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Cover for the Gamecube game Wario World, showing Wario surrounded by riches and tossing coins into the air Image: Nintendo

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In Wario World, the pursuit of treasure is worth more than treasure itself

Wario is his own greatest enemy

While Wario is known for his avarice, the one Wario game that stands out when it comes to his greed is Wario World. Its story begins with Wario finally enjoying his very own castle that’s stuffed to the rafters with treasures. Of course, there’s a flaw lurking within: the Black Jewel that warps the castle and all of its other treasures, requiring Wario to retrieve them and set everything back in order.

It’s clear that players (and Wario himself) are meant to see the actions of the Jewel as though they are malicious, but maybe they’re more than that. The Jewel comes from within Wario’s own house, and so I wonder how much Wario’s troubles in the game actually come from within himself. Despite what Wario claims, maybe life is not about actually possessing stacks of gold coins and piles of treasures. Instead, it’s the pursuit that thrills him. It’s a pity that Wario doesn’t seem to realize that all the treasure in the world wouldn’t make him happy.

Nintendo characters don’t often show much growth or change from game to game. For the most part, each entry follows a common rule of serialized television and comics: at the end of the day, everything has to go back to the way it was when it started. Wario World could have bucked this convention while remaining true to Wario’s character. The Black Jewel lurking in his riches could have been some very obvious symbolism about the tragedy of Wario, for whom too much is never enough. That Wario World starts there, instead of with a treasure hunt, caper, or a demand for odd jobs puts it in a strange position within Wario’s canon. Is this the one where Wario learns a lesson?

Wario is standing on the ledge of a stone walkway, and gold coins are pouring out beside him Image: Treasure/Nintendo

Well, this is Wario, so of course not. Much like Wario himself, Wario World only carries the potential for self-realization. If players do a thorough job in recollecting all of his treasures, Wario winds up right back in a personal throne room, alone. But is that what he really wants? Perhaps the Black Jewel merely surfaced Wario’s own hidden desires. After all, Wario World amounts to a theme park where Wario can piledrive baddies and break open treasure chests. There’s a garlic vendor on every corner. It’s more of a dream castle than any throne room could be.

While many of the levels of Wario World reinforce that it’s all about its titular character, none are more overt about it than one called “Wonky Circus,” a big top where Wario is the star. There, a spotlight follows Wario wherever he goes. Ostensibly, the Black Jewel is the ringleader, but if so, it’s a very indulgent one. While each level is rife with baddies, puzzles, and a locked boss door, there are no challenges that Wario cannot surmount. Instead, every fight and puzzle is tailored to Wario’s unique set of skills. What other character is going to pick up a bomb-throwing Ankylosaurus with a “wild swing-ding”? This is a chance for him to strut!

Even though the Jewel has usurped Wario’s treasure, coins abound. They explode out of bosses with every successful hit. With every timed, 60-second brawl (of which there’s a couple in each level), there’s a chance to suck in piles of moolah. But what good are coins if you have nothing to spend them on? In Wario World, they can be used to purchase health-restoring garlic, but they also allow players to buy their way out of “Game Over” screens. Any trouble that Wario encounters can be resolved through a combination of brawn and cash. Even a knockout hit from a boss can be fixed this way, amounting to a pause screen and a relatively small fine.

A tiny sized Wario is leaping from one enormous flower to another Image: Treasure/Nintendo

Furthering the sense of unreality, there are often psychedelic transitions and scenes throughout the game. Space and time are apparently the Black Jewel’s to command, leading to impossible architectures and puzzle zones with abstract, rotating geometries. With all that power, it’s curious that every zone is arranged in just such a way as to test Wario’s nous and ability. Some areas ask for the precision execution of unique moves like the “corkscrew conk,” while others rely on his miraculous ability to survive falls from any height. Bosses that are impervious to Wario’s swings and grabs conveniently fight on platforms that can be dunked into lava with a ground pound. Within the game, the Black Jewel supposedly has the power to rearrange the world. But if the goal is to remake the world to its own ends, why are the results so centered around Wario?

With all of this so on-the-(bulbous)-nose, so well-tailored to Wario, where’s the tragedy? It’s right where it usually is: lodged in the main character. Wario is so insatiably greedy that he could never be content in a castle, no matter what he tells himself. He entered the Mario canon by taking over Mario’s own castle and island. Then, after being thrown out, Wario went on a series of fantastic adventures. That’s how Wario actually gets his kicks. A throne room is boring if you would rather be rampaging through deserts, wrestling dinosaurs, and charging through haunted houses. Yet Wario himself never seems to realize this. In each of Wario World’s endings, which are determined by how many treasures players retrieve and how many magical sprites they rescue, Wario simply expresses his relative happiness at his remade digs. Collect too few and he’s relegated to setting his throne by a tent and a campfire. Collect all of them, and he sits in an opulent room, surrounded by glittering coins. The best ending, according to Wario, is the one where everything is just as it was at the beginning of the game.

Perhaps the Black Jewel really is a treasure, just like all the others in Wario’s collection. It’s just the kind with enough magical juice to grant one’s heart’s desire. But who is Wario, satisfied? Maybe he’s just unsatisfied, pining for adventure. The Jewel obliges this desire, allowing Wario to chase down his own treasures all over again. And even though Wario claims to have shattered the Jewel after it appears as a final boss, who really knows? Perhaps it’s the engine that powers all those absurd, engrossing Wario Ware minigames. If there’s one thing that Wario World makes clear out of all of his games, it’s that he can never rest. If there’s nobody around to antagonize him, maybe Wario will just go down to his vault and invent a villain.