Luigi is the better Mario Bro. Sorry, not sorry. But I don’t know if that’s even a controversial opinion. The green Player Two has been around since MARIO BROS. (1983), but as his scaredy cat personality and constant bullying by Nintendo itself has emerged over the years, Luigi has become a fan and meme favorite. Hell, Luigi is the only Nintendo character so far to get their own designated year! 2013 was the Year of Luigi, the notorious year following the Wii U’s launch, a time Nintendo fans don’t really love to experience again. Sounds about right for Luigi! But the year yielded three releases that fleshed out this concept of the “Luigi” series, or sub-series, or spin-off series, or whatever you want to call it. Previously, Luigi had only starred in two games. Well, one and a half games, but I’ll get to that. And now with the LUIGI’S MANSION (2001) 3DS remake out and a threequel coming in 2019, it’s quite clear that Luigi has his own subset of games, as diverse as the gameplay is across them. But then, the Luigi series is not unlike the Yoshi or Wario series in this way, which I would think are more conventionally considered their own set of spin-off games from the greater Mario universe. In any event, to mark the occasion, I’ve ranked all five (soon to be six!) games in the Luigi series.

EDIT 11/20/20: Added LUIGI’S MANSION 3.

Developer/Publisher: The Software Toolworks

OK, so maybe five “Luigi” games is a bit of a stretch. MARIO IS MISSING! is Luigi’s first starring role in a video game, but it was neither developed nor published by Nintendo. It’s an educational game from an era when Nintendo was licensing its characters out like crazy, resulting in other questionable Mario games on PC/SNES like MARIO’S TIME MACHINE (1993), the SUPER MARIO BROS. film (1993), the Zelda games for the Philips CD-i, and more. All of these products are notoriously bad, but they’re an interesting part of the history of a company now so notoriously conservative with the licensing of their characters. And that conservative nature is just now starting to open up again with things like Illumination’s upcoming animated Mario movie and a “Nintendoland” coming to the Universal Studios theme parks. Anyways, back to Luigi. MARIO IS MISSING! is just a boring mess of a game; I mean, it’s an edutainment thing, it’s not really meant to be exactly fun for adults. But its crude art style (outright bad on PC, and a strange fusion of the DOS backgrounds and SUPER MARIO WORLD [1990] assets on SNES) and bizarre fusion of the Mario and “our real” universe is certainly a sight to behold, again, considering Nintendo’s polished and “on-brand” approach to all of their IP. I hesitate to say this is #5 in a ranking of the Luigi games, since I wouldn’t rank the Zelda CD-i games in a list of the main Zelda game series. But it’s also an integral part to understanding the origin of Luigi as a playable character, and it’s a fittingly inauspicious start to the solo career of Mario’s brother.

Developer: Arika/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

DR. LUIGI’s release date is a real fitting joke for the end of the Year of Luigi. Released first in North America on December 31, 2013, the literal last day of the Year of Luigi, DR. LUIGI is, kind of confusingly, itself a continuation of the DR. MARIO spin-off series. The DR. MARIO games haven’t changed drastically since the first installment on NES (1990), but DR. LUIGI is as solid a puzzle game as the series has ever turned out. The TETRIS-like, falling block game is satisfying as you match like-color pills to clear them from the bottle-enclosed play screen. The series’, and by extension DR. LUIGI’s, contribution to the lore/ridiculousness of Mario’s (and, again, Luigi’s) many professions is also a good time. How are these dudes plumbers and doctors and professional racers and what have you!?! But the little multi-colored viruses have also become Mario fixtures in their own right, and DR. LUIGI itself is a fine little game in the guy’s “canon.”

