodes – are much larger than they were in earlier Wario Land titles, lack an overworld or thematic organizational structure, and are tracked using a map on the DS’ top screen. The bottom screen shows Wario as the player navigates him through platforming sequences using a combination of face buttons and touch controls. The latter activate various disguises acquired by Wario, as drawing a particular design on the screen transforms Wario into an alternate costume with its own unique abilities; these include Genius Wario, who can see otherwise-hidden environmental features and Arty Wario, who can draw boxes or health-replenishing hearts on-screen.
Though Suzak included treasure chests to collect in each of the game’s episodes, these chests introduce one of the most controversial elements. Wario must complete a minigame each time a treasure chest is opened, including (among six others) a timed dot-connecting sequence called Lotsa Dots and a sliding image puzzle called Trick Slider. These minigames serve as one of the closest connections between the core Wario Land series and its WarioWare successor but lack the inventive spirit or brevity of the latter and serve primarily as distractions from Master of Disguise’s platforming gameplay.
Wario Land was a genuinely surprising franchise when it emerged from the otherwise relatively clean-cut Nintendo. R&D1 had been known as the most experimental of Nintendo’s internal development teams, but Wario Land cemented its reputation for irreverence. The failure of the Virtual Boy, which was a professional disaster for studio leader Gunpei Yokoi, seems only to have turned R&D1’s attention further towards their fascinating puzzle-platforming series during the late 1990s.
It was likely that same experimental spirit that moved the studio away from Wario Land in the 2000s. The avant-garde microgames of WarioWare proved too strong a siren song, and a deliberate separation of home console and handheld development resources within Nintendo resulted in R&D1’s reliance on an outside party for Wario’s first 3D platformer in 2003. The restructuring of R&D1 into Nintendo Software Planning and Development under Satoru Iwata in 2005 and merger with Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development in 2015 ensured that Wario Land 4 remains the last of the studio’s Wario Land projects.
One naturally wonders if another internal or second-party studio at Nintendo might pick up the torch of the ever-inventive Wario Land series. I suspect the truth is closer to what the Retronauts podcast suggested in a 2013 episode dedicated to this subject: the indie world has broadly inherited the fundamental characteristics of Wario Land. During the 1990s and 2000s, Wario Land served a crucial purpose as an alternative to the more standard platformer exploits of Mario and even rival IPs like Sonic or Rayman. By the early 2010s, though, the rise in digital marketplaces had made experimental, unconventional platformers like VVVVVV (2010) and Fez (2012) commercially viable. Since the launch of its Switch console, Nintendo itself regularly hosts Indie Direct and Indie World presentations intended to promote the most impressive independently-produced titles of the near future while fans of experimental side-scrollers have no shortage of options on rival devices. Wario’s platformer franchise may be over, but its spirit is very much alive in the world of indies.
What do you think? What’s your favorite Wario Land game? How about your favorite transformation or disguise? How do you think Wario Land could adapt to a world which has largely absorbed the characteristics of its foundational entries? Can you burp louder than Wario? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Next week we’ll be covering one of the most important series of all time: Richard Garriott’s Ultima. Here is a list of anticipated upcoming articles (subject to change):
- September 20: Ultima
- September 27: Uncharted
- October 4: Castlevania
- October 11: Clock Tower
- October 18: F.E.A.R.