Obey Wario, Destroy Mario
It happened. It finally happened. Mario is dead in the ground, his games placed in the Nintendo vault forevermore. For many this is a day of mourning, of grief.
But not for me. See, I fell under Wario’s evil spell when I was but a small Demetri. Long ago I was given a simple command: destroy Mario. Who would have thought that it would have been Nintendo themselves that would finally do the plumber in? How truly villainous. Regardless, now seems like the best time to rank our true hero’s games from worst to best. We’re doing all of the US releases here folks – Wario Land, WarioWare, every spinoff, the works. It’s what he deserves. Let’s get started!
#19: WarioWare: Snapped
Oh right. This exists.
Nobody remembers WarioWare: Snapped and there are a few reasons. It was a DSi exclusive, for one, as the entire game was built around the camera. It was digital only, which didn’t help its already limited playerbase discover it. And also it’s garbage. That never helps.
The problem with Snapped isn’t even that it uses your face as the controller, though that’s not great. The problem is that the actual game they built around that gimmick barely exists. There’s almost no content here and it’s simpler than any other WarioWare entry. This game is a black mark on a series with an otherwise solid track record and I’m finished talking about it.
#18: WarioWare D.I.Y.
I swear I don’t dislike WarioWare. If this was arranged into a tier list we would already be in a higher tier than Snapped, which would be sitting by itself in the garbage. D.I.Y.’s gimmick – that Wario would rather the players make the games for him – is cute. But “WarioWare Maker” it was not, and the rudimentary design tools given made it a bit underwhelming even when you downloaded other people’s creations. It did allow for all kinds of rude jokes and unlicensed character appearances as any game with a create-a-level suite does, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good game.
#17: Wario Land 3
The mainline Wario Land series has a habit of reinventing itself. Every entry carries significant differences from its fellows, and that makes them all really distinct in terms of feel. Unfortunately that didn’t always pan out as far as good games go.
Wario Land 3 plays like an identity crisis. It’s a Game Boy Color game that came out in the year 2000, merely a year before the 4th entry on the Game Boy Advance, yet it plays absolutely nothing like the games before or after it. It pushes the system to the limit in terms of visuals and sound. But as a game…look, I can understand why some folks say this is their favorite; metroidvanias are popular after all, but in terms of play it feels like the mechanics of Wario Land 2 transplanted into a framework that just doesn’t support them all that well.
By far the worst part of this game is having to earn almost all of Wario’s abilities, something that no Wario game before or since has done, to justify this Metroid-y core. It only serves to extend playtime and force you to revisit levels, padding out a surprisingly small world map that you could otherwise 100% clear in under 2 hours if they just let Wario be Wario from the get-go. It’s not often that I straight up don’t understand why a design decision was made, but this is one of those instances. It may be the most controversial placement on this list but I stand by it – Wario Land 3 is the worst of the main series.
#16: Wario’s Woods
We have escaped the weak titles, but only just. Wario’s Woods is fine. There’s nothing wrong with it aside from a general lack of Wario. It’s a clever little puzzle game that gets a lot of mileage out of having you run around in the actual board. It’s a good time, but I strongly doubt it’s anyone’s favorite falling block puzzler. There’s very little else to say about it aside from the SNES version being better.
#15: Virtual Boy Wario Land
This was one of the most difficult games to place on this list. On one hand it’s a solid platformer with fantastic spritework that makes excellent use of its foreground/background gimmick well before 3D was anywhere close to normal. Sure it’s short, but when a game plays this well that’s not a problem.
But on the other hand this is a Virtual Boy game, and the Virtual Boy is a flimsy torture device built to inflict migraines. This game is a nightmare to actually play through no fault of its own because the hardware is just that awful. Hell, it’s the only Wario game that came out in the states that I don’t actually own because I refuse to invite that pain into my life. You want my advice? Find another way to play it. A way that allows you to change the display color to something other than cornea-searing red. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.
#14: Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!
Oh hey, the other game that isn’t really a Wario title. This one’s arguably even less Wario-y than Woods; the game didn’t even feature Wario until it was brought over to the west. Need to sell GB Bomberman to people? Easy, just add Wario I guess! You don’t even have to play as him – he’s just an option. Baffling!
