Waluigi: an oral history of Luigi’s rival

waluigi an oral history

waluigi an oral history

In the year 1992, Mario mania was absolutely booming across the globe. The titular plumber had come a long way since his humble beginnings as an ape antagonizer, and had gone on several big adventures and even received a wealth of spin-off titles. The Game Boy was about to receive its second portable Mario title, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, which appeared to improve on the first in nearly every way. Most notably of course, for its introduction of something brand new to the Mario series: an arch-rival character named Wario.

Back when Nintendo felt confident enough to switch up Mario’s antagonists from time to time instead of the rinse and repeat Bowser kidnapping strategy, Wario was a breath of fresh, garlicky air. So much so that he received his own spin-off series of platformers with the Wario Land games, and even a spin-off series to the spin-off series with WarioWare. The future looked bright for the obese, money-grubbing Mario-lookalike, but he was missing one thing that the red plumber had over him: a partner in crime.

Entering a New Era

As we entered the new millennium, Mario continued to serve up hit after hit. Spin-off titles became more abundant than ever on the Nintendo 64, and in the year 2000, Mario Tennis was released (not to be confused with Mario’s Tennis on the Virtual Boy, but let’s be honest, nobody here played that game).

As per tennis rules, every tennis player must have a partner in order to partake in doubles matches. Mario had Luigi, Peach called up Daisy, Bowser forced one of his minions to play with him, and Wario? Well, Wario had nobody. After going through an existential crisis, and probably attending a series of local rec leagues to try and meet new people (because let’s face it, it’s hard to make new friends as an adult) Wario came back with a new companion: Waluigi.

“Waluigi? What the hell kind of name is that?”

“It Means ‘Bad Guy’ In Japanese”

I remember this vividly. I had the Nintendo Power issue that announced Waluigi’s arrival. I even logged onto my parents dial-up internet connection to go to the now-defunct waluigi.com (it redirects to Nintendo’s homepage now, sadly) just to learn more about this guy. And honestly? It just seemed really strange, and even a little bit forced at the time.

Early concept art for Waluigi by Fumihide Aoki
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Credit: Fumihide Aoki
Early concept art for Waluigi by Fumihide Aoki

Nintendo Power had explained that, while the name sounded strange, it was actually a pun in Japanese. The Japanese word for “bad” is “Warui”, which is where Wario got his name. It’s actually an incredibly clever pun when you think about it, and a rare one that works in both English and Japanese. I previously assumed that Wario was just “Bad Mario” because… war is in his name, and you know, war is bad. I was either an incredibly bright child or a very dumb one.

Making a “Bad Luigi” though? That was a bit more complicated. They couldn’t call him “Wuigi”, that would be even dumber. And, given the cultural barrier and my general ignorance as a 10-year-old American boy, just adding “Wa” to the beginning of “Luigi” seemed lazy to me. But, this was one pun that just worked a lot better in Japanese, it turned out. They again used the stem for “Warui”, but had the double pun of “Ruiji” at the end, which is the Japanese pronunciation of Luigi.

All right, Nintendo. That’s clever enough. You win this round.

Who Am I?

Waluigi was accepted gracefully into the hearts of Mario fans after the game was released. He was even invited back to other outings such as Mario parties, Mario kart racing, and Mario Golf, but always as Wario’s plus one. He lacked an individual identity.

The “lore” surrounding Waluigi has always been kind of ambiguous, especially early on. It was almost like internal teams at Nintendo hadn’t communicated who or what this guy even was, so they just made it up as they went, and different regions had different explanations which made it all the more confusing.

In the beginning, it was said that Wario and Waluigi were brothers. Sure, that makes sense. They are the evil parallels to the famous Mario brothers, after all. But over time, the general agreed-upon consensus at Nintendo stated that they were “just friends”, and are explicitly unrelated. Why? What purpose is there to have them be just two random guys? I still think that’s a cop out on the Japanese giant’s part.

To elaborate on this and make matters even more confusing, an issue of Nintendo Power released sometime during the GameCube era muddied the waters much, much further. They stated that Waluigi was originally an out-of-work actor named “Jimmy Poppadopolos” who was hired by Wario to play tennis with him, and even legally had his name changed to Waluigi. Absolutely diabolical. The snippet went even further to say that their friendship may have possibly blossomed into a romance. Whoa. This is big.

