It's Luigi's 30th anniversary this year but it seems like Mario's taller brother – like Rodney Dangerfield – can't get any respect. Luigi was introduced as an optional second player in the arcade version of Mario Bros. thirty years ago. Jose Zagal, assistant professor of game development and interactive media at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media and the author of numerous game related books including "The Videogame Ethics Reader," compares Luigi to Robin, but even Robin was recognized for having some skill and his own identity; Luigi has always been a second option since the day of his creation and even when he was given a solo adventure (Luigi's Mansion) his efforts have been mostly panned and ridiculed.
"Robin, at least was his own character," notes Zagal. "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."
Luigi has always been considered a lesser clone of Mario – mainly because that was how he was introduced in the original arcade game and there were few options to differentiate the two characters back then.
"Due to technical constraints of the era, the color of overalls was the best means to tell the characters apart," Zagal noted. "Luigi started as a simple palette swap of the Mario character, and has continued to live in Mario’s shadow."
While advances in graphics and technology allowed for Luigi to eventually have his own personal traits and unique appearance, the lankier brother never really emerged from the long shadow of his brother Mario. As Zagal points out, Mario has had multiple titles bearing his name, while Luigi has only held the spotlight a few times. The 2001 GameCube game Luigi’s Mansion and the poorly received Mario Is Missing are the only games where Luigi was put front and center as the main attraction.
"Though they have been around almost the same amount of time, and though Luigi is probably just as well-known as Mario around the world, he has been relegated to permanent underdog status," Zagal concludes.
Ultimately Zagal's point is that Luigi – being in the public eye for thirty years as of 2013 – deserves a bit more respect than he has gotten from the gaming community, Nintendo and his creator Shigeru Miyamoto…
Image credit: DePaul University/Jeff Carrion