Look, this is just Bomberman. I like Bomberman. Do you like Bomberman? This is Bomberman with Wario! You get to ride your motorcycle around and drop bombs for a whole bunch of levels. It’s perfectly fine, no issues here. It may not really be a Wario game but you could do far worse than pocket Bomberman with a dollop of Wa.
#13: WarioWare: Twisted!
Poor Twisted, unfairly bullied by the passage of time and the improvement of technology.
Many would tell you that this is the best WarioWare game. I get why, and I do like it, and when this was released I may have even agreed! But moreso than any of the other WW titles Twisted’s ideas were directly iterated and improved on in future entries. Don’t take that as a strong criticism of Twisted – it’s very good and still worth playing on original hardware if you’re curious – but you can do better.
#12: WarioWare: Smooth Moves
Oh hey look, it’s better!
The Wii didn’t exactly have a shortage of games all about its controller and this is one of the best. Not all of its content is created equal and sometimes the remote wigs out a bit as the Wii tended to do with its more precision-intensive titles, but do you really care that much? I don’t. Don’t be so serious.
Smooves is at its best played with a room full of people. Anyone playing this will look ridiculous, yet nobody who’s any fun would turn down their turn at this. It’s not my favorite multiplayer Wario game, but that’s a very specific niche when it comes to this franchise so I’ll take what I can get. If you want to flail around with friends and family you’ll have a great time with this entry.
#11: Wario: Master of Disguise
No I did NOT forget about this game when I was covering the lesser entries. It may be a single-game spinoff developed by a third party and full of DS gimmickry, but its status as the black sheep of Wario games is unfair. This was the only game I’d never played before deciding to write this piece so I ran through it less than a week ago, and you know what? MoD is actually pretty good!
The thing you have to keep in mind here is that this isn’t a Wario Land game. The structure is completely different; you have access to all your powers all the time, to the point of being able to break levels wide open once your costumes get powered up with enough gems. I’ll grant that the game starts slow with only a handful of basic outfits, but navigating its mazy levels is a good time once you get over the initial hump. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the control scheme (d-pad + stylus) is flawless but the symbols you have to doodle for costume swaps and powers are pretty forgiving. You get the hang of which drawing shortcuts you can get away with quickly, and the game’s boss fights do a good job of demonstrating how it functions well in more intense situations. If you were scared off trying this back in the day by its iffy reviews give it a play now, you may be surprised. I certainly was!
#10: WarioWare: Touched!
I adored this game when it first came out. Most WarioWare fans were gaga over Twisted, but I always felt this was a stronger entry. The DS’s new gimmicks made for a heap of solid microgames and unlockables to goof off with, and yes that includes the microphone ones. Maybe don’t play this one in public?
The creativity on display in Touched is a large part of why D.I.Y. was such a disappointment. There are so many ways to use a touch screen, buttons, and a microphone. Had we been given the tools needed to make microgames as good as the ones here it could have been on par with this game. But hey, at least we got a game that utilized every single part of the DS to the fullest.
#9: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
The original, and the game that set me on the Wa-path when I was a kid. Having the villain of Mario Land 2 become the star in the 3rd entry was a bizarre decision, but honestly, what’s more appropriate for Wario than stealing a series from its owner?
This game felt absolutely revelatory back on the Game Boy. The contrast from most platformers at the time was stark: a zoomed in screen with a big ol’ Wario sprite just cheesing for the camera, big bombastic body slams and butt stomps coupled with crunchy sound effects, levels more focused on traversal and finding secret exits than just going from left to right, and a fantastic soundtrack that gave each area a unique feel. It’s easy to see why this game’s success led to Wario’s complete takeover of the franchise in the 90s and 00’s.
And y’know what, it still plays great today. The movement is responsive, the levels are as well designed as ever, and zooming around with the Jet Hat is no less fun. I have serious nostalgia goggles for this game but it’s just too solid for me to dislike. It may not be the best of the franchise but it’s still damn good for a first attempt.
#8: Wario Land II
5 years later (plus a Virtual Boy game) and we got the direct followup. First off: yes this title uses roman numerals when none of the others do. I don’t get it and it drives me a bit crazy so it’s Wario Land 2 for me.
