By Josh Miller
If you grew up with siblings, you probably played as Luigi, me too. I grew up with the NES and SNES versions of the Super Mario Bros games which are a turn based side-scroller where all the characters were equal. Only in Super Mario Bros. 2 (North American release) where Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach all had unique abilities was there any real difference between characters. Other than that, the brothers were just a palette swap.
It was like that way for the most part, right up until the N64 came out, and Luigi was less and less involved with Mario’s adventures. I hadn’t really thought about this in a while. But while preparing for Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, I decided to do a poster for Luigi’s Mansion.
It turned out pretty well, but I had to Google some reference pictures. And I noticed a trend. When did it become general conscientious that Luigi is a bumbling idiot? I know it’s mostly head cannon for fans, but even the official Nintendo imagery implies his ineptitude.
I seem to remember his first appearance in Super Smash Bros. introducing him as the ‘Eternal Underdog,” which is a sentiment I can get behind. I like underdogs. I root for them exclusively (Edmonton Oilers, Boston Red Sox, etc) . So while Luigi may not be in the spotlight most of the time, he has always been equal in drive and ability to his brother.
Remember when he transitioned from silent but able sidekick to foolish bit character? Cause, I really don’t. Perhaps it was non-videogame canon. The Japanese exclusive anime? The Super Mario Super Show? I seem to recall Mario being the comedic element as Luigi often played straight man.
And of course, the awful/awesome Super Mario Bros. movie shows Mario as a disillusioned grump while Luigi was the protagonist.
The best I could think of within the video game universes was Paper Mario. You can find Luigi’s diary (Subtly emasculating, already) and discover that he’s afraid of ghosts. This was, of course, build up for Luigi’s Mansion, a game that let him become a hero in his own rights. While he wasn’t portrayed as the stoic archetype that you usually think of when it comes to heroes, keep in mind that he was terrified and only stuck around to do what had to be done to SAVE HIS BROTHER.
That’s a major point I want to bring up. He does save his brother on occasion, but more importantly, he travels with Mario on suicide missions to save Peach. His brother’s girlfriend. There is nothing in it for him, Luigi’s just good people. So why make him clumsy and oafish?
I don’t disagree with the idea of building up a character from a long running franchise, in fact, I’m all for it. Give the plumbers personality. But why make it so Player Two has to take the buffoon? If I were 5 again, playing Super Mario Bros. with my sister, I would probably complain if I didn’t get to play as the “Hero” of the game.