This series got a strange turn of event. Starting originally with Super Mario Land, Wario took over the series after his debut as the villain in the second game and since then, it became an interesting anti-Mario series. This is actually a beautifully strange move from Nintendo. Changing a series from starring the cute and polite plumber Mario, to Wario who is rude, grose and did not have anything clearly established about him. Because of this, the developers could be as bizarre as they wanted to be with the series.
This is certainly shown in his games as well, from the early 2D-titles having some minor collectables for a better ending, to taking more and more inspirations from Metroid‘s non-linear approach. One of the key elements that made the Wario Land-series stand out mechanically, was the more puzzle-based platforming with even a couple of games neglecting any form of health all together. Instead, Wario could be squashed flat to float in the air, be lit on fire to burn through obstacles and more. This provided more interesting uses of the enemies themselves than just as obstacles and forced the levels to be designed around this abstract concept.
Puzzles, platforming and surrealism
One of the best elements about the Wario-series, was how it took a familiar concept and twisted it to make it both easy to pick up and a unique experience. It was still a series consisting of platformers, but one that was nontraditional with more opportunities to explore, utilising puzzles as obstacles, and strange form of power-ups. These power-ups came mainly from hazards or enemies, and could be either a support and hindrance depending on the level’s design. For example, being fed cake to make Wario heavy could make platforms fall down, which could either lead to backtracking or to a new location. Secrets and some small explorations to the stages added a lot of replay value and instead of making coins important for extra lives, they had other means such as for getting better endings or in order to play mini-games.
I also love this anti-hero approach, as Wario simply does not care about saving anything unless treasures are involved. The more abstract take on a protagonist also meant that his world could be surreal and never resort to necessarily being traditional. Sure, we saw Wario in the dessert or near a volcano, but we also saw him in cities playing basketball with a giant bunny, getting crushed inside busy factories, and even visiting Japanese temples where pirates stood in his way. In fact, the enemies got more strange and interestingly designed because of this. Wario’s world was like a Salvador Dali painting with a more humorous and childlike take on it, which I love.
I know I might be in the minority here, but while Wario Land 3 was a revolutionary game and quite interesting at that, it was also a tiresome slog with a lot of ideas halting the progression and a day and night cycle I hate more than the one in Simon’s Quest. This unclear and broad possibilities for what a Wario game could be, meant that he could be used for any genre, which I believe is why Wario World also suffered and became a dull experience. The overall lack of focus or identity was Wario’s biggest faults, despite finding some clear footnotes in most of the Land games. Though the crowning achievement of his downfall, is Master of Disguise which was simply terrible.
Land & Ware
While the WarioWare-series seems to be living on and keeping Wario in the spotlight, it is hard to say if we will be getting more Wario Land games. On one hand, I do not think Nintendo has forgotten about the traditional Wario-titles and his games are still praised to this day. On the other hand, when we got Super Mario 3D Land instead of a true Wario Land instalment, it made me worried that Nintendo might be playing it safe and stick to what is familiar than necessarily creative.
I do definitely think we will be getting more similar titles at least, as many developers have been taking inspirations from this yellow bastard, such as Beard Blade, Iconoclasts, and the Monster Boy games. Not to mention seeing how Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World were creative platformers that at least received critical praises, I am hoping for one more Wario-title from the same studio. I can say that we got a solid final if Wario Land: Shake It turns out to be the last game we got, but it also would serve as a reminder of what more could have been.
As for which version to get, it truly depends on your preference when it comes to linear and nonlinear gameplay. I believe Wario Land 2 is fantastic for both audiences, but I believe Wario Land: Shake It is a hidden gem in this regard too. If you are new to gaming in general, Wario Land 4, Super Mario Land 2 and Wario World are good choices if you want a fun experience, but they are harder to recommend to a general crowd. Of course Wario Land for the Virtual Boy is an obvious choice if you have that device, but it is far from a system seller (even for fanatics like me). If you truly cannot stand nonlinear design, then the first and last game in the original Super Mario Land-trilogy will serve you well. This is truly a series with at least one title for anyone.