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Feature: A Short History of Luigi

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

From palette swap to main man

This week, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has been scaring — or more likely charming — 3DS owners in North America, while Europeans will get hold of the title very shortly. It represents Luigi's latest solo effort, as he chases ghosts with his Poltergust, with his widely acknowledged debut — bear with us, Mario is Missing fans — coming on the GameCube. It says much, arguably, for his status in the foundation years of Nintendo that it took until its fourth generation home console before Mario's younger brother stepped out from his shadow.

Still, it's all coming up Luigi. This is the Year of Luigi, after all, and there's more green in various Nintendo promotions than you'll see in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day — a lot of green, basically. In an effort to show how far he's come, below is a brief — by no means comprehensive — history of Luigi in Nintendo games. We don't claim this to be a full account — that could go on forever — but is a flavour of his role to date throughout Nintendo's system generations.

Life as a palette swap

When you combine limited technology with small, time-pressured teams, you get palette swaps. As first impressions go, Luigi had a poor start as little more than the second player character in Super Mario Bros., showing up with the same build and abilities as Mario. While the game's title (and series that followed) did reference both as "Bros.", the fact Mario is named prominently and is the playable hero in single player made him the star, casting Luigi as a backup and guest player when the controller's being passed back and forth. And no, it's not called Mario Bros. because that's their surname; being called Mario Mario would just be silly, and we'll take the word of Shigeru Miyamoto on this one.

The same fate had befallen Luigi in the Mario Bros. arcade before this, of course, and the NES port that followed, to some extent making him the "green guy" as Mario became the icon and mascot of Nintendo. The trend also continued in Super Mario Bros. 3, a game that made far greater use of the 8-bit system's capabilities, while Luigi was still ultimately a green Mario. It was classic younger brother syndrome, as he accepted the hand-me-downs and scraps of Mario's rising star.

Wait, Luigi's taller than Mario?

Of course, you may have noticed that we skipped a major NES title in that previous entry. Super Mario Bros. 2 may have been a re-tooled Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, but that title's use of four distinct characters finally gave an identity to Luigi — as well as Princess Toadstool and Toad. Whether it was simply the result of the Luigi skin being applied to a particular template, or a deliberate choice, the younger brother was shown to be taller than his famous sibling. Not only that, but he could jump higher, though was limited by a slower running speed and poorer "traction" when running. Some of those trends would return in later appearances, so whether they were coincidental or not, they became an intrinsic part of the character.

Super Mario World on Super NES did continue the cruel trend of making Luigi look like little more than a green Mario, but a subtle sprite change gave the green one a slightly different look to his famous brother in Super Mario All-Stars.

In more recent times Luigi has been playable in all of the New Super Mario Bros. titles on DS, 3DS, Wii and Wii U. Dedicated players of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 will have also unlocked the ability to play as Luigi — in the original he was rescued by Mario a few times before becoming playable after full completion of 120 stars, with the neat touch of the second playthrough becoming 'Super Luigi Galaxy' — universes potentially implode when Luigi rescues Luigi, but such things matter little in the Super Mario 'canon'. The approach was switched in the sequel — we'd like to think due to popular demand — where Luigi pops up as playable on a few occasions, giving a nice option to switch up the gameplay at certain moments; once you've gone far enough in the game you can also switch to Luigi at will. Likewise in Super Mario 3D Land, a reward for progressing far enough (slightly beyond the basic initial campaign) is to switch to play as Luigi at any time.

In the case the Galaxy titles and Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo incorporated some of the platform differentials that give Luigi his own feel. He can build up to a quicker run — but needs a little longer to hit full stride — and can jump higher but has a tough time with traction — continuing on from the skill-set in Super Mario Bros. 2. Once his slippery ways are under control, however, that extra bit of speed and height on his jump can be a genuine advantage in tougher levels.

Cameo star for hire

As Nintendo continued to gain a foothold in the gaming industry, revolving around key heroes such as Link, Samus Aran and, of course, Mario, it started to dabble with sports and family games that incorporated a wider range of characters from the Nintendo universe. In the case of classics such as Super Mario Kart, that meant delving into the Mushroom Kingdom for other kart racers. And so began the cameo years, which will probably never end.

