Decades ago when I was a wee lad, my friends and I debated on the elementary school playground about which Mario brother was “better.” At that age, it was akin to the “my dad is cooler than your dad” sort of banter, and I chose the side of Luigi. Like any nonsensical debate between elementary school children, the debate was resolved by our short attention spans as we moved on to other things. But was it really resolved?
We never truly forgot this dispute and actually resurrected the argument at our high school lunch table several years later. (I know, right? Despite what you might think or what any other witnesses might tell you, I can assure you that we were the cool lunch table.) And just like the kids who identified their cool factor with rejecting mainstream music, movies, or games in favor of the lesser known brands, I rallied behind the underdog Mario brother.
Nintendo picked its favorite long ago
To first understand Luigi’s superiority, it’s important to recognize the reason why Luigi is the underdog. In Nintendo’s world, Luigi has largely been relegated to being a second-class citizen in comparison to his red-capped brother. In the first and third Super Mario Bros. games for the NES and Super Mario World for the SNES, he was always matched up with the second player. This firmly implanted in our minds that Mario is the hero and Luigi isn’t more than a sidekick. And in some of the franchise’s best titles including Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, and even the most recent entry Super Mario Odyssey, Luigi isn’t even a playable option in most cases. He’s just the free DLC balloon guy floating around waiting for Mario to acknowledge him.
#1. The “Luigi” insurance policy
Nintendo has forced Luigi to take a backseat to his brother for much of their gaming careers. However, the few moments where Luigi has held the spotlight are moments that have proven his resolve and ability to get things done. And Nintendo has mistakenly created something far more effective than Mario by putting Luigi in the supporting role.
Luigi has had very few solo adventures, but while Mario might assume the role of the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero, Luigi fulfills an underappreciated role for the denizens of Peach’s domain: insurance. The hero is there to protect and defend the kingdom, but who is there to save the hero from his own peril and pull him back from the abyss?
Mario Is Missing!
The Luigi insurance policy started back on the NES, SNES, and even MS-DOS (PC) in a little game called Mario Is Missing! The game launched in 1993. This was Luigi’s first solo adventure, and it just so happened to come with an educational twist.
The game was Nintendo’s push to be a part of the boon of educational games hitting PC and consoles at the time. But within this teaching tool was a telling tale that began to shape the character of the less-regarded Mario brother. In this story, Bowser left the Mushroom Kingdom behind and entered the real world. In a quest for world domination, he kidnapped Mario to prevent the plumber from sabotaging his plan.
Luigi had to search the world for clues while stopping Bowser’s minions from selling historical artifacts. Visiting historical locations, gaining clues, and learning about the artifacts is where the educational aspect came in. In fact, it was very similar to another popular mystery educational game: Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
Luigi embarked on a quest to save his brother. He ended up saving our world simultaneously. This is an instance where Luigi not only picked up the slack of foiling Bowser’s plan, but he saved his brother — the hero — with the thinking power of his brain!
This trend continued with Luigi’s two other solo ventures: Luigi’s Mansion and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Both times, Mario is taken, and it is up to Luigi to use a particular set of skills (and a vacuum cleaner) to track him down. After these adventures on the GameCube and 3DS, Luigi could add “ghost-busting” to the list of skills on his resume.
It’s also necessary to point out that Luigi wasn’t even searching for Mario in Dark Moon and was originally set on saving the world from King Boo. Finding that he had taken Mario was a surprise along the way. These games solidified Luigi’s role as the insurance policy for the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero should anything happen to him. But despite being a great backup plan, it also proves he is capable of saving the world just like his brother. Luigi “The Insurance” has a nice, gritty ring to it. Don’t you think?
#2. Caution and rationale
Many might note that Luigi typically appears to be the cowardly brother. We rarely see Mario terrified, but Luigi seems to be chattering his teeth when faced with scary opposition. Mario is also depicted as rushing into his heroic duties ready to scrap with the enemy. It seems that Luigi’s intellect and emotional response with fear work to his benefit. He doesn’t simply jump into situations without giving it some thought, and perhaps, that may be why he is the one always having to rescue his brother when the situation calls for it.
Besides, fear itself never defines a hero. In fact, heroes who sally forth in spite of fear display the ultimate bravery. Nelson Mandela said it best: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Luigi’s exploits among the haunted mansions perfectly embody that quote.
#3. He’s got a vertical
Super Mario Bros. 2 took a different approach to the Mario legacy, allowing for players to select one of four avatars to tackle the struggles of Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach were all available. Each character had their slight differences. But no one who’s ever played Super Mario Bros. 2 will forget that Luigi had quite the vertical. Even my friends who favored Mario will readily admit to consistently selecting Luigi for his jumping prowess in SMB2. While many later iterations have ignored this development, New Super Luigi U restores order to the universe by returning Luigi’s high and fluttery jump to his skill set.
#4. If looks could kill…
Let’s not forget about Luigi’s killer road rage look. In Mario Kart 8, he definitely makes sure to solidify his lead over players with a terrifying display that says, “I know where you sleep at night — don’t test me.” If you’re stuck on the “Luigi is a shivering coward” train, this stone cold gaze might change that. It certainly ups the character’s “cool” factor.
#5. Luigi is more relatable as a human being
Luigi, as a character, reaches far and wide to the folks across the world who have had the feeling of always being in second place to another sibling. Maybe the other sibling is older and quite the bully. Or, perhaps, they are an overachieving ambitious snob that steals the limelight from the rest of the litter. Whatever the reason, siblings who have been forced time and time again to grab the second player controller and wield the green-clad plumber have indirectly bonded with the mutually-shared status of the character.
My previous points also bolster this one. Luigi’s emotional range defines his character from his display of fear in Luigi’s Mansion, his road rage in Mario Kart 8, and the standard Mario brother glee he shows when accomplishing the impossible. This sort of range from Mario is rather nonexistent. Maybe this will all change when the eventual Illumination Studios animated flick starring the Mario bros comes to fruition.
The forgotten warrior
I could carry on all day long. Luigi outclasses his brother in more ways than one. Yet, this humble hero has never seen the credit he truly deserves — nor does he constantly rub it in everyone’s face like Mr. Mario’s-number-one-woohoo! over here on all the game covers. Really, only self-absorbed heroes speak about themselves in the third-person. And no one likes a self-absorbed hero, Mario. (Yes, I realize Luigi has also done this at times, but remember we’re here to poo-poo on the Mario party.)
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.