It’s interesting how Mario is Nintendo’s big icon, despite the fact that there are bigger fandoms around almost everyone else. Link has his fangirls, and is the central icon for Nintendo’s gigantic formulaic adventure series. Just about everyone has a favorite Pokemon. Samus used to be a prime example of a female character who doesn’t rely on cheap pandering and sexualization to be strong… At least, until some unfortunate recent events…
And then there’s Luigi, who is almost something like a counter-culture symbol in Nintendo fandom. Especially since the start of the internet, Luigi’s rise to fame as everything Mario, the main popular icon, isn’t started getting some serious traction. At this point, he’s reaching a level where his status as a counter-culture hero is becoming a mainstream pop-culture thing.
Let’s just look at the history of Luigi’s character. And let’s make it snappy. Bullet (Bill) points.
- Luigi started as a Player 2 sprite with minor differences in his color pallete in Mario Bros, the arcade game, not the much more famous NES title.
- Luigi’s first step outside of Mario’s shadow was in the sprite swap of Doki Doki Panic to Super Mario Bros 2. For the first time he was taller, and jumped higher than Mario. He also got much more airy controls that made him slide across the floor, making him feel clumsy and hard to handle for a lot of people.
- Luigi then went back to becoming a color-swapped Mario in Super Mario Bros 3, as well as Super Mario World.
- With the release of Super Mario All-Stars, and the updated graphics, Luigi’s sprite got new animations seperating him from Mario further.
- Mario is Missing! One of the many terrible educational games to have been stuck to the Mario franchise. In it, Mario was abducted by Bowser, and Luigi traveled the world, learning basic geography and saving Mario. Which does seem odd, how can Bowser just go and kidnap Mario? Why can’t he just kidnap him, Peach AND Luigi, if it’s that easy to do?
- Paper Mario. Luigi appears in the background awkwardly a few times, and comes along with Mario to Peach’s castle without really being invited. This is where the jokes about his social ineptitude really started taking off.
- Mario went missing. Again! Except this time he wasn’t abducted by Bowser, and it was the very cool tech-demo/GameCube launch title: Luigi’s Haunted Mansion. Luigi goes off to search for Mario in a haunted mansion, fighting against ghosts with nothing but a flashlight and a modified vacuum cleaner.
- Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga finally gave Luigi a chance to stand side by side with his brother… In a game world where absolutely nobody recognizes or acknowledges him. In fact, the only reason he came along for the ride was because Bowser didn’t recognize him and forced Luigi to become one of his underlings. Luigi’s constantly looking for ways out of the adventure, and is easily distracted all the time. Still, his teamwork with Mario helps save the day. Three times so far.
- In Super Paper Mario, Luigi was brainwashed, and actually posed a threat to Mario during boss battles.
Luigi is an endless failure. He’s constantly afraid. He doesn’t like adventure, He seeks the easy way out. He has accepted that Mario is his superior, and he doesn’t mind it. When adventure does come knocking, he doesn’t know how to handle it, but he’ll still do his best to try and manage, hoping someone else will come along and save him from this discomfort.
Despite all of this, that still gives him much more personality than Mario. What’s Mario personality again?
- He’s cheerful.
- A go-getter.
- He’s the all-round guy.
- No real strengths
- No real weaknesses either.
Luigi might be the loser, but it’s much more interesting to identify with someone who actually has character than a blank slate, no matter if most of those traits are negative. Although that’s not entirely true either, not everything about Luigi is negative.
No matter how bad things get, Luigi overcomes his problems. He might not like being in troublesome situations, and he’s not made of whatever it is that makes a hero, but he still gives it his all. If courage is facing your fears, and foolishness is not having any to face, Luigi is easily the couragious of the two brothers.
What’s even more interesting is that this is not the first time this kind of thing happens. Let’s take a look at Disney for a second. Hold on, we need a transition again. I’m terribly sorry about this, but it’ll be over before you know it.
There we go. Right. Where were we? Oh, yeah. Disney. Cool.
Mickey Mouse is the happy-go-lucky hero of Disney. He’s also their big mascot, and a large part of Disney’s identity. He doesn’t need to try. He does. And no matter where the blame originally lies (often enough it does with him), he’ll come out on top. Mickey rarely loses his cool, he’s confident and knows he’ll win anyway.
Donald Duck stocks up on bad habits like they’re going out of style. He loses his temper constantly. Throws tantrums at everything. By the end of his stories, he’s often lost everything he had at the start, or had built up at the halfway point because of this.
Guess which character is much more popular in Europe?
Growing up as a kid, Donald Duck was everywhere. He had a weekly comic magazine. A monthly Extra magazine. An extra thick series of pocket books with more comics. An extra, extra double-sized pocket series released seperately from the previous pocket series. At one point, even Daisy Duck had her own seperate magazine.
What’s even more interesting is that it’s heavily implied that the other Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse and Goofy, all live in Duckburg. In fact, most people aren’t even aware that the whole Duck universe from Disney was mostly a spin-off of the old Mickey Mouse one.
And again, here we have a much more relatable negativecharacter who grew popular enough to warrant success over a much more iconic mascot character. Simply because a negative personality is still much more interesting than absolutely no personality. Although in Donald Duck’s case it helps that the Duck Universe is a much more vast and interesting place than the Mickey Mouse Universe. There’s entire background stories of how Scrooge McDuck, and how he came to become wealthy, and even how Duckburg was founded. Heck, the Duck Universe reached the point it got it’s very own Batman and Robocop counterparts.
Still, personally I find Luigi a much better example of this effect. Where Donald Duck rose to power to the point of generating a much more enormous franchise, Luigi has always kept that awkward position of the underdog. That guy you just want to go far, but know never really will. At least, not on his own, and not willingly.