Stick all your money on Wario, he’s a dead cert

Wario Land II (1998 / 1999)

Having not had any kind of proper gambling in my life since I was 18, and even that was a measly forty quid. Although let me tell you, it wasn’t measly at the time, in fact it was about 3 nights out. Don’t times change? But once I lost all the dough in my betting account – they wouldn’t let me withdraw any winnings until I’d provided photo ID, the cheeky snakes – I decided to become all boring and conservative, or at least more boring and conservative than usual, and never gamble again.

You always try to justify potential failures by some rational behaviour – like me telling myself that if the banks, 10 years down the line, saw some gambling on my statement then they wouldn’t give me a mortgage, that sort of thing. In reality, I couldn’t pick a winner to save my life, and as the old saying goes, if I opened a funeral parlour no-one would die.

So my idle hopes of becoming rich as a professional gambler, with some notions of drifting from table to table and being a genial gadabout, were dashed. Or were they? One should always aspire to greater things, and if we think about it for a moment, we’ll realise that betting on football and horses is chav fare – you’ll have seen some of the troupes that turn up to Cheltenham and the Galway Races.

If you’re gonna be a high-roller, you have to own a piece of the world. Now, it still sounds a bit too grown up for me to actually own gold or oil or diamonds or what have you, so I just stick to these wondrous tracker funds called ETFs – as low-risk-low-reward as you can get. I’m not here to try and give you any kind of amateur financial advice, by the way, not when I could earn some meaningless qualification and charge you through the nose for still-bad advice instead. Here’s an actual piece of advice for you though, and you can have it for nothing – don’t spend your hard-earned on stupid rubbish. If you can do that, you’ll be alright.

Well, I suppose what swung my decision to invest in ETFs, or the stocks and trading markets in general, was that the financial monolith just seems like an unstoppable force. Seriously, September 11th only tanked the world’s markets for something like 38 days. The full brunt of Covid-19 lockdowns in March 2020 only smashed the old line chart to the bottom for a similar period of around 38 days, and I’m not even sure if that’s coincidental or not.

The 2008 Global Financial Crisis didn’t kill it, and so far as I’m concerned, no other supposedly “once-in-a-generation” economic crash or seismic event will deal permanent damage to the markets. As was observed in a great book I read about the world of finance, the only thing that would really kill the markets altogether would be a global, possibly thermonuclear war. And at that point, money ain’t really on your mind.

Hence I now live the life of being a constant watcher, always logging into the old phone app and seeing if I’m up or down – fretting if I’m down, too excited and short-sighted if I’m up, and generally putting far too much emphasis on funds that should rise dramatically not after one month, or even one year, but more like ten years. At least I’ve just about gotten out of the habit of checking it every five seconds, in case I’ve made a horrendous mistake and some vicious Euro-crat does my money.

But God, that’s why it makes me laugh when you hear of people cashing out their Bitcoin before it reached yet another all-time-high, or is that yet another rock-bottom crash, I can’t keep up. I don’t blame those people for their regret – if I’m down 30 quid for the day, I’m raging. Down 60 and I’m spluttering. Down 100 and I’m telling her indoors that we’ll need to start shopping from the ghastly “reduced to clear” section. It kind of decides how your whole day goes, really. You wake up and check it, and if you’ve got green text and plus signs, you’re happy. Wake up to a big deficit though, and that’s your day gone, isn’t it? You might as well be working your actual job for free at that point. So why not just stay in bed?

Doesn’t sound like a great tactic for making money, but believe it or not, it’s actually a viable one for that lovable old miser Wario, in the excellent Wario Land II for Game Boy. Although what you really want is the Game Boy Color release that adds, would you believe, 32,768 colors to proceedings. That’s interesting, but what about colours with a “u”?

The incredible thing about Wario Land II is all of the hidden juice you can uncover. You might look at this game as just your regular portable platformer, until you realise that you cannot die. What? That’s a new one on me. Even if an enemy hits you, it’ll usually just knock you back and – more crucially – cost you a few coins. If it doesn’t give you a slap, then it might transform Wario isntead, and that’s when we get stuck nto all of the possible transformations – Tiny Wario, Fire Wario, even Drunk Wario, although Nintendo weren’t too keen to promote gagrle on their Game Boy so this disappointingly becomes “Crazy” Wario in Western territories instead.

Even better than that, once you’ve battled through the 25 levels, five worlds of five, you realise that there are multiple worlds hidden away. I do love finding secret exits in a Mario game, or a Wario game in this case, and the fact that there’s a full set of 25 hidden optional levels, doubling the game’s length… that’s just beautiful. I’m spoiling it now, but I hope you’ll take delight, as I did a long time ago, in the fact that just letting Wario remain in bed at the very beginning of the game is enough to unlock an alternate story and ending.

This was a game to break convention alright, although one convention that remains is Nintendo’s usual strong music score, and surprise surprise, it’s another female composer knocking it out of the park. I don’t know what it is, but pound-for-pound, female musicians produce the best game soundtracks, and Wario Land II’s OST ranks up there with the best of those enchanting 8-bit melodies that the Game Boy family is famed for producing – in this case, it mixes the mischievous, jaunty Wario Land theme with some surefire nostalgia. Take a listen to the SS Tea Cup music if you don’t believe me.

These days when Wario does make an appearance in his own game, it’s usually a cheapened WarioWare or some other imitation. We haven’t had a proper Wario Land game since either Wario Land 4 or Shake It, depennding on which way you look at it. And that’s a crying shame because believe you me, Nintendo were right on the money with Wario Land II. It’s easily the best platformer on the Game Boy, a game whose stock remains high to this day.

12 November 2021

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