Mario is a dud. He has no personality outside of his career. He takes a green pipe from one world to the next, stealing all the gold while slaughtering every Goomba in his way. He hardly says a thing, but we’re supposed to love him because, what, he’s a white knight wife guy? The man, at best, is naïve and void of personality, and at worst, a charismatic sociopath.
That’s why I support Wario. With years of design experience separating the creation of Mario and Wario, Nintendo stuffed their yellow-and-purple avatar with the personality Mario should have had all along.
Wario is presented as the anti-Mario, a sophomoric id that loves to belch, steal, and generally menace everyone around him. But is that not just a description of Mario? Mario has just as much of an affinity for collecting coins, and equally murderous tendencies on display every time he breaks the spines of his unsuspecting victims. Wario’s gaseousness is more explicit, but who’s to say the puffs of air tracing behind Mario aren’t dust but lil’ toots?
What I’m arguing here is as controversial as it is simple: The difference between Mario and Wario is purely presentational.
Mario has no externalized personality, but that’s not his fault. Nintendo conceived the little fellow decades ago when video game consoles could barely push a few pixels across the screen and video game cartridges struggled to store a short story’s worth of text, let alone voiced dialogue. What little backstory Mario had came from Super Mario Bros.’s cardboard box and instruction manual, video game magazines, art books, and playground speculation stated as fact. He is an Italian plumber with an easy smile and a penchant for silence. That’s about it.
Apocryphally speaking, some folks at Nintendo wanted more than what Mario could offer. In a 2008 history of early Nintendo’s development process, Anthony JC wrote:
“While working on the Mario Land franchise, the team even managed to create Nintendo’s anti-hero named Wario and sway from using the character (Mario) they had no creative passion for. Wario Land became Nintendo R&D1’s big hit. It continued the excellent level design of the Super Mario Land series but now with a character that was not created by Miyamoto and instead a character symbolizing R&D1’s situation.”
Is this anecdote true? I’ll say that it certainly sounds true.
After all, Wario is what happens if you explain Mario’s actions to someone who has never seen Mario and then ask them to draw the person they picture in their head. He’s a little rounder, his smile a bit more crooked. He’s got a surprising amount of arm muscle from punching apart countless blocks and thin legs from running forever eastward. He’s a greedy boy, obsessed with accruing power-ups and exploring new worlds. He has no shame. He requires no faux-altruistic motive, like saving a princess.
So why then does Wario have a bad rap, while Mario gets all the praise? Is Wario really so bad?
Nintendo itself has agreed that Wario deserves better. In a 2008 interview ahead of the release of Wario Land: The Shake Dimension, a Nintendo rep told IGN that, “in recent games where Wario makes cameo appearances, he is often treated as a villain, but originally Wario was just intent on getting what he wanted — he was not intentionally a bad guy. Because of this, his being a villain isn’t something we really considered. It’s just about his behavior, which could be considered either good or bad.”
Pop-culture writer Mike Scholars made a breathless defense of Wario in his essay, “Wario isn’t evil, he’s honest.” Scholars concluded that “Wario was conceived out of a desire to put a twist on the familiar, but his creators tapped into a powerful, universal constant: The Unrepentant Asshole.”
So as Scholars said, Wario is not evil. He’s merely open about his particular pursuit of happiness. Where Mario is a goody-goody with an impossible optimism that disguises his ruthless pillaging of the Mushroom Kingdom, Wario is a self-realized mess of a person.
Or to put it in three words: Wario is human.