Luigi celebrates his 30th birthday still in Mario’s shadow

Luigi and Toad in 'Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon' (Nintendo)It’s common for most people who approach their 30th birthday to get a little melancholy as they reflect back on their lives. For one mustachioed, green hat-wearing plumber, his life has largely been spent in the shadow of his shorter and much more famous brother.

Ahead of Luigi’s approaching birthday on June 1 — which was the release date of the Mario Bros. arcade game back in 1983 — Jose Zagal, assistant professor of game development and interactive media at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media, is lamenting Luigi as the unloved brother of the Super Mario Bros.

"Robin at least was his own character," said Zagal, comparing Luigi and Mario to Robin and Batman. "Though Robin was young and inexperienced, he was portrayed as competent and even somewhat cool. Luigi, however, is often portrayed at best as a clone of Mario and, at worst, the more cowardly brother who still pulls through in the end."

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Luigi’s introduction by Nintendo came about as a matter of necessity, as they needed a second character for the new two-player arcade game.

"Due to technical constraints of the era, the colour of overalls was the best means to tell the characters apart," Zagal said. "Luigi started as a simple palette swap of the Mario character, and has continued to live in Mario’s shadow."

Luigi is often portrayed as the reluctant companion to Mario on his quests, rarely getting top billing on games, while Mario headlines the Super Mario series and a vast assortment of spin-offs like Mario Party and Mario Kart. As Luigi blows out his candles later this year, there are two notable exceptions he can fondly look back on as an important part of one of the world’s most famous pairings:

In 2003, Nintendo released Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance, one of only two RPG series created in the Mario universe (Paper Mario being the other – where Luigi also makes numerous appearances). The series has had two more installments so far, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, both for the Nintendo DS. As the name suggests, Luigi plays as critical a role in the games as Mario does, possessing powers that his shorter brother doesn’t have.

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But Luigi’s real time in the spotlight was, ironically, spent mostly in the dark. In 2001, Mario was nowhere to be seen as Luigi was the titular character in Luigi’s Mansion, a launch title for the GameCube. While it garnered somewhat mixed reviews among fans and reviewers, it had enough of a dedicated following to earn a sequel, coming later this year to the Nintendo 3DS. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is expected to be released in late March, ahead of Luigi’s big 3-0.

So perhaps Luigi isn’t the face of the extensive family of Mario games, but he’s undeniably a favourite of many fans, and, at least in this blogger’s opinion, still cooler than Robin.

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