Developer: Next Level Games/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

The long-awaited sequel to the solo adventure that truly put him on the map and the full-fledged product of the Year of Luigi, LUIGI’S MANSION: DARK MOON’s release on 3DS was an interesting choice. But any concerns I had about losing relative scale (I like to play games on my television as much as possible) were dispelled by the game’s smart evolution of the LUIGI’S MANSION gameplay. The themed mansions and expansion of the Poltergust’s abilities feel a little contrived, a bit fan fiction-y; but then, the original LUIGI’S MANSION may very well have felt that way to people playing it at the time. The premise of the first game certainly places it, in some way, out of the normal Mario universe; despite the presence of Boos, the ghosts have a totally different look, and of course the gameplay was much different. DARK MOON is not so radical a continuation of this theme, but it does itself feel like a deviation from the feel of its predecessor. But I think this is a more ambiguous feeling on my part, and not one that prevents me from enjoying the game. LUIGI’S MANSION: DARK MOON is an admirable sequel to a truly unique game, even if it lacks some of the first game’s atmosphere, ingenuity, and charm.

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo

While it was initially released as DLC for NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U (2012), NEW SUPER LUIGI U would be released for retail in its own standalone form; you can play it without owning the base game. This blurring of the lines allows me to comfortably claim NEW SUPER LUIGI U is its own game, derived from NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U as it is. But NEW SUPER LUIGI U features entirely different levels, redesigned to be both more difficult and draw out Luigi’s own slippery and floaty jumping style introduced by SUPER MARIO BROS. 2 (1988). The game has been compared to the “real, Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2,” SUPER MARIO BROS.: THE LOST LEVELS (1986), as it’s known in North America. But NEW SUPER LUIGI U is a triumphant expansion of the already amazing 2D platforming that NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U perfected, not a punishingly difficult application to a pre-designed template. It’s a part two to the best game in the “NEW SUPER” series of Mario games, and by extension, it’s the second best Luigi game. NEW SUPER LUIGI U is a must-play, and now that it’s been rescued from its isolation on the Wii U by the upcoming Switch release NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U DELUXE (2019), I hope even more people can enjoy its elevated approach to the already fantastic base game it spawned from.

Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Nintendo

LUIGI’S MANSION 3 is, clearly, nearly the best Luigi game. It is certainly the richest; the third game in the incredible ghostbusting series is the most “feature complete,” with a ton of great gameplay additions, story beats, character and enemy designs, and puzzles. It’s also a long game, and all of these elements make LUIGI’S MANSION 3 the most impressive of the Luigi games, and one that is deeply fun and entertaining. However, I am a sucker for nostalgia, and in fact I could also make the semi-objective argument that the simplicity of, well, the original LUIGI’S MANSION is just so timeless. Regardless, LUIGI’S MANSION 3 deserves much of the praise and success it’s received, and will certainly stick around as a classic in the same way that the first game has, while DARK MOON has slightly faded into obscurity.

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo

Nostalgia can be a hell of a drug, but I think the daring angle of LUIGI’S MANSION is phenomenal regardless of when it’s played. Famously criticized for launching with the GameCube (as opposed to a mainline Mario platformer), LUIGI’S MANSION dropped the jumping feature in favor of a sucky one. That is, Luigi took to a mansion he won in a contest to save his famous brother from ghosts, who he would vanquish with a vacuum cleaner device reminiscent of the Ghostbusters’ proton packs. It’s an incredibly satisfying system, and exploring the titular mansion, which is diverse while sticking to its theme, is a joy full of puzzling combat and, well, puzzling puzzles. As mentioned earlier, the introduction of a new kind of ghost, one influenced by the early 3D character model design of the era, rather than a singular reliance on Boos, gave LUIGI’S MANSION its own distinct flavor. Also derided for its short length, I think LUIGI’S MANSION is an incredibly creative game from a particularly exciting era in Nintendo’s history; the GameCube holds a special place in my heart. It set the standard for portraying Luigi as a lovable coward (I know games and other media had done it before, but obviously LUIGI’S MANSION drove it home), and its vast array of paranormal opponents represent fun gameplay challenges and interesting character design. It fleshed out the scope of the Mario universe and Nintendo’s laudable approach to gameplay first. I don’t know if this is the case, but Nintendo very well could have brainstormed a ghost-catching game, then applied it to Luigi after the fact. That’s partly why Nintendo’s games are so good; the company develops its games in an inimitable dual approach, finalizing gameplay elements before applying the charming characters (or the charming approach to new ones). LUIGI’S MANSION is a special GameCube game, a unique and singular Nintendo one, and of course, the best installment in the loose and diverse Luigi series.

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