Is it the purple dungarees? A Machiavellian cackle of which even The Brain would be proud? The engorged, bulbous nose of the alcoholic barroom brawler? Or maybe even the moustache that appears as if it belongs to a man who got too friendly with an electrical socket?
In truth, it's none of those really. We don't love Wario for emulating Mario's platforming shenanigans or for being probably the best character in Mario Tennis (mainly due to his ridiculously overpowered serves), we love him for making us act like utter twats when armed with a Wiimote. Forget Wii Sports and Wii Play, whether you were playing in a family front room on Boxing Day, firing Ninty's albino console up at an office party, or had gotten smashed with some uni mates and stuck the Wii on in the early hours of the morning after a trip to the union, WarioWare: Smooth Moves was (is?) perhaps the finest experience to be had on the Wii.
Not that the Wii gave us the first taste of the madness that Mario's unhinged counterpart had to offer. No, that came back on the humble Game Boy Advance in 2003, with WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgames. Having seen the Japanese video game market rising in value considerably, and being a strident opportunistic capitalist, Wario decides that he going to start up his own video game company with a bunch of his friends, with the player given the job of testing them all out. In the end, in a spot of metafictional genius, the game WarioWare Inc. is created, the profits of which Wario keeps all for himself and runs off in a rocket, only to have it blown to bits over the ocean by his pal Dr. Crygor.
Sounds odd right? Well the main plot wasn't a patch on any of the mini games. Some of them were homages to the classic Game and Watch era, dredging up tributes to Nintendo's past. Others involved picking noses, applying eyedrops, sheltering cats from the rain, dodging traffic, dancing with puppies, threading needles and so on. GameInformer named it one of the weirdest games of all time, and it's not hard to see why. When they ported it to the Gamecube, they made it even better, adding in a whole bunch of multiplayer modes, one of which revolved around a central hub of balancing tortoises. You couldn't make it up.
But it was by binding these minigames - usually involving simple one word imperatives like 'Pick!' or 'Steer!' - together with simple motion controls offered up by the Wii that Wario truly took up residence in our hearts. Directed by Goro Abe and produced by Yoshio Sakamoto, the game arose simply from experimenting with the Wiimote at the time. 'First,' says Abe, 'we were thinking of the game [while] holding the controller this way, but only holding the controller one way limits the [amount of] entertainment. So we thought [that] if we want to make this idea into a microgame, which kind of motion is the best, and that's how we came up with the numerous ways of control.' (NWR).
But, as anyone who's played Wii Sports for any length of time will tell you, after a while there's a tendency with most Wii titles to sit down and 'cheat' in terms of movement input, by using flicks of the wrist instead of the full body motion intended. One of th greatest things about WarioWare: Smooth Moves is that, to this day whenever I play it with friends or family, it's one of the few games that's still completely bought into. So when it says 'Hula!', you damn well hula!
I think that's why we love Wario so very much at the end of the day. He's the sitcom character that wins all of the awards because he's given licence to be outlandish and ridiculous because of the straight-laced characters around him. Mario and Luigi are both fine mascots for Nintendo's unique brand of cartoonish characterisation, but in Wario they have a demented, villainous anti-hero who's absurd, devious and underhand...but also a lot of fun. Mario has filled my formative years with whimsical joy, but he's never made me laugh. Wario, on the other, has been responsible for putting me in stitches, and that's why we love him....
That, and his moustache.