When I was a little kid I always wanted to play Super Mario Bros. as Luigi, but unless you’re playing two-player, that’s never an option, and two-player regular Mario is terrible, each person taking a turn on the same level. It was impossible, trying to sit still, having to wait around for my brother, everything taking forever, just jumping over that hole in the ground such a challenge.
But as the oldest brother, I couldn’t let anybody else be player one. And so we’d start the game up, I’d be Mario in his classic red and brown and I’d have to watch my little brother get to start up as Luigi, classic Luigi, white overalls on top of a green shirt. Was there any difference? Aside from the colors, could Luigi do anything different than Mario?
I guess because they were identical, I always assumed they were twins, the Super Mario twin brothers. But then in subsequent games, Luigi developed his own distinct personality, character traits that set him apart from Mario. He was taller, I could definitely identify with that, because I was always the tall one in my family. He could jump really high, I guess to go along with the whole tall thing. He seemed like a natural older brother, and thanks to Super Mario World 2, I was given the option to start as Luigi.
Unfortunately he’s way too slow, and that high jump, it takes forever to land back on the ground. Not that Mario’s any better. He’s just regular, as regular as he was in regular Mario One. But I hesitate to draw any significant conclusions based on that sequel, because it was a really terrible game, and everyone always wound up opting to play as Princess Peach, whatever, not for any stylistic reason, none that I’m aware of anyway. No, the Princess could fly, or float, it was a huge in-game advantage.
Mario 3, Mario 4, it’s back to basics, the focus squarely on Mario, Luigi never mentioned, not featured on the box artwork at all. He’s merely a placeholder, “Player two, start!” I’d go through the whole Super Mario Land alternating between player-one and player-two just so I could have a chance to beat King Koopa as Luigi. When I finally did it, I was disappointed to see the game scroll through the victory credits as if Luigi didn’t even exist.
“Thanks Mario! You’ve saved the Princess!” even though Luigi would be standing right there, holding the Princess. I think it was Luigi anyway. But it was probably just Mario, no height difference at all, just a Mario twin, a clone, I don’t know, maybe they were short on cash for those third and forth games and they were like, all right Mario, you’ve got to play Mario and Luigi’s parts for this one. Here, put on this green cap and overalls, it’s almost player-two’s turn.
Mario 64, Luigi doesn’t exist. Jesus, even Yoshi gets a cameo at the very end. Spare no expense for Mario’s trusty dinosaur sidekick, but what about his brother? His own sometimes-identical-twin brother, absolutely no respect. And then they’d release Mario Kart or Mario Tennis and fine, Luigi would be there, but strictly as a filler character. They don’t even give Luigi a proper villain. Where Mario has Wario, which is cool, they play on the whole upside-down M for Wario, when it came time to give Luigi his own doppelganger, they created Waluigi, like it was just, whatever, through Wa in front of Luigi and turn the L upside-down on his hat, nobody cares, nobody’s going to pick him, make him really slow and useless so that nobody wants anything to do with him.
He just gets a bad rap, Luigi, I always feel bad for him, like he’s the more relatable of the Mario Brothers. They give him his own game, finally, for the Game Cube, and it’s like purposely unplayable. He can’t jump, he can’t do anything, he’s stuck in a haunted mansion and his avatar is onscreen trembling every time he has to do anything.
I remember when I was a little kid we’d go to the skating rink or bowling alley and there’d always be a small arcade section set up somewhere by the lockers. A few places had this Superman arcade game, a pretty standard side-scrolling beat-‘em-up single player. But this being a big arcade machine, there was a second joystick, and if you somehow successfully begged your mom for a quarter, and someone else also happened to procure twenty-five cents at the same time, you’d both deposit your money and Superman would be joined by a second player.
Who was it, Batman? Green Lantern? No, it was another Superman, the exact same graphic as player-one, but they just filled in the entire costume red so as to differentiate from the original. It’s a pretty basic arcade game, you’d fly to the right and zap a bad guy, eventually the computer would be too much to outsmart, and your mom refused to give you another coin for an extra life or two.
That second Superman wasn’t meant to be anything, it was just a way to accommodate two quarters in the machine at the same time. But I always thought, man, who is this guy? Does he ever get pissed that red-and-blue Superman gets all the fame, the publicity, comic books, movies, everything, and here he is, this guy decked out in solid red spandex, he’s apparently got all the same powers and abilities as regular Superman, but that’s it. That’s all he gets, this maybe cameo on some shitty arcade stand. Is he from Krypton? Does he have his own secret identity? Doesn’t matter. He gets nothing. Not even a name. He just nominally exists. Wouldn’t that drive you crazy? Doesn’t he deserve at least a little backstory?