Typically, wherever Mario has headlined a title, Luigi and a host of others have followed behind to provide extra playable characters. A bit like the Jackson 5, there was one big star hogging the spotlight, often shown in commercials or adverts to be hogging the ball, finishing first, collecting the most stars and so on. Yet for gamers already developing an affinity for the put-upon brother, these titles gave a rare chance to help Luigi to well-earned, popular victories.

There's a broad range of cameo appearances, playable and otherwise, where Luigi plays soccer, tennis, golf, joins in a Mario Party, gets into scuffles in the Super Smash Bros. series and many more besides. In recent generations Luigi's increasingly iconic — slightly nasally voice — has been heard through these appearances, giving a bit more flesh to the character.

Luigi becomes a co-star

While Luigi may have been playable in a number of titles, we feel special mention should be made of his joint adventures with Mario — these are Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story on DS, as well as the upcoming Mario & Luigi: Dream Team on 3DS. All of these titles were developed by AlphaDream, a "2nd-Party" subsidiary of Nintendo.

Although the Paper Mario franchise has cameo appearances from Luigi and its own style of dialogue and humour, these handheld RPG titles have gone a long way to solidify Luigi's charm as a character among Nintendo gamers. With the brothers teaming up directly and Luigi being on the small screen throughout, his somewhat cowardly and clumsy persona has undoubtedly been expanded upon in these titles, often off-set from the determined brow and reckless heroism of Mario. The fact he's a named part of the title helps assert his role, too, and he's a vital part of the comedic approach of the series; that tendency to frights and hesitancy wasn't originally conceived in these titles, of course...

Going solo

Before we mention Luigi's widely recognised debut, we should acknowledge the solo appearance that often gets ignored but, nevertheless, was a release on NES and Super NES. We're referring, of course, to Mario is Missing, an educational game that sees Luigi explore different cities, collect artifacts and answer some trivia questions. It's not a classic and is often overlooked — especially as the title still name-drops Mario — but Luigi is the main playable character.

What's typically referred to as Luigi's actual solo debut is GameCube launch title Luigi's Mansion, a game we've happily referenced a fair bit recently here on Nintendo Life. We celebrated its 10 year anniversary with a robust defence of its merits as a unique, charming and well-constructed game. The issue when it was released, which was unfortunate for our green hero, was that it drew comparisons with the iconic Nintendo 64 launch title Super Mario 64 — like comparing apples and oranges, to be sure, but representing the first-party launch hope on a new system was a tough ask for Luigi. Reflected on the title without that context, however, we feel that many would agree that it's an enjoyable experience that deserves a loyal audience.

The difficult circumstances that accompanied Luigi's Mansion didn't, it seems, do our hero any favours. In the decade that followed Luigi was limited to his Mario & Luigi handheld appearances and a large dose of cameos, making some wonder whether he'd had his chance and missed out. Thankfully, Nintendo had decided not to completely abandon Luigi's solo career aspirations, with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon — which some would prefer to call Luigi's Mansion 2 — gracing 3DS systems worldwide. It picks up on the GameCube title's themes and gameplay with adjustments for the hardware, while offering a lengthier adventure and an entertaining multiplayer option. It has, by anyone's definition, had a terrific reception from critics, with outlets of various sizes — even those that can occasionally be deemed harsh on Nintendo titles — lavishing it with praise. At the time of writing, and accounting for 45 critic reviews, Luigi's latest adventure has an impressive Metacritic rating of 85, while our own Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon review awarded 9/10. A triumph for the younger sibling, and also for developer Next Level Games.

Of course, this is the Year of Luigi, so there's more on the way. As well as the aforementioned Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, we can also look forward to New Super Luigi U, which will be a sizable downloadable addition to New Super Mario Bros. U, a separate set of levels and worlds to star the man himself. Details on that are relatively scarce, though Shigeru Miyamoto has stated that this DLC won't have a new story, but levels re-designed to be played by Luigi — all footage shown so far has also been single player.

