Talking Point: The Year of Luigi Could Bring a Burst of Creativity

Stepping out from a big shadow

The most recent round of Nintendo Direct broadcasts opened, whether you were watching in Europe or North America, with Nintendo President Satoru Iwata telling us all about The Year of Luigi. After a solid 18 months when, arguably, Mario was the go-to figure accounting for a healthy portion of Nintendo's release schedules, the put-upon brother is now being given an opportunity to shine.

It wasn't so long ago, actually, that we were bemoaning yet another side-lining of the green hero, with the delay of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon apparently — or so it seemed to us — making way for Paper Mario: Sticker Star, in the process depriving us of a game absolutely perfect for a release around Halloween time. It may have been a decision to allow further development — perhaps that addition of multiplayer — but nevertheless it felt like another example of Mario pulling rank over the long suffering Luigi.

And yet, how things change. Perhaps aware of an over-abundance of Mario games, Nintendo's latest broadcast not only confirmed that this year's about the other brother, but the recent Wii U Direct also reminded us that other franchises, both famous and lesser known, are on the agenda for 2013 and beyond. Nintendo has an almost unrivalled range of IPs to call upon, and after playing the Mario card a great deal in late 2011/2012, it's ready to diversify.

Ignoring sketchy links to Luigi such as that made for Mario Golf: World Tour — he's a playable character, of course — the Luigi titles on the way do perhaps show us that this could be a year where Nintendo delivers greater variety in terms of gameplay experiences and how it brings us games. We shouldn't forget that Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a follow up to a GameCube launch title, with what looks like a fairly sedate tempo of exploration, puzzle solving and strategic ghost battling. Some of those qualities can perhaps be applied to Paper Mario: Sticker Star, but this is a particular theme and concept that will be new to a number of 3DS owners that either skipped GameCube or, quite possibly, weren't even old enough to be playing games when the original arrived.

Next up we have Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, bringing the brothers' RPG series to 3DS for the first time. A distinct entity from the Paper Mario franchise, the fantastic Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance was followed by both Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and the memorable Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story on DS. The mechanics of these RPG titles are often relatively simple — explore overworlds and jump into turn-based battles — but it's the execution and story-telling that sets them apart. Some critics of Sticker Star felt that storytelling and creativity took a back seat in that title, though we hope the same complaints won't be levelled at this release.

One encouraging aspect of Dream Team is the very concept, with the action taking place within Luigi's dreams and promising puzzles and challenges to suit that will span both screens. Placing the action within a dream world sets this one up perfectly for a witty and entertaining script, and it has good odds of meeting expectations. What's vital is that AlphaDream, the team that's developed all entries in this particular series to date, has potentially had a lot of time to produce the title. Dream Team arrives over two years after the 3DS hit stores, and the last major worldwide release that AlphaDream is credited with is 2009's Bowser's Inside Story. This seems like far from a rushed 3DS rescue-mission, and more like a planned and detailed development cycle.

Finally we have New Super Luigi U, which will arrive as an expansive DLC offering for New Super Mario Bros. U. In terms of content it'll feature 80 "alternate" levels that'll bring a new level of challenge, which suggests tweaks and re-designs of existing levels or themes. The removal of Bros. from the title is to give Luigi his star turn, though we can't imagine that Nintendo would willingly sacrifice multiplayer — with that said, none of the brief snippets of footage shown at the time of writing included additional players.

The creativity with this release isn't in the content — though we're sure the level designers will work some magic — but in the delivery concept. With New Super Mario Bros. U hitting us with a 2D Mario platformer on day one of Wii U, this is a way to give new life to the release without a perception of a premature sequel. With the DLC bolting into the retail game, and allowing immediate switches between both, it's a first sighting of a concept where a retail title from Nintendo can be continually refreshed and expanded without going to the level of expense and resource commitment of an all-new game. Considering the amount of content on offer the eShop pricing will be interesting to see, and if it comes in below the typical retail rate — say £25.99 / $34.99 — then perhaps it'll be an experiment and an earnest attempt from Nintendo to join the DLC practices already common in examples such as "season pass" releases from other publishers. If pricing is lower than what we suggest the download codes could be flying off the servers, though a steeper price would potentially be a mistake.

Beyond all of these ideas it's reassuring to see in the Year of Luigi, and other announcements made, that other mascots and franchises are set to enjoy a greater role. Mario will still be around a fair bit, in his adventure with Luigi, on the golf course, leading the latest karting races and in a new 3D adventure, but at least notable variety and creativity is also on the table.

The green-capped sibling's prominence in 2013 is welcome for his fans that feel he's under-appreciated, while he's also leading a charge of diverse, imaginative offerings that will hopefully deliver the goods on both 3DS and Wii U.

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