This is where we began to see one of the series’ hallmarks take form: body horror. In WL2 Wario simply refuses to die. He has no life meter, he has no lives, he is a juggernaut. Any given attack from an enemy instead inconveniences you somehow. Poked by a spear? Lose a few coins and go flying, then get up and kick that guy’s ass. Get squashed by a weight? You’re flat now, which means you move slow and can float like a sheet of paper. Stung by a bee? Swell up and float like a balloon. Stomped on by a basketball playing rabbit? Now you are the ball and he will dunk you. Many of these wounded forms convey some kind of benefit, except that last one. Getting dunked on never helped anyone.
By completely overhauling how Wario handles enemies while keeping his core moveset from the previous game intact WL2 simultaneously feels familiar and totally fresh. The level design is the standout here, using what feels like almost every possible application for each move and offering plenty of secrets to find for the most perceptive and creative treasure hunters. It does use secret breakable walls a bit too often for my liking, but you get in the habit of bouncing Wario off of most things just to look for goodies anyway.
Beyond its innovations in annoyance (but like, in a fun way) WL2’s most noticeable quality is being huge. There are 50 levels in this thing, accessed via beating levels in creative ways and tackling branching paths. For example: in the first level Wario starts asleep and a comically large alarm clock goes off. Should you just not hit a button and refuse to wake up, some goons decide to haul his ass into the woods and dump him. That leads to a different set of levels! It’s great!
Add in a secret treasure and map piece to get from each level and you’ve got a ton of quality content for a Game Boy title. When I revisited these games in order to write this piece I ended up doing a full playthrough of WL2 because it’s just that good. Very much worth your time.
#7: WarioWare Gold
Who’da thunk that what’s essentially a greatest hits album would be, y’know, great? Everything you love is here, albeit often in slightly smaller portions than the games they originated from. All the characters (this time fully voiced for some reason!), all the game categories, all the methods of input thanks to the power of the 3DS, tons of unlockables, you name it and it’s probably represented in Gold somewhere. It may not have every single one of your favorite microgames but it’s got so many and the bar of quality is so high that I find it hard to criticize.
The only thing I don’t like about WarioWare Gold is that it feels like a passionate sendoff for the series. Compilations like this tend to come out after a body of work is finished and that’s got me nervous. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the Diamond City crew.
#6: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$!
Without a doubt the most underrated entry in the WarioWare series, and to be honest I understand why. A wonky port of the GBA original to home consoles, only with the single player content trimmed back in favor of multiplayer support and a budget price point (note: MSRP, it ain’t so cheap anymore)? Why? Who asked for this?
Me. I asked for it. You’re welcome. I knew the moment I heard the words “multiplayer WarioWare on your TV” that this was going to rule. And it does! It has both single and multiplayer microgames delivered in all sorts of hilarious ways. My personal favorite is Dr. Crygor’s Balloon Bang, where players take turns playing single player microgames in the hot seat while everyone else inflates a giant balloon. Clear a microgame and you go to the back of the line. Eventually it explodes, the current hot seat player loses, and everyone else laughs at them. It’s wonderful. Why didn’t this sell a million copies?
Ok, so sure it’s a niche game. But in many ways it feels like a precursor to the kinds of entertainment we’ve seen blow up in popularity with games like the Jackbox series. Can you imagine having a version of this that allowed an audience to mess with the players? On a live stream? Be still my beating heart. But even without this fantasy, Mega Party Games rules.
#5: Game & Wario
No one loves the Wii U. Not even Nintendo. Not anymore, not in a post-Switch world where Mario is dead. It was the awkward transitional phase between systems: unpolished, underpowered, and wonky as all get out. But that gamepad was pretty cool, and Wario games do love weird hardware quirks…
G&W was originally intended to be a launch title but didn’t quite make the window, and you can tell. It’s also not a WarioWare game; these are longer, Wii Play-adjacent minigames that are all about maximizing the gamepad’s functionality and passing it around from player to player. But there are two games in the collection that alone justify why this game is so high on the list: Fruit and Islands.
Fruit is a game along the same vein as Hidden in Plain Sight. One player sneaks through various maps trying to steal fruit while blending into the crowds. Everyone else tries to figure out which specific character they are. Where most party games are raucous and noisy, Fruit has a hush fall over the room for its duration only to erupt in accusations and celebration at the end of each play. It’s glorious.
