Most of us got our first glimpse of Mario's depraved doppelganger in the TV advert for Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, way back in 1993, and it was a troubling moment. There you were, idly enjoying an ad break in the Chart Show when that familiar Nintendo logo popped up on the screen. A minute or so of typical Mario stuff followed - jumping, running, collecting everything in sight - and then there he was, his head vast and horrifically detailed, leering out of the TV with crazed eyes and a high-pitched cackle.The huge nose, the lightning bolt moustache, the disgustingly over-pronounced chin: Wario was a real shocker. He looked a bit like Mario, of course, but that only made things worse. He was sufficiently similar to platforming's greatest hero to trick you into lowering your defences for a half-second, and that was just enough time to realise something was wrong - horribly wrong.
It's fine that we were scared. Why wouldn't we be? We didn't know Wario yet, and it turns out that Nintendo didn't know him either. For the next few years he was a mean-spirited cypher: a Bowser under-study with a Halloween pumpkin grin who only turned up in offshoots and second-string affairs. There he was on the Game Boy, on the Virtual Boy, or in some weird block puzzler headed for the discount bin. What was his problem?
Little by little, though, he settled into his own peculiar character. The Wario Land games introduced a bit of his gleeful anarchy, for example, and also helped develop his roguish, money-grabbing impulses. Wario wasn't just somebody to fight against during the final boss sequence: he was somebody you could control, too. Sure, he wasn't Mario, but maybe there was a pleasure to be had in being the anti-Mario for a few levels. Mario never shoulder-barged anyone, after all, or had end-of-level goals built of skulls and assorted other bones. Mario was never so morbidly in love with gold and jewels and crisp bank notes. Wario could be fun.
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