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This article is part of Mario Week, our seven day-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of Super Mario World and 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. To read more articles from Mario Week, go here.

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Wario is one of the most fascinating alter-egos/counterparts/antagonists in videogame canon. Maybe not on first blush, because on first blush he’s another Metal Sonic (or Shadow, yuck) or the other Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy, you know, the one married to a giant spider. This is the classic narrative construct of the evil twin, the nefarious doppelganger, or the clone bred by obscure, dark forces. Or, like, Shadow Mario, actually just Bowser Jr. It doesn’t take long to realize that Wario isn’t any of that in relation to the heroic Mario, despite the physical resemblance and the name/letter flip. Sure, his name in Japanese roughly means “bad Mario,” but a closer examination of Wario reveals a character that is only “bad” insomuch as to the degree in which Mario is close to the moral ideal and Wario is, well, he’s not. He’s cantankerous, greedy, and, yeah, a bit of a disgusting slob—not unlike your average human male. Certainly, Wario is the only strong reference point for duality in the Mario series; the correlation is non-existent between the midget plumber whose conscience must be clean as virgin snow and a giant, fire-breathing dinosaur whose sole purpose is to steal princesses and fairies and wreak havoc. Wario is Mario, but Mario without the charmed status, Mario after a series of poor life choices, the Mario who isn’t held aloft by society, Mario with a thing for garlic and probably beer if Nintendo would let him. Mario with vices to feed. He’s our Mario.

Looking through Mario canon leaves Wario’s origin story conflicted and indefinite, a bit like Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. I had thought he was concocted in a Bowser laboratory somewhere from a strand of Mario mustache before I remembered that Bowser is not Dr. Moreau or even Robotnik, he’s a huge reptile with bad hair and clumsy hands that probably can’t even hold beakers and shit. Maybe the first time Mario entered the Sub-space in Super Mario Bros. 2 he left a ghost shadow impression that then emerged through the looking glass and after years of gluttony became the Wario we know today. The problem with these origins is that they play into a level of stark duality that, again, the Mario series isn’t really interested in. Yoshi’s Island DS puts Wario’s beginnings on some Final Fantasy-type ish, being one of the “Star Children,” seven Mushroom Kingdom babies of power (Mario being one of those, too, of course) who is kidnapped by Kamek and, why not, a time-traveling Bowser (Bowser also kidnaps baby Bowser, in a never-ending cycle of self-perpetuating evil). But before he was even kidnapped, baby Wario is shown as fussy and selfish. Nature vs. nurture, huh. Not even Mario games will give us a straight answer, apparently.

Holy shit, guys, Wario is the creep from Oldboy

In the Mario vs. Wario comic the source of Wario’s antagonism towards Mario is revealed as some inadvertent childhood bullying of Wario at the hands of Mario. Holy shit, guys, Wario is the creep from Oldboy. More favorably, Wario is the disenfranchised, the disenchanted. And how much it must suck to be disenchanted in a world full of magical pipes and animated flowers and just non-stop sparkles. Seriously, sparkles everywhere. But also, for whatever reason, a shit-ton of coin. Wario latches onto the one thing that doesn’t annoy him to death and that has some sort of currency with him. That is, money. While Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, flower children and mushroom munchkins and Yoshis of every color live in a sun-kissed, socialist (but also somehow royalist) bliss, Wario is the capitalist ready to trudge his way through their naivete on his way to fame, fortune, and power. His motivation isn’t as blankly bilious as Bowser’s. He’s just trying to find his place in this goofy-ass world. Preferably near the top.

Aesthetically, Wario is a fun-house mirror exaggeration of Mario, a reflective grotesquerie that expands Mario’s adorable pudge to unseemly flab, Mario’s unwavering grin to a cracked leer, Mario’s serene stare into a furrowed brow crowning wild eyes; thus, we can see the dial turn, we can see the slider on the spectrum where yin and yang are blended into frequency waves. Games where you play as Wario, such as the Wario Land series and Wario World, draw you into his quest for self-empowerment and swag and you start to feel that any do-gooders better not come along to muck it up. Fundamentally and deep down, Wario knows he wasn’t made for this world of Mario’s, he will never be embraced or liked. So he wants respect. It’s tragicomic that in his venture for this respect he only ever further alienates everyone and everything around him and ends up playing the fool. He’s kind of Donald Trump-y that way, you know.

if Mario characters ever die, then you can best believe Wario is gonna die sad and alone

But in Wario’s case it’s also sort of endearing and, to one degree or another, it’s more relatable than Mario’s prom king plumber Messiah. We see in Wario’s resemblance to Mario a reminder of our best selves while in Wario’s obese imperfections we see our distance from that self and all the ways in which we end up separating ourselves from others. So we munch a garlic-flavored Cheeto, throw back a beer, and we hustle, searching for hope in all the wrong places. Somewhat pitiably, Wario’s signature catchphrase from the Mario Kart series is “I’m-a gonna win!” And, sure, he might win that race—especially if whoever’s playing him is good enough to mitigate suspect steering and clunky acceleration—but in the grand cosmic scheme of things, Wario is never gonna win shit. He will not be respected, he will always be thwarted, and if Mario characters ever die, then you can best believe Wario is gonna die sad and alone (well, okay, Waluigi might be there). But still, always, he believes that he’s-a gonna win. Poor, fat fool. But even the fit and socially adjusted have a poor, fat fool inside. We are only ever a few decisions removed from that reality, and sometimes we aren’t removed from it at all. At the end of the day, we’re all more Wario than Mario. Singularly, Wario provides context and a semi-realist relief to Mario’s incorruptible goodness. His character dynamic creates a binary and a lone shade of gray where otherwise there would be none. Wario is not only one of the most fascinating antagonists in videogame canon … he’s one of the most valuable.

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This article is part of Mario Week, our seven day-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of Super Mario World and 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. To read more articles from Mario Week, go here.