And then there’s Islands, which has no comparison. Each player takes turns launching little critters called Fronks at what are essentially giant physics-prone dart boards, only they don’t stick where they land. Numerous hazards knock the Fronks around and adjust scores accordingly. It’s chaos, plain and simple, and yet there’s just enough room for skill and finesse that everyone still cares about the proceedings and who wins what. When the player in first has their highest scoring Fronk snatched by a seagull and dumped into the water for 0 points? Comedy gold.
These two games alone have provided dozens of hours of entertainment for me, my family, and friends. The fact that there’s the entire rest of the game as well barely matters, but they’re all there and mostly play well. Game & Wario couldn’t save the Wii U but it makes a damn good case for its existence.
#4: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$
The original title in its series and my personal favorite. I will do my best to explain why without just saying “it hits different”, but understand that’s a significant portion of my reasoning.
Mega Microgame$ offers a framing device that never fails to charm me. Wario decides to run a game dev studio to make easy money, farming most of the labor out to his friends. You hang out in Diamond City, poking at your laptop, installing new games as you earn them. Every characters gets a short story and a collection of games that feels unique to them, characterizing them in both plot and play. It’s rare that a game nails its concept dead on first try, especially in a franchise with this many entries, but I haven’t seen another WarioWare title pull off this particular vibe since.
It also helps that its commitment to nothing but dpad and A being used forced the team to get incredibly creative. Where later games often felt like they were just trying to showcase hardware features on a new system, MM took something we all knew and constantly found new ways to entertain in that space. Add in each character having a well-defined genre for their games making chasing high scores in each feel completely distinct, and you have a game that just never gets boring.
MM released hot off the heels of Wario Land 4, meaning its tunes are jammin’ and its visuals are wonderfully wonky. There are so many tiny tunes made for microgames that are mere seconds long, meaning that every single one needed to hit the hook instantly then leave without interrupting your flow, and they managed to pull it off. The visuals are equally varied, with anywhere from simple Atari-esque shapes in the void to photorealistic cutouts being yanked around. It’s the best kind of sensory overload.
I won’t deny that some of the appeal here is nostalgia. MM is comfort food for me. I spent untold hours in it, even going so far as to erase my save multiple times to complete it over and over. Here’s the thing though: I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Like, now. I replayed all of these games to varying extents in order to refresh my memory for this piece knowing full well that I’d have to tear myself away from MM, lest I not actually do any writing. It’s a truly addictive thing and the high has never worn off.
#3: Wario Land 4
From ‘94 to ‘01 we had 5 Wario Land games. Wario Land 4 was the last portable entry and Nintendo pulled out all the stops by making one of the best games on a platform with some very stiff competition.
WL4 pulled back from the brink of the 3rd game by returning to a design space somewhere between the first and second. Wario’s no longer invincible, but enemies that don’t hurt you and instead trigger transformations are in. This ended up being the most correct call because it adds tension back into the equation. Speaking of tension, having every level end in a “HURRY UP!” race through an altered stage to get back to the entrance with your wallet intact was an excellent decision.
The presentation in particular is worthy of note because WL4 makes several significant changes from its forebears. Wario and his foes all have absolutely gorgeous spritework thanks to the added horsepower of the GBA, with cartoonish proportions that constantly twist and turn depending on their movements. The faces on characters in this are particularly wild and in some cases downright disturbing. But by far the most significant change is in the audio. The soundtrack for this game has some of the most bizarre earworms the system ever got, and its use of crunchy vocals and varied instrumentation ended up shaping the style that WarioWare took and iterated on.
WL4 is a bona fide classic. Its 4 worlds plus finale (not counting a tutorial area) may be short, but when the only complaint you can level at a game is that you wish there was just a bit more of it you’re looking at a winner. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best introduction to the main series, equal parts approachable to newbies and a delight for Wario vets on every replay. There is another game that eclipses it but the margin is tight, and that in no way diminishes how excellent this title is.
#2: Wario Land: Shake It!
Good-Feel had only developed 3 games before they were given the reigns for Shake It. They were all educational software for the DS. Somehow, inexplicably, Nintendo looked at that track record and said “yeah I dunno, make a Wario Land”. The first one on a home console, at that. This whole state of affairs makes no sense. What makes even less sense is how that decision led to one of the best platformers ever made.