With this being Nintendo, however, we wouldn't be surprised if it has a surprise or two ready to beef up Luigi's big year. Perhaps Luigi's Mansion will be the first GameCube title to be released on the Wii U Virtual Console this Halloween? We like to dream.

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User Comments (54)

k8sMum

#2

k8sMum said:

my grandson, soon to be 8 yrs old, is sooo happy that this is the year of luigi. he's always been his favourite character and danny is devotedly loyal to the green man. :-)

Giygas_95

#3

Giygas_95 said:

I love Luigi. He's so much better than Mario! In fact, whenever someone on Miiverse or the internet says Luigi is better than Mario I've never seen anyone disagree. He's taller, leaner, a better jumper, has more personality, and he's green which I like more than red. I always play as Luigi if given the chance. He was my favorite character in Smash Bros. Melee. He had a great move set and I could literally clobber my siblings with him most of the time! It kind of irritates me though that he seemed to not be as good a character in Brawl though. One game I always wish Luigi had played a role in was Super Mario RPG. Would have liked him to have been a main character rather than a cameo at the beginning of the credits. Regardless, I'm glad to see he's taking the spotlight this year!

Also bothers me that people would compare Luigi's Mansion to Mario 64. As the article said, that's comparing apples and oranges. IMO, Luigi's Mansion is a far better game anyway even though it's quite short. Been loving LMDM by the way!

Sjoerd

#4

Sjoerd said:

His role in the Thousand Year Door is the best by far. Can't wait to get his new adventure tomorrow!

Giygas_95

#5

Giygas_95 said:

@Sjoerd Wouldn't it be great if they did Paper Luigi which would be the adventure he was on during PM TTYD, and Rogueport would be the center hub you could return to? You could also get the same helper characters you see him with in TTYD!

jonfl1

#6

jonfl1 said:

Super Mario Bros. 2 was the game that really made me appreciate Luigi as his own distinct character with qualities that truly set him apart from (and totally complimented) Mario. Now with the 'year of Luigi,' I'm really looking forward to playing the New Super Mario Bros. U DLC featuring him, and I'm glad Nintendo actually appears to be putting significant effort into this add-on.

TKOWL

#7

TKOWL said:

What I honestly like a lot about Luigi is that he's definitely an outlet for Nintendo's artistically creative side. While Mario is the icon and gets his good but relatively uninspired games, Luigi's games allow Nintendo to create a new character that actually separates himself from Mario both in personality and in gameplay style. I still consider Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga the definition of gaming perfection, and for what I've played of Dark Moon so far, it's fantastic stuff. Luigi is another representation about why Nintendo's characters are the best in the industry: Luigi still gets confused nowadays for simply a Mario pallet swap, but his animations and things he does in games screams personality.

theblackdragonAdmin

#8

theblackdragon said:

Yay Luigi! The first time I think I ever really paid attention to him as a person instead of just the 'player 2' character or a different way of playing the game [SMB2 with his higher, floatier jump] was probably SMRPG. On Star Hill, you can go around looking at the fallen wish-stars from characters in the game, and one of them is Luigi's wish for him to become a great plumber 'like his brother Mario'... I remember the first time I played SMRPG and saw that wish, and I remember being sad that Luigi was never part of your in-game party. I remember he cameo'd in Paper Mario but wasn't playable then either.

Since I skipped the GC/GBA generation, that was the last I really saw of him as a person until Super Paper Mario. As boring as that game was overall, the highlight for me was definitely 'Mr. L', with Luigi flexing his personality muscles all over the place (even if it wasn't entirely his doing). Then I got my hands on a copy of Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, which has a nod to Luigi with the Star Gate's test, I remember I found that quite touching.

