Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-04-16 18:34:47
Luigi and the Underdog
It's nice to see that Nintendo are finally giving Luigi a chance in the spotlight. With 2013 being coined by Satoru Iwata as being the 'Year of Luigi', there are all sorts of cool games coming out this year with Luigi in the starring role. The one we have right now, Luigi's Mansion: 2/Dark Moon (3DS), the sequel to the Gamecube title, is more than enough to tide us over, and serves as a shining example of Luigi's versatility as a gaming icon in his own right.
Somehow, Luigi's Mansion wouldn't feel quite so believable if Mario was the lead character. Mario has always seemed like the more confident of the two brothers, being the main character in most of the titles and one of gaming's most iconic figures. For Luigi's Mansion to work, we don't need a confident hero who goes running through Boo-infested levels every other day; we need a bumbling hero who jumps at the sound of creaking floorboards and cautiously approaches every situation with a flashlight.
As a result, Luigi arguably becomes more loveable than Mario has ever been. Mario has never been short of character and charisma, but what Luigi lacks in Mario's assuredness he makes up for in being the classic underdog. Luigi's story isn't one of saving Princess Peach; Luigi doesn't get to be the romantic hero. His is a story of constantly following his brother around, walking in his shadow. In Luigi's Mansion, Luigi finally breaks out of this role and stars as the hero of a highly creative game flowing with Nintendo's trademark personality.
Some people criticise Mario as a franchise for being an example of franchise-milking, although I don't agree with this assertion. I find games such as Mario Galaxy to be absolutely stellar and original, and I think people would genuinely struggle to accuse that title of being anything other than a brilliantly crafted adventure, along with its sequel. Outside of platforming, Mario has tried his hand at a variety of different genres, although they're never really on par with the platforming the stout plumber is known for. It's encouraging to see that with Luigi's Mansion, Nintendo haven't made Luigi into a platforming hero like his brother. Instead, they have taken on an entirely different genre, one more focused on puzzle-solving and exploring, and as a result Luigi becomes his own entity.
If Nintendo wish to use Luigi as a character to explore genres that they don't generally touch, I can fully support that decision. There is nothing wrong with using the same iconic characters across different games and genres as long as the games are good, and Nintendo rarely disappoint in that department. And, despite the Mario franchise being almost 30 years old, it has taken this long for Luigi to finally make a name for himself. That Nintendo can still surprise an audience is a testament to their love for the characters they have created, and, above all else, it's nice to see Luigi, the underdog, finally receiving the attention that he deserves. Clearly, he's every bit as capable as his brother, and if Nintendo can continue to deliver exciting gaming experiences with Luigi at the helm, they will have done a fantastic job in fleshing out a character that many gamers have long considered underrated.
Perhaps more developers will follow suit and allow for their sidekick characters to have their own games? If they handle it as well as Nintendo have with Luigi, it could only mean good things.