The Mario Brother from Another Planet «


Ah, the neverending struggle for video game heroes to keep abreast of the times. From their humble, pixel-based roots, these digital characters evolved into complex, emotional individuals — seemingly, in the blink of an eye. After all, strengthening the connection between avatar and player became a necessity as the ever-changing medium of video games increased in complexity over the years.

And this process went well beyond mere design: appealing color palettes, fancy clothes and spikey hairstyles weren’t enough to make a character stand out. And thus, some became tarnished by the pitiless course of time, some faded, while others survived and matured thanks to the skillfull planning of their creators — and some even grew spontaneously, like ivy creeping its way up a damp stone wall.

One of the most interesting examples of the latter relates to a guy you’ve come across many times, but probably never gave much attention: Luigi Mario.

Lame name, right?

A Hard Knock Life


Life has never been easy for Luigi; his name originated from a pizzeria, and he grew up in the shadow of the heroic — and surreal — deeds of his older brother. He’s an underachiever, a coward, and a mama’s boy. When Shigeru Miyamoto conceived of Luigi, he was nothing more than a palette swap of his older brother Mario. He had no official artwork, nor any discernable purpose — he didn’t even have a distinct appearance. The only thing that differentiated him from the other, definitely more important Italian plumber were his green overalls. He simply tagged along, like many younger brothers and sisters do with their older siblings.

Considering his Average Joe-ness, it’s easy to see how gamers could subconsciously relate to him. From game to game, ever since the GameCube/Game Boy Advance era, Luigi’s developement started taking an interesting turn — and you have to wonder if this happened on purpose. His new personality formed a strong bond with gamers, a bond that transcended the act of playing itself and turned the green hero into one of Nintendo’s most powerful tools for meta-gaming and meta-narration. It’s hard to empathize with Luigi, but it’s easy to imagine him sitting in the very same room with us: he would ramble about how scary ghosts are, lie about how he managed to get rid of that Koopa bully down the street (not admitting that he actually just got beat senseless) and probably confess with a timid smile how he really loves his brother even though he always leaves him behind.

Luigi Through the Years


Luigi’s first significant role can be found in Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES, even though his essential moves were tied to an unrelated character in the non-Mario Famicom Disk System version of the game, Doki Doki Panic. For the English localization of the game, Luigi received his own unique sprite, which gave this “king of second bananas” (as he is referred to by Metal Gear’s Colonel in one of the best Super Smash Bros Brawl Taunts) a distinct look from Mario; Super Mario Bros. 2 also marks the first appearance of Luigi’s signature tall and slender design. This Super Mario sequel also gave him different abilities: his lofty and hard-to-control jump would be a characteristic retained in most of his future appearances both in direct sequels of the series, as well as spin-offs.

Ironically enough, (and hopefully you won’t mind the spoilers) Luigi’s first — potentially — solo adventure in the west turned out to be just a dream of his older brother. And to rub the proverbial salt in the wound, when he re-appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, he went back to filling the role of simple player 2 palette swap. Even beating the Super NES masterpiece as Luigi would give him no credit at all: Princess Peach would only have words of gratitude towards the chubbier Mario Brother.

It’s no big surprise that, obviously suffering from depression, he retired from the scene; after a cameo in Yoshi’s Island, he was mysteriously absent from Mario 64, leaving a trail of mysterious messages (for more, Google “L is real 2401”) and rumors in his wake.

Ghost in the Shell


When Luigi reappeared — we are, of course, not counting all those sports competitions — he had been appointed with the task of getting the GameCube off the ground; an important role, and, considering the Gamecube’s somewhat niche appeal, perfectly fitting for him. Luigi debuted on the N64 follow-up with a high profile game all to himself, in which he was once again tasked with finding a missing Mario. This time his enemies wouldn’t be geography quizzes, as in the educational title Mario is Missing!, but rather devious ghosts inhabiting a haunted house. Luigi’s Mansion was a great title, and clearly ahead of its time — as proven by the fact that Nintendo originally planned for the game to support stereoscopic 3D.

Luigi’s Mansion is particularly important because the main character subtly communicates and establishes a bond with the player; Luigi hums along with the soundtrack, externalizes his feelings of anxiety and fear like a game of the same genre (a Survival Horror take on Home Alone?) never did before, and his main interaction with the environment (through the big, green A button of the Gamecube controller) stands as one of the most frivolous — yet effective — in gaming to date: calling out for his brother with a fear-laden voice in a dozen different ways. All these carefully arranged elements slowly sink their teeth into players, dragging them into the spooky story and setting.

The difference here, as opposed to similar experiences, is that Luigi’s frailness and actions, along with the controls, bring you inside the game alongside him, rather than put you in his shoes. Because of this, Luigi’s Mansion really feels like exploring one of those haunted houses that pop up around Halloween. This green-hued plumber is just a normal guy in a crazy world inhabited by ghosts, talking mushrooms and armies of turtles. Yet he is so unreliably reliable that it’s hard not to consider him the best possible representative of the Mushroom Kingdom.


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