Wario Super Mario Land 2 Game Boy
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

30 years ago, we clutched our Game Boys in our sweaty palms and gasped in collective awe at the majesty we were faced with when Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins dropped on the scene. Not only did we have an absolute banger in our hands — completely outdoing the first Mario Land in every respect and feeling like a 'proper' Super Mario Bros. game magically squeezed into the old Boy — but it was also the first time we got to bask in the glory of Wario. In his debut appearance, Mario’s rival was a sneaky yet imposing figure, towering over him.

Fast forward three decades (yes, really) and the Wario we know now is a fair bit different than that hulking menace we first saw in 1992. Wario now resides mostly in the comedy jobber region, occasionally being trotted out as a side-antagonist in Mario Sports games. But where was the turning point?

The way we see it, there are three eras of Wario...

Wario, the Rival and Hypnotist

“The wicked imposter Wario has cast an evil spell over Mario Land” is how we were introduced to Wario in an iconic ad (above) which saw him attempting to hypnotise the viewer into believing Mario is the enemy, shouting, “Obey Wario, DESTROY MARIO” with a menacing look in his eyes. This early interpretation of Wario is the most malevolently evil the character has ever been.

While Mario was away scrapping with aliens in Sarasaland, Wario took the plumber's absence as an opportunity to put the denizens of Mario Land under his control via a magic spell, seize Mario’s castle, and lock the door with six golden coins scattered around the land.

Super Mario Land 2 Story Instruction Booklet
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

Yes, in the early days Wario was a master of hypnotism and knew magic. This trait even carried on to the TV commercial for Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 in which he attempts to hypnotise the viewer by dangling a coin in their face and lecturing them on the positives of greed. It also gives us a rare glimpse at his hair.

So what would drive a man to harbour such resentment towards Mario that he would commit a hostile takeover of his land? In the manual for Super Mario Land 2, Mario — ever the narcissist — claims, “He has been jealous of my popularity ever since we were boys.”

However, the Club Nintendo comic ‘Mario Vs Wario’ sheds light on a darker side of the tale. As it turns out, Wario was a victim of childhood bullying from none other than Mario himself. Yes, Nintendo’s golden boy tormented poor Wario.

So just maybe, he was the good guy all along, who slid into anti-hero status through no fault of his own.

Mario Vs Wario Comic
Image: Nintendo Power

Wario, the Treasure Hunter

After Mario put him in his place, Wario never again attempted a coup of Mario Land. In fact — outside of spin-off competitions like on the racetrack or playing Tennis and DDR — he hasn't stood against Mario ever since.

Wario Land 4 Spoiled Rotten
Image: Nintendo

Instead, Wario took to a life of treasure hunting, starting with the original Wario Land. For a character who used such underhanded methods against Mario in his debut, it turns out that Wario is kind of a badass.

Zooming ahead a few games, Wario Land 4 begins with a shot of a newspaper stating that a pyramid harboring a legendary treasure had been discovered, and that ancient beings were stopping people from discovering it. So what does our beloved Wario do? He gets in his car and heads straight there.

Even when he shows up to the first boss encounter, Spoiled Rotten — a horror beyond human comprehension — does he start to doubt this plan? No, Wario rams himself straight into the enemy with no hesitation. Throughout his adventure, Wario gets flattened, stung by bees, set on fire, and even turned into a zombie, but he has no thoughts of stopping. Not until the treasure is his.

Wario World
Image: Nintendo

Then came Wario World, which begins with our dashing hero sat on a throne in his castle made of gold, surrounded by piles of treasure. Unbeknownst to him, among his treasure pile is the cursed sentient gem the ‘Black Jewel’ which suddenly awakens, thrusting Wario from his home and stealing his entire collection of treasure.

Smash Bros. Brawl finally gave us Mario’s dreaded rival in Smash...and what does he do? Falls off his bike and farts

He drops headfirst into an unknown land, having had his entire life’s spoils stolen from under him. Is there a 20-minute cutscene of him lamenting everything he has lost? No, he gets straight back up within seconds and heads out to get his treasure back. This is a determined man whose lust for treasure overpowers mere human emotions like fear and despair.

The peak of Wario’s no-nonsense man-of-action era was definitely 2008’s Wario Land: The Shake Dimension. This was no mistake, as Tadanori Tsukawaki — design director of the game — said in a Nintendo online interview:

“As much as possible, I wanted to show a macho Wario, one who is masculine and tough...I asked the animators to strongly emphasize his manly characteristics.”

However, this is arguably the last time we saw this side of Wario.

Wario, the Gross Businessman

Smash Bros Brawl E3 06 trailer
Image: Nintendo

This takes us up to Wario’s third era, the era in which he became a smelly, garlic-devouring slob who gave up his life of adventure to sit on his behind and have others create video games for him. This version of the character is mainly seen in the WarioWare games and the later Mario spin-off titles.

As incredible as the Smash Bros. series treats its characters, Wario’s interpretation in those games is almost solely inspired by this latter era. Outside of the iconic shoulder charge (which was removed in Smash 4), Wario's move list lacks any reference to his Wario Land days. Brawl's trailer finally gave us a glimpse of Mario’s dreaded rival showing up in Smash after years of requests, and what does he do? Falls off his bike and farts on everyone.

The comedic aspect of the character is also present in most sports titles, such as the intro scene of Mario Power Tennis, which shows him and Waluigi as bumbling fools who mess Bowser's plan up. This continues in his latest Mario Strikers: Battle League appearance, in which his super shot involves him smashing his butt onto the ball, followed by him devouring a giant clove of garlic.

Mario Strikers Battle League Football
Waaaaah, etc. — Image: Nintendo

Wario is an interesting character study amongst the Mushroom Kingdom crowd, with arguably no other character having gone through the drastic changes he has. While we adore the WarioWare games with all of our heart — and who doesn't love a good fart gag? — it is a bit disappointing to see the comedic aspects overpower a once extremely capable character. Then again, perhaps this is simply the result of there not being a Wario Land game in the last 15 years.

It’ll be interesting to see if Wario appears in the new Mario movie, and what form he will take if he does turn up. Will he be a Shadow the Hedgehog-esque post-credits stinger setting him up as the villain for an inevitable sequel? Or will he be in the background to make fart jokes happen?

Super Mario Land 2 Wario
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

Who knows. Whatever happens, today we salute you, sir!

Feel free to let us know your favourite Wario games and moments below. We're off to fire up Super Mario Land 2 for a 30-year-anniversary playthrough!