To be honest, I’ve always thought of Luigi in Melee as a soft allegory for how I am on Tinder dates: A little goofy, a little sad, ready to breakdance, and a one-in-eight chance of prematurely exploding at any given time. Despite these parallels, I’ve always looked sideways at those who choose to play Luigi at any point in their Melee career, or even in other Mario-prefixed games with an ensemble cast (Kart, Party, Tennis, or the controversial Mario Whalers).
Ever since he graduated from a palette swap of his sellout brother, I can only assume Nintendo has decided that his characterization should never deviate from a core design philosophy based on a clumsy intern that Miyamoto used to fuck with mercilessly. Luigi’s Mansion was basically a reskin of that time they dropped a tab of acid into his coffee and chased him around the office in ghost costumes. Luigi is such an easy target that if bullying was an MMO, the starting zone would just be players farming him for swirlies until they could afford their first puka shell necklace.
This foundation of the Luigi’s personality being some kind of perpetually nervous fuckup is what often turns people away from him. He just feels like a gigantic loser, and that just ain’t me chief. I’m a winner.
But I digress. Melee is a strange game, and Luigi is somehow even more strange, which is like showing up to a Juggalo gathering and blasting harsh noise FLACs while fingerpainting with your own shit. He’s made of such pure jank that his mere presence in a match increases the chances of encountering the invisible ceiling glitch by a factor of n^fuck. However, it’s his signature Melee mechanic that truly defines him as an outsider looking in, one sad, gloved hand against the window, the other shoving a handful of Play-Doh into his mouth: His wavedash.
That’s right, Luigi’s ability to move as if he’s wearing Heelys coated in Doctor Archibald’s© Extra Gross™ Personal Lubricant is instrumental to understanding how his entire existence is a tragedy. It’s like giving Ganon three jumps, and on the third one he does a backflip and shouts “SPICY GIRL, THAT’S ME.” And we aren’t talking about a cute quirk like Mario’s Up-B walljump on Yoshi’s, or El Fuego’s casual racism on twitter. Luigi’s wavedash is a powerful tool that’s heavily incorporated into his gameplay, with wavedash downsmash being one of the first techniques that Luigi mains learn, along with wavedash upsmash, wavedash f-tilt, and wavedash not biting the housecat in the face during abrupt sensory overload.
With his wavedash serving as the slippery cornerstone of his kit, the rest of Luigi’s properties and moves combine to create a cohesive web of fuckery and evil. In the air, his fall speed and weight are coded to resemble the physics of a drunk man trying to land a hot air balloon onto his ex-wife’s roof. This allows players to mash wildly while airborne, ensuring that one of his strong and fast aerials clip a “mid-level” Falco into a combo that will leave him sulking for his next three laserless stocks. Other moves cleverly serve to weave his historic characterization as a complete punk bitch into actual gameplay. Things like misfire and sweetspot Up-B allow players to experience firsthand Luigi’s propensity to fuck things up, while moves like his dash attack and taunt help illustrate his fragile and childlike emotional state.
From a purely objective standpoint, Luigi is a goofy, janky, crybaby fuckup, both mechanically and aesthetically, with access to an upgraded movement option for no good reason. He is such a walking punchline that one of the best players in the world used him as a joke at a major tournament, got 5th, and it was inexplicably one the funniest things that’s ever happened.
“So what?” you may be asking, like literally anyone after reading a Reddit post about someone’s first tournament experience. Allow me to explain.
Have you ever noticed how there are far more salty Smash compilation videos than most other games? And how the “salt” in half of those clips from Street Fighter are what you see every week at your quiet local? FGC veterans like to point to this and claim that Melee players are just uncontrollable babies that throw controllers, which is true, but I think has more to do with the differing engines of both games. There’s a powerful sense of freedom and movement in Melee, much more than a game like Street Fighter where the action is more constricted. (Not to draw comparisons about which game is better or more difficult, because we all know Shadow: War of Succession is the true measure of skill). Melee’s high level of control wires you in, widens the bridge between the player and avatar. There are few things in this world that are as intoxicating as nailing a perfect 0-death combo on some brazen Falcon player while your squad hollers and flails behind you, pretending to faint at your masterful execution.
And for how good it feels on one end, it feels equally as bad to be on the other. There are few points lower in life than being tossed around battlefield like the N-word by Hbox rapping along to Yeezus in his car, but it feels even worse when it’s at the hands of Luigi, Nintendo’s equivalent to fucking Quailman.
You might be thinking, “Hey, nerd, isn’t losing to a low-tier just as demoralizing? Or like, Jigglypuff?” To which I would reply with the same answer I give when someone asks the rotation if anyone would like to play teams: No, of course not.
