The year 2013 brings the 30th anniversary of the original “Mario Bros.” arcade game, which introduced Mario’s fraternal twin brother Luigi. In terms of celebration, however, Luigi remains strictly second banana; the Robin to Mario’s Batman.
“Robin, at least was his own character,” said Jose Zagal, an assistant professor of game development and interactive media at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media and author of “The Videogame Ethics Reader.”
“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,” Zagal said.
After Mario made his appearance as a carpenter in the original “Donkey Kong” arcade game in 1981, he returned as a plumber in Mario Bros two years later. The two-player nature of the game required the creation of a second character, giving birth to Luigi. He was little more than a clone of the Mario character, but with green overalls.
“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.”
As technology improved, Luigi’s physical appearance gradually began to differ from Mario’s, but the character remained firmly behind – rather than alongside – his brother.
Since the brothers’ introduction, Mario has had dozens of games with his name in the title and has made guest appearances in many more. While he does appear in some of his brother’s adventures, Nintendo has only created one true Nintendo Luigi title, the 2001 game “Luigi’s Mansion.” He also starred in “Mario Is Missing,” a rather unpopular educational PC game that licensed the Mario characters.
Zagal lamented, “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.”
- DePaul University