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Mario is the proud progenitor of the world’s very best selling video game franchise. His titles have influenced almost every generation of home console and he’s entertained countless individuals internationally – from the young to the old. With that in mind, what of his younger brother – Luigi? Since Mario has clearly taken the fore, Luigi’s been conversely left in a large and imposing shadow. This has had the effect of rendering him vastly more interesting over the years, despite his sidekick trappings. While he’s only held three true starring roles in his “career” (in Mario is Missing! and the Luigi’s Mansion series), it’s Luigi who brings depth of character and development to his brother’s legacy. Someone you can relate to, capable and ever the underdog, he’s certainly the sibling you’d rather have a chat with.
There’s a lot more than just his personality too. While his humble hesitance makes him easily likeable, his execution in the arena of gameplay is polarising. Tough to effectively utilise and awkward in his mechanics, it could definitely be argued that he represents “hard” difficulty settings. Offering wholly new rhythms to well-known sequences, Luigi can help flip a game on its head to even the most experienced players. Considering that his only starring roles are more puzzle-oriented too, he seems an entity of his own. Does his approach add anything meaningful to the games in which he appears, then? Of course, when it comes to the medium, assessing a character would have to bear this in mind.
First appearing in 1983 with the aptly titled Mario Bros., Luigi was nothing more than a palette swap. This is when a preexisting sprite is simply recoloured and regurgitated as something else. For a while this forced him into 2-player obscurity, but Super Mario Bros. II and The Lost Levels would eventually distinguish him with some interesting differences. With a loftier leap and slippery feet, his use was a challenge that rewarded you accordingly. These traits would follow him for years to come, even occurring in Super Mario 3D World; one of his most recent appearances. To me, they seem to hint that Luigi has a higher potential than his brother; a greater raw ability. Tarnished by a lack of discipline and general clumsiness, I think these aspects make him an incredibly well-crafted character – one who plays on sympathies and is deserving of your patience. It’s worth mentioning that they also help elevate Mario to the user-friendly heights he’s enjoyed.
It’s a shame, then, that there aren’t many distinctions between the siblings when it comes to the Mario Kart or Party series. He’s similarly free of inspiration throughout New Super Mario Bros. and, even worse, completely omitted from his brother’s Nintendo 64 and GameCube outings. It was a relief when the Galaxy games restored his “hard-mode” roots, reinstating his higher jumping and lack of traction. Besides that, we’re left with a few more separate depictions that heave some extra exposition onto the pile. In the Super Smash Bros. series, for example, Luigi is afforded a damn sight more weight than he’s used to. Fleshed out as a mass of complexes (inferiority being obviously predominant), never before had his self-conscious turmoil taken such a centre stage. It was something backed up in almost every individual animation, and had only previously been comically hinted at in RPG spin-offs.
Those RPG adaptations of the Mushroom Kingdom had laid a lot of the groundwork for Luigi’s tragic underling portrayal. Reducing him to cameos that paint him as an unadventurous coward, his uses were far less defined. By the time that the Mario & Luigi series hit the shelves, demand for a deeper Luigi was met in strides. Once again as capable as Mario, while subtly different, they took the best of the character’s previous parody and expanded on it tenfold. Rarely even recognised and universally dismissed by NPCs in-game, this only helps players like him more thanks to knowing better. Forever underrated, we’re far more likely to land on his side out of sheer pity. In comparison, what was Mario in those titles but a one-dimensional boy scout?
As for his starring roles, I, unfortunately, have to dismiss two straight off the bat. Mario is Missing! is pseudo-Nintendo shite that deserves to fall even deeper into obscurity. Regrettably, i’m yet to sample Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – the 2013 sequel that has otherwise received glowing reviews. Luigi’s Mansion itself was an inventive little-masterpiece that cast him at his cowardly best. Let down by an undue brevity, it gloriously explored the character and the strength of his heart. Knowing how hard all this adventuring is for him, his achievements are doubly impressive when put aside the thoughtless determination of his brother. Maybe Mario doesn’t comprehend the danger in his journeys, meaning Luigi can clearly see the peril ahead. That he soldiers on anyway, if the players are so inclined to choose him, is nothing short of heroic.
It’s important to remember that Luigi didn’t have to turn out like this. Nintendo could have taken the route of straight twins, meaning he’d be nothing more than a green avatar for the second player. Even if they agreed on making him taller and thinner, they didn’t have to flesh him out with such adoration. Bowser himself, Mario’s chief antagonist, remains as thin a character as he should; despite taking on some bumbling aspects in his autumn years. In contrast, Luigi stands tall as the only resident of the Mushroom Kingdom with any real intrigue to his personality. Why he’s been treated in this way is an enduring mystery that only his creators can answer, but we should be thankful for how it turned out. In Luigi we have one of gaming’s greatest personalities, and it’s an enormous boon to the series.
Perhaps i’m merely biased by being a younger brother myself, but I like to think there’s more to it than that. The aforementioned ways he translates himself to gameplay back up that he’s bringing a lot to the table. Having evidently blossomed far beyond a mere palette swap, he’s matured into a beloved pillar to an already renowned franchise. He’s even taken off as a a bit of a meme over the years, something that Mario’s lack-of-character makes him far less adept at. Awarded an entire year of celebration by the company that birthed him in 2013 (seeing the release of several themed spin-offs), it seems that his place in history is as assured as his brother’s. Spare an extra thought for Luigi, for he’s done more for interactive entertainment than you might have first considered.