Who, really, is the man in yellow?
Wario. Wario never changes. As the off and on nemesis of renowned plumber Mario, Wario’s appearance and characterization has, like many Nintendo characters, remained more or less consistent over the years. He has a big nose, big mustache, and big body—a kind of perverted mutation of Mario’s form. He’s a hothead solely motivated by greed—a stark contrast from the heroic protagonists of other Nintendo franchises. While he can be clever and physically powerful, Wario is almost always more oafish than threatening, a kind of farcical villain whose hijinks never quite reach the level of the truly nefarious.
While these similarities run through all of his appearance, Wario has worn many hats over the years. He’s most commonly seen in his yellow plumber hat—though it seems unlikely that he holds a professional accreditation—or his more recent biker helmet. In these various costumes and enterprises—treasure hunter, chairman of WarioWare, Inc., unfriendly acquaintance of Mario and so on, a complicated picture begins to emerge. Could all of these different appearances occur in the same world? The only consistent link between Wario Land, WarioWare, and the Mario spin-off games is Wario himself.
Is Wario leading a triple life? Did he end up in parallel universes because his QPUs misaligned in Super Mario 64 DS? Or can we reconcile these experiences as different phases of his eventful life?
Let There Be Wah
Chronologically, we are first introduced to Wario in Yoshi’s Island DS, where he was one of many weird babies found by the titular Yoshis on the titular island. This sequel to Yoshi’s Island ties together the origins of several Mario characters, including Peach and Donkey Kong, in order to attempt to make sense of the Mario expanded universe. But Wario’s debut in Super Mario Land 2 doesn’t fit cleanly with those Mario games, or even some other Wario games.
The Super Mario Land games are already notorious for being off-kilter by Mario standards. Mario rides airplanes and submarines, his enemies are cheap imitations of past foes—including “Goombos” and “Bullet Biffs”—and when he gets a Super Star, the game plays a rendition of Offenbach’s “Infernal Galop”—better known as “The Can-can.” You could chalk most of that up to Super Mario Land taking place in Princess Daisy’s empire of Sarasaland instead of the familiar Mushroom Kingdom. However, Super Mario Land 2 only complicates the canon further. This sequel reveals that while Mario was away during the events of the first game, Wario took over Mario’s… castle?
To this day, there are no other games where Mario owns property on this scale——all subsequent titles depict Mario as residing in a small house in the Mushroom Kingdom. There’s a chance he just downsized, but the rich seldom voluntarily abdicate their wealth—and after all, the entire goal of Super Mario Land 2 is to reclaim the castle from Wario.
Wario’s brief time as a squatter is noteworthy though, because he spends Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land seeking enough riches to buy a castle of his own. Failure to achieve his goal could lead to an alternate timeline featuring some of the forgotten games, such as Wario’s Woods or the Japan-exclusive Mario & Wario, in which an abject Wario whiles away the days by dropping buckets on people’s heads or cursing forest animals in a post-Super Mario World Mushroom Kingdom.
However, Wario Land II—the point at which Wario becomes the star of his own series—assumes the antihero’s success by opening with Wario asleep in his very own fortress. In a stroke of poetic payback, Wario finds that his newly acquired wealth has been appropriated by pirate Captain Sugar and her Black Sugar Gang, and he must recover it—whether he acknowledges the irony is uncertain. Wario Land III sees our hapless hero transported to another world, where an evil clown takes advantage of his greed to free himself from an ancient curse. And Virtual Boy Wario Land, one of the best titles for the failed console, is more of the same—Wario’s lust for riches traps him in a secret cavern, and he must escape with as much loot as he can.
While the gameplay is similar, the setting of Wario Land 4 distinguishes it from the older games. With the debut of Wario’s now-trademark purple muscle car—possibly based on an 1958 Cadillac Eldorado—Wario Land 4 is the first to form a tangible connection to future games starring Wario, including the WarioWare series. Like in the other Wario Land games, Wario is still adventuring for riches, but his urban lifestyle is more consistent with our modern Wario than the castle-dweller of old—less feudal, more CEO. It’s likely the city he lives in during this game is Diamond City from the WarioWare games, which is the setting of many years of Wario’s misadventures.
In WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$!, Wario founds a video game company as a get-rich-quick scheme. He gets help from his friends around the city, and ends up wildly successful, though he’s reluctant to pay them. The other games in the series have similar plotlines, usually revolving around Wario finding new gimmicks for his games and new ways to swindle his employees. There’s a loose chronological order here, and it’s likely that Wario Land: Shake It! occurs in this timeline as well. Like the other modern games, Wario has a house and his purple car. Interestingly, Captain Syrup, the main antagonist from the early Wario Land games returns, but her Black Sugar Gang of pirates is nowhere to be found.
The best-selling games featuring Wario aren’t about his journeys through the wilderness or career as a game developer—they’re mostly titles in which Wario exists primarily as a counterpart and rival for Mario. It’s impossible to make narrative sense of Mario Kart, Mario Party, or Mario sports games, but they collectively form the most natural world for the Baby Wario of Yoshi’s Island DS to grow up in.
The only possible carryover from the other Wario timelines is his car in some Mario Kart games, but signs of his other lives’ experiences are erased. Even the Kremling enemies from Donkey Kong Country make occasional appearances in Mario sports games, but Captain Syrup and Wario’s friends from Diamond City never make the cut. Instead, Mario spin-offs instead pair Wario with his strange purple friend/brother/cosplayer Waluigi.
It’s worth noting that Waluigi is still not a Wario character. It’s been almost two decades since his debut in Mario Tennis, but Waluigi hasn’t appeared in a single Wario Land or WarioWare game. By all definitions, he is simply another Mario character. However, Waluigi anchors Wario to the multiplayer Mario spin-offs and helps distinguish this side of him from his other incarnations. Waluigi plays off of Wario’s trademark greed by giving him a like-minded cohort unlike any of his allies in other timelines.
There are other niche games centered around Wario that are disconnected from the rest of the franchise—Wario World, Wario: Master of Disguise, and Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman. They’re further proof that Wario can go where he pleases, ignoring the conventions and mainstays of the universe around him—a greed elemental roving the multiverse, searching for riches that can never fully satiate his bottomless desires.
For Mario, the Super Mario Land games were an exception—they were the one time in history he could reinvent himself without carrying over the typical Koopa Troopas and Fire Flowers that have defined him for generations. Meanwhile, Wario’s origin in the Super Mario Land games would kickstart dozens of games with no common thread besides one character who is eternally consistent. With Wario games nothing is guaranteed, except one inalterable trait—a chaotic, insatiable lust for more, a grim commentary on the endless, self-destructive consumption of man.