Thursday, 1 November 2012

Great Arseholes of Gaming: Wario

Welcome back to Great Arseholes of Gaming, where we pay homage to the greatest douchebags to inhabit virtual space. Today, we discuss the nightmarish mirror image of one of gaming's most beloved icons - and Wario.

You know him just by his silhouette. His jaunty hat. His bushy and magisterial moustache. His goofy, incompetent brother. His laugh, my God, his laugh. He's a titan of modern gaming with a love of coins and a firm grasp of any role he turns his begloved hand to.

But every thesis has its antithesis. Every jolly yin needs a hateful yang. And cometh the hour, cometh the man - a twisted, venal parody of the familiar. The cartoony smile contorted into a vulpine grin. The love of coins magnified to an all-consuming greed. His laugh. My God, HIS LAUGH.

Yes, I am of course referring to Wario and his nightmarish doppelganger - Bobby Kotick.

Wario has appeared in a ton of Nintendo games, starting with Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins in 1992 for the mighty Gameboy. He's occasionally starred in his own games, such as the excellent Wario World for the GameCube, which was developed by the godlike geniuses at Treasure Video Games. For the most part, he's become a staple of party games, appearing in all Mario Kart games since the N64 edition. On the GameCube edition, Mario Kart: Double Dash, I used to deliberately finish in 4th place or worse just so I could hear his enraged wail of "I lost... to a bunch of losers!" (this is definitely why I used to regularly lose, there is NO OTHER REASON) But my favourite Wario titles, the ones that best capture his anarchic spirit, the ones that brought my friends and I hours of laughter, the ones that are the most damned fun, are all his: Warioware.

The Warioware series is one of the finest party game franchises I have ever experienced (the Wii version, Smooth Moves, was excellent, as was Touched! for the DS, but there is a special place in my heart for the GameCube masterpiece Warioware Inc.). It throws 5 second microgames at you, no explanation or context save for a single verb, and delirious button-bashing ensues. It has its roots in Bishi-Bashi Special, a slice of pure mentalism for the PS1, but pared down to the purest form of chaos and therefore much more approachable. The Warioware microgames are games that anyone can play, and fail at, and laugh at. There are other microgame collections that have tried to bottle Wario's anarchic lightning, but only the deranged McPixel comes close.

The story of Warioware is utterly irrelevant to the game itself, and is much more a framing device for the cavalcade of microgames that are being thrown at your eyes and brain. Wario, always looking out to make a fast coin, has set up a videogame development studio. He is dismayed, however, to discover that making games is hard. To that end, he throws all the half-finished ideas and fragments of games he can scrape together into one Frankengame - Warioware. As the series progressed, Wario did the same thing over and over again, raking in coin after coin for iterations of the same thing. This symbolises everything about Wario's personality: his laziness, his greed, his contempt for anyone who is not Wario.

Bobby Kotick, like any good parody, is an exaggerated version of Wario and his backstory. There are some minor differences - Wario began a development studio, whilst Kotick is CEO of a publisher, the fictional 'Activision'. This subtle difference is a crucial one - it allows the Kotick character license to spread his greed across multiple studios and franchises. Whereas Wario was happy to slap together games from entertaining microgames, Kotick's laziness and greed means that the games he has a hand in don't even need to be entertaining, such as the recent '007: Legends' (just imagine if such a threadbare hotchpotch of a game were actually released!). Wario's happiness to iterate the same game over and over is taken to its logical conclusion in Kotick, who's insane 'annualisation' policy means he is happy to release the same game over and over again, albeit with slightly different graphics, in order to satiate his all-consuming lust for coins.

Ultimately, as a character, Kotick is nowhere near as iconic as the mustachioed maniac he is based on. Whilst, as stated above, a good parody is all about exaggeration, Kotick's greed and contempt for gamers are stretched to such absurd extremes that he is revealed as a pure cartoon character, too obviously an invention with nowhere near the depth of a well-rounded human like Wario. It's a shame that this is the case - if he were more believable, an appearance by Kotick might raise a smile, rather than a sigh.

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