The Man, the Myth, the Legend
A lifetime in retrospect…
I love Luigi. There’s some powerful man-love that exists between myself and he, the eternal second banana of the Mario Brothers series. Forever, he’s cursed; never to be the household name that his brother is just because his mama had a little more creativity with his name. Mario Mario…ridiculous.
But it occurred to me the other day, after a rousing game of Smash Brothers Brawl on the web (the service has gotten better, as time has gone by), that Luigi has changed drastically over the years. It was after Luigi did his final smash dance-trance-thingy that I remarked to myself "Oh, Luigi, you awesomely silly bitch. You’ve always been that way." But no, I realized, he hasn’t. Luigi has really only become the bizarre, almost neurotic Mario Brother recently, but somehow we, as a game society, have retroactively placed this stigma upon him, perhaps because his old character was blank. I went back over his history and thought I’d put some highlights here for you.
First appearrance, second for his brother, was in Mario Brothers in the Atari era. At the time, Luigi was nothing more than a carbon copy (or literally, a palette swap) for his brother Mario. He had no personality of his own. Of course, in Donkey Kong, Mario was listed as a carpenter, not a plumber, so I like to think that Luigi was already established in the field and brought in his struggling brother…but I digress. Luigi = a nobody at this point.
This remained true in Super Mario Brothers, where Luigi again was just a palette swap for Mario. But I did dig him and his green hair (very punk!) and would often start a two player game at home, and maliciously kill Mario, just to get the opportunity to play as Luigi. But I look back at the arcade Mario players, and realize a lot of them didn’t even know Luigi’s name at the time. He was just ‘the green guy’.
It was in Super Mario Brothers 2 that Luigi first exhibited hints of his own character. In both the US and Japan versions, drastically different games, Luigi was taller and leaner, and a better jumper, but harder to control. He was an interesting alternative to his brother. It seemed Luigi’s time had come, but not so, as in the third series installment, Luigi was again just a re-colored Mario. Despite attempts in the Super Mario World Cartoon to give Luigi his own character and background, the game itself once again made him a color swap for Mario, and even took away his grand character moment, discovering Yoshi, and gave it to Mario.
And then…nothing. What happened to Luigi after this? Its true, we had Mario is Missing, but Luigi himself would disappear shortly after that misbegotten title. Mario 64? He was nowhere to be seen. According to Nintendo programmers, they just didn’t have the time to program him in. No time to spare? For the co-star during all those prior adventures? Its too horrible…
Luigi would only appear briefly in Paper Mario, also, seemingly too lazy to join the adventure. Luigi would drop in on the Mario Party and various Mario sports games, but often just as a taller Mario. It seemed that Luigi was forever doomed to just be a shadow of Mario…or perhaps even a relic of the 8-bit era, relegated to guest spots and an eventual sting on The Surreal Life.
But that all changed with the coming of the Gamecube, for it wasn’t Mario who had a launch title this time, it was Luigi. His time had come in a little game known as Luigi’s Mansion. Of course, Luigi didn’t come off as the high jumping power house we had expected him to be. Rather, he was cowardly, paranoid, and he humped furniture. Luigi humping the furniture , its right there.
And this would continue. Luigi was his own man, but what a bizarre man he was. His voice had become higher, and shriller. He now had an implied romance with Daisy (who, herself, seems to have developed some sort of Manic personality disorder recently), but also had a tendency to fight with his eyes shut in Smash Brothers, steal Mario’s snacks in the Mario and Luigi RPG series, or put people to sleep with a dance. If you unlock Luigi’s Final Smash Trophy in Smash Bros, you’ll learn a tidbit about the ‘darkness in his heart’ from being in his brother’s shadow.
For me, the final clincher of Luigi’s personality came in Super Mario Galaxy, where he tries to help you as you save the stars from Bowser’s evil clutches. But, invariably, Luigi needs you to come save him from the most ridiculously simple traps; and though he does find three stars on his own, he takes a break to let Mario find the other 117, uttering a simple "Sorry" every time you talk to him in the game thereafter.
Yes, Luigi has really only been a character unto himself since the Gamecube days. Its seems so strange, because the character fits so well, its like its always been that way. And at the same time, Nintendo seems determined to make him stranger and stranger with each successive appearrance. Perhaps in another generation or two, Luigi will have developed a habit of eating babies, and we’ll think to ourselves "Ah, I remember well in Mario 2 how Luigi could jump higher and eat babies."
That’s just how our mind works. In the meantime, God bless you, Luigi, paving the way for little brothers with inferiority complexes, world over.