Shake It takes some liberties with a series that was already known for reinventing itself in each entry. It ditches the enemy-triggered transformations in favor of giving Wario a few new moves, most notably being able to shake the ever-loving shit out of everything he gets his hands on and aiming the toss by tilting the sideways wiimote. The motion controls are responsive and become second nature almost immediately, the levels are the slickest of the entire series, and you’re treated to gorgeous art and incredible music the entire time. There is no weak point, no slow start, no iffy middle, no sore spots. It’s pure platforming perfection from start to finish, especially if played for 100% collectables and challenges so you get to see the full extent of its levels.
And oh my goodness these levels. Running through these levels is on another, well, level from Wario Land 4. Some of that is thanks to the visuals being gorgeous, with wildly expressive hand-drawn characters that look like a cartoon in motion, as well as equally varied aesthetics that take Wario all over the world in his quest for loot (and also saving some captured elf-types I guess). That’s not even mentioning the soundtrack, which is one of the best in a Wario game. It spans practically every genre known to man and they all sound fantastic.
I’m not sure it’s possible to understate just how good this game is. Shake It may appear to be a more traditional platformer than previous WL titles and in some ways it is, but make no mistake, it will challenge and reward you like few before it. Every single thing the Wario Land series had tried up until this point was mastered here. It’s the perfect Wario Land game. So what’s better than perfect?
#1: Wario World
To be frank if this list could have two number ones Wario World would share the crown with Shake It. Shake It is a masterclass in 2D platformer design, truly one of the greats. But Wario World is Wario World. There has never been another game like it before or since.
Treasure took up the developer role on this one and I’m still not clear on how that happened. I love Gunstar Heroes as much as the next guy but they didn’t have much experience in 3D games and I doubt it was because they were fresh off Ikaruga and some (admittedly solid) licensed games in the early 00’s. Was it just their name being the most Wario-appropriate possible? No clue. Regardless of how or why they didn’t just knock it out of the park, they cleared the stratosphere.
Treasure’s games typically have a certain frantic energy about them and there is no other game that captures so much raw Wario power as Wario World. Treasure gave him so many new moves in this. You punch the shit out of everything at top speed, piledrive hefty foes through concrete, catapult yourself across pits with ease, and throw bosses so hard that gravity dares not let them come back down for their own sake. Wario is a demigod capable of just about any physical feat his little mind can think of and he absolutely loves it, constantly shouting and laughing and wishing his foes a rotten day as you hurl him through this game’s increasingly bizarre cast of enemies that’ve never appeared before or since. This is a Wario-ass-Wario-game.
Structurally WW follows the excellent blueprint of Wario Land 4, with 4 relatively short worlds containing their own levels and bosses capped off with a grand finale. There are fewer levels than WL4 but they’re longer, as well as loaded with a frankly ridiculous quantity of collectables. It’s to the point where each level offers a shortcut back to the start so you can zip through again to scoop stuff you missed, and you will need that. You will. Need. That. On reruns these levels go from tricky obstacle courses to a canvas on which you paint, and by paint I mean style on everything Wario can touch. And that’s not even addressing the Super Mario Sunshine-style challenge rooms which completely switch the gameplay focus to platforming and puzzle solving. And somehow, through some act of dark game design wizardry, the game is EQUALLY enthralling as it is when you’re brawling because Wario’s moveset is just that good in this.
The music shares none of the same motifs of the main series or its spinoffs, instead comprising of entirely original compositions that absolutely fucking slap. The entire soundtrack is eminently listenable even if you’ve never played. Special mention goes to the pause music, which consists of Wario taunting the player with a “naaaah nah nah naaah naaah” for a solid hour only to have him say “sorry” and let the music play unaccompanied from that point on. Comedy gold.
There’s no single part of this title that doesn’t stick the landing and yet all of it is done in a manner that’s completely alien to the franchise, further proving that no Nintendo franchise allows for creativity like Wario. They took my favorite chufty lad and built a game around his character, turning it into some kind of hybrid platformer/beat ‘em up/character action game, and it worked. Games like this don’t happen without intense amounts of passion for their source material and a lot of elbow grease. We should be praising Treasure’s efforts to this day. Wario World forever.