Whether or not this is canon, or just some magazine writer having a little fun (could you imagine?) remains to be seen. But, Waluigi has yet to appear in a mainline Mario game or even one of the RPGs outside of a costume cameo or two. He has exclusively appeared only in Mario spin-off titles– not even the Wario Land or WarioWare games, save for an extremely brief reference or two! The guy bails Wario out during an existential crisis, and he can’t even be bothered to call him up for some MicroGames? Is Wario embarrassed to be seen with Waluigi around Jimmy, Mona, and the rest of his other friend group

Or is he just afraid of getting upstaged?

Everybody Loves An Anti-Hero

The biggest feather in Waluigi’s cap is his role in Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, a rare instance where Waluigi is not only a main antagonist, but the main antagonist, all on his own without Wario’s gassy ass stinking up the joint. But alas, only three people out there played this game, so it remains a mildly interesting party fact at best. As Waluigi appeared to become more of a permanent fixture in the Mario universe, however, he started to really generate some buzz from fans.

With the white-hot success of the Wii, it was inevitable that a new Super Smash Bros. game would be released on the console. Then, in 2007, we got our first look at Super Smash Bros. Brawl. One of the first “newcomers” shown off in the trailer was Wario, a highly-requested character who was apparently supposed to be in Melee. As more and more characters got revealed over the course of time via the Masahiro Sakurai owned and operated website Smash Bros. DOJO!! it got people thinking: what if, just, what if, Waluigi got added too?

Super Smash Bros waluigi
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And then, one cold day in December 2007, Sakurai bursted everyone’s bubbles and said that Waluigi would be delegated to assist trophy status, and we all knew what that meant. Just to be crystal clear, though, he even went so far as to clarify in the post that Waluigi would not be appearing as a playable character. Fans were disappointed. Yes, Waluigi now had fans of his own, partially thanks to this.

There have been several Super Smash Bros. games released since Brawl, and with each entry, it was inevitable that fans would clamor for Waluigi to be added. Well, him and Geno, but that’s a story for another time. The very ridiculous nature of Waluigi’s existence, and him as a character, led to an equally ridiculous fervor for him to be added to Smash. At one point, Sakurai released a video presentation talking about one of the upcoming games, and in the background of his room were two purple and yellow chairs. Fans took this as a “sign” and confirmation that Waluigi would finally be added. This was becoming borderline conspiratorial at this point.

sakurai announcing smash
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Waluigi ended up getting the double-rejection in each Smash game to follow: he was delegated to assist trophy status yet again, and just in case it wasn’t clear that he really wouldn’t be playable this time, he also got the dreaded Mii Costume, which all but confirmed that it was never going to happen.

After all of this, I can’t help but wonder though: what would Waluigi even do in Smash? His assist trophy moves are just using items from the Mario spin-off games like the tennis racket, he still hasn’t really “proven” himself to be a necessary addition. He still lacks an individual identity.

But all of this rejection only acted as fuel to the fire.

The Man, the Myth, the Meme

Waluigi was originally created by Japanese video game artist Fumihide Aoki, again, just because Wario needed a tennis partner. The very nature of his reason for being, the constant rejection he’s faced over the course of his life, the ridiculous way he yells “WA!” whenever he does just about anything, has caused him to become something of a meme over the years.

Waluigi’s new stature as a joke figure in the gaming world even helped media giants like satire video game website Hard Drive get started, with their first big hit article being a joke about Waluigi. “We really leaned on him as a character in those first few years,” said Jeremy Kaplowitz, one of Hard Drive’s co-founders and current host of the podcast Quorators. “If The Onion could turn Joe Biden into a unique recurring character in the Obama years, why couldn't we have our own demented version of Waluigi in the world of Hard Drive?”

It certainly makes sense that Waluigi would be a perfect fit for this sort of humor, given his unique and abstract history from concept to creation. But when you break him down though, what exactly is it about him that is so funny to gamers? “Waluigi is fun because he's kind of the ugly unwanted cousin of the perfect little Mario boys. Even Wario has his own games, and Luigi had his own year, not to mention he owns property,” said Kaplowitz. “There's something funny about how dumb he looks and how little Nintendo cares about him. Maybe there's a little Waluigi in all of us.“

waluigi rose pose
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With all that being said, it’s unclear if Waluigi will ever appear in a mainline Mario game, in a Smash Bros. game, or hell, even a Wario game, but he’s definitely not going anywhere any time soon.

It feels like Nintendo has taken notice of fans’ response to the character and have started to lean into Waluigi’s sillier side, with recent sports outings depicting him as something of a flamenco dancer, with the back twirl and a rose in his mouth and everything. Maybe Nintendo will eventually put Waluigi into those other games, or even give him his own spin-off series. Or maybe Miyamoto will finally give us that “Wapeach” he hinted at.

Either way, the future is certainly bright for this lanky, purple-hatted anti-hero.

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