I like that Luigi is seeing more exposure lately — the Luigi playthrough in SMG, for example, man oh man that was a great kick in the pants after having beaten the game with Mario. Some of those levels playing through as Luigi were incredibly challenging! I'm glad that trend has continued onto the 3DS with 3D Land and all. I do like Luigi's emotions and personality shining through in LM2: Dark Moon as well (the only thing turning me off about that game is the Professor, grr I want him to just leave Luigi alone and let me explore with him!), and I can't wait to see what Dream Team has to offer for everyone's favorite green-clad plumber :3

Giygas_95

#13

Giygas_95 said:

@theblackdragon Also tickled me when you read Mallow's wish that said, "I wish I could stop being such a crybaby." And then he starts fussing at you for reading people's wishes!

scrubbyscum999

#17

scrubbyscum999 said:

I love Luigi, he has a lot of personality. Mario is great but I think most Nintendo fans like Luigi better because they spent more time making Luigi a unique character. Plus, he's got Daisy, another plus. I wish Daisy would make a major appearance along with Luigi (a bit off topic).

DreamyViridi

#18

DreamyViridi said:

And so, Luigi was no longer stuck in the shadows of his older bro and got the recognition he deserved. What else can I say? I like Luigi. Daisy too.
Way to go, 'Green Stache'! :)

edcomics

#19

edcomics said:

I don't know. The whole Ghostbusters thing just bothers me. I've always liked Luigi, but I feel he needs a title that doesn't feel like a ripoff of an established franchise. Maybe it's different in Japan or even Europe, but I think a great deal of people are aware of Ghostbusters in the USA, and that prompts the predictable response "What is that? A Ghostbusters ripoff?" ...and the answer is "Yes."

Luigi needs his own world to adventure in. Better yet, how about Luigi repelling a Koopa invasion in the real world, while Mario's off in the Mushroom Kingdom? That would work for me.

Rect_Pola

#22

Rect_Pola said:

In a way, Luigi does for video game heros what John McClane (first 3 movies at least) did for action movie heros. A much more "normal" protagonist in comparison to what was typical.

Prof_Elvin_Gadd

#23

Prof_Elvin_Gadd said:

I'm really excited for Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. I can't get enough of those Mario RPG's. :D

Mock headline: The "Taller" History of Luigi

Dodger

#25

Dodger said:

I think my favorite game with Luigi in it is Bowser's Inside Story. From the moment where Luigi hops into the castle on one foot for no good reason and trips, you know you are in for something special. Luigi Galaxy was also great. I still remember when I managed to triple jump to the fountain before it was unlocked. I didn't get anything, but I spent so long trying to do that and I was quite proud. I often play as Luigi in SSBB (still a Mr. G&W main through).

I haven't played Luigi's Mansion, but I watched Chuggaaconroy's LP and I want to play it. I'm enjoying LM2 though.

dartmonkey

#28

dartmonkey said:

He was playable in Mario 64 DS too. Great game to pick up on a 3DS, that.
@edcomics
I get that the basic premise of catching ghosts is a riff on Ghostbusters but I don't think it's a ripoff. It takes an idea and runs with it.
He's useful for Nintendo because he's not Mario. We're all suffering from franchise fatigue (New Super/Paper/Party/Kart/Golf/Sports...) and the 'Year of Luigi' helps cleanse palette ready for the next wave.

MasterWario

#30

MasterWario said:

@edcomics I'm not really a fan of Ghostbusters. After watching the movie, I was wondering "Wait, where's all the ghost-busting action?" I kinda felt like Ghostbusters ripped off of Luigi's Mansion since Luigi's Mansion imo did the ghost-busting right!

NintyMan

#31

NintyMan said:

I have to admit that I've warmed up to Luigi in recent years. Originally, I was a Mario guy, but as I started to play as Luigi more in games where he's playable, I realized that he's a better player. He jumps high and runs well, despite his slippery shoes in the SMG games. I still struggle to control him in SMB2, but he's great in everything else.

Of course, character is where it's at, and it's here where Luigi really shines. While Mario was formed by gameplay and not character, Luigi, despite being a Mario twin at first, got his character worked out over time and now has such a lovable personality. The scene in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga when he dresses up as Peach is classic and is probably my favorite Luigi moment.