It’s the perfect mixture between Luigi’s wimpy design and his powerful jank that make him a different loss than any other character in the game. Jigglypuff giving you the hot, janky beans is an acceptable irony due to the badass adorable clause that makes her victory fit a familiar narrative framework. Characters like Mewtwo and bowser are trash, but at least if you lose to them they play the part of an actual threat with their stern brows and angry grunts. All of the characters make some sort of sense to lose to, but the way Luigi breaks the framework makes it hurt in his own special way. It’s like if Scooby Doo was in the game, could zero-to-death you, and had stretch armstrong legs.
And honestly, that’s probably the appeal for the tortured individuals that choose to main him.
Luigi Mains: An Examination
Melee’s tier list has long been a loose cosplay of the top-heavy American distribution of wealth, where Luigi sits almost dead center. This would liken him to something like the middle class, but instead of an accounting job and a 401k he lived off Six Flags settlement payouts from a near-fatal mechanical failure of the Porky Pig’s Camp Wagon ride. His position, then, offers a tempting choice for those wishing to differentiate from spacie player #63351 while not being completely dogshit useless in a match.
But it still isn’t easy; Falco alone is responsible for over half of all divorces between Luigi and Luigi mains. While being forced off of mid-tiers by countless ass-beatings is part of the culture, there are always those that push through, standing by their awful decisions no matter what the cost. These are the individuals that interest me, and we’ll be taking a look at three in particular.
Some of you may be familiar with The Cheat, a Luigi player from Arizona who once commentated with a handsome douchebag at a regional, as well as founded one of the
most successful parody esports pyramid schemes in Melee.
For The Cheat, Luigi is merely a direct extension of his tortured Id, a tool in which to express the big memes that thrash against the walls of his psyche. Observe the clip below:
With the foresight and planning of a seismic engineer, The Cheat achieves 69%, downthrows the Peach to get her to kill percent, and lands an upsmash/dabsmash for the ultimate meme fatality. His opponent, visibly shook, went home that night to stare at the screen of a unplugged CRT for three hours straight before abandoning all of his possessions, never to be seen again. Or so the legend goes.
Here’s a more personal window into The Cheat’s thought process, which again is comprised 100% of shaming his opponent with his bullshit character. I’ll let the screens do the talking:
Up fucking B indeed. Honestly, The Cheat is an easy fit for Luigi and there isn’t much more to unpack here, so let’s take a look at someone a bit less obvious.
Slip N’ Slide Genius
True story: At my very first tournament in Denver, Colorado, the TO had called out the tag “SNSG” which I misheard as “SNSD,” an alternate name for K-pop group Girls’ Generation. I looked up eagerly at who would approach, always ready to bump fists with those who fuck with the heat. To my surprise, it was instead the person who, years later, would write this:
I quickly realized that this was Slip N’ Slide Genius. He had been Colorado’s best player for nearly a decade across multiple Smash games, his reign ending both when his hands began to betray him and when Syrox appeared in the middle of a field one day, furiously multishining at cows until someone guided him to the nearest local. In his more active days, SNSG would post videos of his battle-rapping on the Colorado Smash page, serving up verses in dimly-lit bars under the moniker “Bad Mr. Frosty.” They were thoroughly enjoyed by all.
At my next tournament, I would play him for the first time in bracket. He proceeded to quickly 8-stock me, finishing with a tech-roll Up-b read. I turned to him and said, “Nice Shoryuken!” to which he immediately corrected me:
What I’m trying to say is that SNSG is out of his fucking mind, and every moment spent in his presence was a blessing from God. Like Luigi, SNSG is strange and powerful, but in many ways the character doesn’t seem to fit him as a person, and this misalignment of persona will haunt me until my horrible death. But for lore purposes, it’s ultimately fitting that he and his Luigi were the supreme rulers of Colorado, the Meme State, for so long.
Abate looks like he came alive off the paper towel wrapper to chop down the world’s largest tree while fucking your girlfriend. Knowing that he’s even heard about competitive Melee is like finding out Ryan Gosling multi-boxes Toontown. Abate puts up more numbers than The Big House if they were giving out free Pocky and blowjobs.
So why the FUCK does he play Luigi? He’s handsome, strong, personable, amazing at the game, self-aware, funny, and kind. What’s the grift here? Who’s the mark? Is he being intentionally ironic, mocking the Luigis of the world by parading their socially challenged champion? Or maybe it’s more benevolent, showing that even the genetically blessed and the hideously meek can work together to succeed?
He might think he has everyone fooled, all lost inside those stony eyes and wry smile, but not me.
What kind of dark shit are you hiding, Abate?
You see that? The glint in his eye?
Nobody can hide from who they truly are.
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