There’s little question that Super Mario Bros. 2 helped solidify the image of Mario as we know him today, but it not only did the same for his younger brother, but to a much greater degree as well.
Prior to Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario and Luigi were nigh-identical twins, only distinguishable by the letter on their caps and the color of their attire (though sometimes his eyes would vary, too). Much like Mario, the combination of colors on his clothing would vary, too:
Even though the name of the game was “Super Mario Bros.,” Luigi made far fewer appearances in merchandise when compared to his older bro. When he did show up, it was often as a palette-swapped version of a piece of Mario art — just like in the game:
Despite the more varied changes in secondary color than what Mario went through, from brown to black and to white, one thing remained constant: Luigi was the “green” Mario brother.
But in Super Mario Bros. 2, that all changed. Nintendo finally settled on a color scheme for the perpetual Player 2, making his color scheme a direct green mirror of Mario’s; where Mario had red, Luigi would have green, and both would share in blue, wherever it may be, and it’s been that way ever since.
That said, before thing settled on blue overalls, Luigi would follow the same discrepancies as his older sibling — meaning that if Mario appeared in a comic book, television show, game, or even the instruction manual with red overalls in contrast to the game’s blue, Luigi would have green overalls as well (with the odd exception of Super Mario Odyssey — Luigi’s not playable there, and there is only one Luigi costume, which of course features his current standard color scheme).
A unique color scheme isn’t all Luigi gained in Super Mario Bros. 2, however. Visually, his entire appearance changed, similar to what it was before, yet visibly distinct from his brother: Now he was a bit taller, and a bit thinner, too.
His face took on a new shape, a bit more narrow towards the chin, and with a more visible neck. And whereas Mario’s mustache features six “bumps” along the bottom, Luigi now has two smoother bumps.
Incidentally, Luigi would also debut this new look in Japan two weeks after the release of Super Mario Bros. 2 — sort of. I’ll get into that more another time, however.
Where Luigi was once a simple palette swap of Mario in order to create a second player character, now he had his own visual identity which made him easier to recognize not just in color, but in silhouette as well. But the evolution of Luigi didn’t stop there.
In Japan’s version of Super Mario Bros. 2, released in 1986 and better known in the west as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Nintendo opted to release a single-player game in which players could decide whether to play as Mario or Luigi, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. While Mario controlled much as he did in Super Mario Bros., Luigi gained a much higher jump, albeit at the cost of steadier footing.
With that precedent set, it makes sense that while Mario retained the “average” stats, Luigi would be the one to take the spot of the higher but slower jumper, Mama from Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. Unlike Mama, though, Luigi would display a tendency to kick his feet rapidly, “fluttering” while in mid-air. Assistant Director and Course Designer for Super Mario Bros. 2, Hideko Konno, explained this to MTV Multiplayer (via Nintendo Everything:
When we made this game, the mother figure, who later became Luigi, since this is a really old game, was made with cel animations. They made this mother figure to jump with gravity not influencing her as much as Mario [Imajin], so Luigi had a really slow jump.
When Mr. Miyamoto came through and evaluated it, he said it doesn’t feel right, let’s add something with his legs, maybe they can each shake like this (making a fast back and forth fluttering movement with his index and middle fingers), and adding in that one element, made it feel just right. Then, later on, that became the mechanic that he was known for.
So while The Lost Levels may have granted Luigi his higher jumping ability, it was Super Mario Bros. 2 which added that distinct visual flair that remains to this day — at least, in any game where Luigi is allowed to jump higher than his companions.
While Luigi hasn’t gone on to star in as many titles as his older bro, he’s still shown up in a good number of games with the rest of the cast of Mushroom Kingdom crazies. He’s even gotten a few spin-offs, such as Luigi’s Mansion and New Super Luigi U (the first new 2D platformer in 25 years to not only incorporate Luigi’s trademark mechanics from this game, but be based around them).
Whereas Mario’s image going forward was solidified by Super Mario Bros. 2, Luigi’s was redefined by it.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.