Grodus

#32

Grodus said:

Luigi to Nintendo: can't we just forget about that guy and make him like Waluigi?

Luigi to the fans: GIVE US LUIGI AUGGHH SAUGHLJDKAFYHSGDF!!1!!!111!!11!

Cevan

#33

Cevan said:

@Trainer_DJ I agree. Nintendo should make some sort of Luigi game where King Boo kidnaps Daisy and plans to takeover Sarasaland, forcing Luigi to venture through Sarasaland and have a showdown with King Boo in a giant haunted mansion at the end of the game.

Zodiak13

#35

Zodiak13 said:

Lots of interesting Luigi history. I honestly have zero opinion on who I like better, I don't really like red or green, into blue myself :P. But I am enjoying Dark Moon.

SheldonRandoms

#37

SheldonRandoms said:

Mario and Luigi still have to remember, that the both of them would be nowhere, if they didn't have each other.....................that's something brothers would say right, because I wouldn't know that since all I have is sisters.

Even though Luigi is getting attention this year, what about the man in purple, I would like for him to get his own game, or at least join the greedy one wearing yellow in his adventures and mini games.

Emaan

#39

Emaan said:

Luigi's always been special to me. Nothing against Mario, but I've always viewed Luigi more fondly, because of his oddness and personality. He just shows a lot more emotion than his brother does. He's also developed into quite the clumsy character that each game manages to highlight and make him comic relief, which I love. He's just an all around fun character.

Lalivero

#40

Lalivero said:

@SheldonRandoms Waluigi? Yeah, only seems fitting. Mario, Wario, and now even Luigi catching up have their own games, but poor, poor Waluigi... :(

I'm happy to see Luigi getting some more of his own things though.

grimbldoo

#41

grimbldoo said:

In 3D Land, Luigi is superior by far. His jump makes clearing levels much quicker and easier.

Gioku

#42

Gioku said:

@SheldonRandoms & @Chriiis
I think Waluigi must be some kind of cruel joke. He'll never get a game, he'll have to suffer by only showing up in spinoffs. Heck, he was even deemed "too creepy" to be a playable character in MK7! (Although he did have a giant statue looking over one of the tracks.)

RantingThespian

#44

RantingThespian said:

Being a younger brother myself, and always had the 2nd controller because of that (and when I was younger, my favorite color was green), I took to Luigi from the start when me and my brother got Super Mario Bros. for our new NES system. I always choose Luigi when he is playable (unless I can also play as Yoshi, then I switch back and forth).

So, for me, this is a joyous year. Time for the green machine to shine!

edcomics

#46

edcomics said:

@dartmonkey I definitely agree on the point of franchise overload. Mario is overexposed.

@MasterWario Well, the movies naturally have things like character development and exposition in between the action scenes that you're not going to have in a game for kids. Have you seen the Ghostbusters cartoon? It was one of my favorite shows as I was growing up, and there was a great toy line to go with it. Busting ghosts was the name of the game. The whole process of wearing a special backpack and holding the gun, and subsequently sucking the ghost into a trap has been copied by Nintendo for Luigi's Mansion. As crude as it was, there was an NES Ghostbusters game back in 1988.

Can we post links on here? If so, here's a link to the Ghostbusters cartoon intro. Great animation. By the way, it's technically called "The REAL Ghostbusters," because people were ripping it off even back in the 80's.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4te3wN6fxM

SheldonRandoms

#48

SheldonRandoms said:

@Chriiis Yep, Waluigi was who I was talking about.

@Gioku Maybe one day Waluigi will get his own game, you never know, Luigi got his own games after staying in his brothers shadow for years, but at the very least, Waluigi should join Wario on one of his adventures.

@MasterWario Yeah, but that was a fan game.

Gilius

#52

Gilius said:

Only if there was a game that made Luigi save Daisy and Mario was player 2. Mario would then understand Luigi's pain.

BulbasaurusRex

#54

BulbasaurusRex said:

You forgot to mention that Luigi also had his unique attributes in the GBA port of Super Mario World.

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