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Waluigi Is Nintendo’s Cult Hero, but Will He Ever Be Something More?

The tall, purple-clad Luigi foil has been a part of the Mushroom Kingdom for two decades, yet he’s never been more than a sideshow. Just don’t tell that to his legions of fans.

Cha Pornea

This week on The Ringer, we’re hosting the Best Video Game Character Bracket—an expansive competition between the greatest heroes, sidekicks, and villains of the gaming world. And along with delving into some of those iconic figures, we’ll also explore and celebrate the gaming industry as a whole. Welcome to Video Game Week.

The first thing to know about Waluigi is that he is, well, odd. He, like his forebear Luigi, is tall and skinny; unlike Luigi, he is too tall and too skinny, giving the impression that he is perhaps unwell in some way, or at any rate didn’t get quite the right nutrients growing up. The lugubrious effect is heightened by his mustache, which hooks upward at vaguely malevolent angles and which he is fond of twisting between his gloved fingers, a possible symptom of clinical anxiety. Where Mario might offer an affable “Woo-ooh-ooh!,” Waluigi spits out a nasally “Waaaah!” And the nose. I should mention the nose: He has a gigantic pink schnauze that hooks out like a toucan beak. He is weird.

The second thing to know about Waluigi is that he is an outcast—rejected, ignored, passed over time and time again. And the third thing—you see, the third thing is that this week, he was slighted once more, having missed out on a vaunted spot on The Ringer’s best video game character bracket.

Waluigi’s place within the Nintendo pantheon is wobbly. The Mushroom Kingdom might be thought of as a sort of palatial hierarchy: Mario, Peach, and Bowser atop the thrones; Luigi, Toad, and Yoshi serving valiantly by their sides; the Boos and Chain Chomps of the world looking on from the viewing gallery. But what of the series’ midtier creations?

Key to understanding the tenuousness of Waluigi-dom is the fact that Waluigi is not, in fact, a Nintendo creation. Wario, Mario’s longtime purple-and-yellow antagonist, had been around since 1992, but it was not until 2000’s Mario Tennis that Luigi got his own foil. That game was developed not by Nintendo but by Camelot Software Planning; Waluigi was created specifically to serve as a doubles partner for Wario. In the words of Camelot president Hiroyuki Takahashi, Waluigi would serve as “a new character players would like to beat.”

But players, it turned out, didn’t want to beat him. He has become a pan-internet obsession—a development that certainly hasn’t been slowed by Waluigi’s fondness for roses. A subreddit named in his honor boasts some 43,000 members, who share photos of Waluigi tattoos and swap the latest Waluigi remixes. (Apropos of nothing, the video “waluigi wah for one hour,” which is precisely what it says it is, prompted my cat to leap to her feet and run out of the room.) In 2019, Nintendo allowed visitors to its website to choose a character to send a Valentine to. Waluigi smoked the competition, drawing north of a million votes while the real Luigi had barely 200. Even someone at work in the Census Bureau found time to contribute to his legend.

Fans fixate on the philosophical implications of the upside-down L on his cap—an inversion of Luigi’s own version just as Wario’s “W” mimics Mario’s “M,” but which also happens to double as an uppercase gamma. “He is doomed to simultaneously suffer as a second class citizen—effectively no better than the anonymous, Epsilon-esque mushroom people—whilst entombed in a mind and body with enough individuality and consciousness to be eternally tortured by such a plight,” reads a particularly beloved text.

What those who love Waluigi want is more Waluigi—and specifically, the ability to play as Waluigi. And that is where things get complicated.

Two decades into his tenure in the Mario world, Waluigi has yet to make an appearance in a core Mario game, and is confined instead to the spinoffs, like Mario Tennis and Mario Golf—a particularly sharp affront given that some decidedly non-A-listers (lookin’ at you, Toad) have been given their own stand-alone games. Wario, for his part, is the star of a veritable angry-eyebrow empire.

Sometimes, Waluigi doesn’t even get the spinoff treatment. The gravest insult to the Waluigi faithful came in 2018, when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate declined to make Waluigi a playable character, even as other minor stars within the Mario universe were. This was not received well. A sample headline, courtesy of The Washington Post: “Waluigi was robbed and humiliated by Nintendo, and his fans are furious.”

Last week brought the latest volley in Nintendo’s war on waah, when the company introduced the latest edition of Mario Golf—in whose promo Waluigi appears for a single fleeting second. (He was wearing a fedora, for better or for worse.) Nor was that the only insult to Waluigi: News broke that he will be absent from the Super Mario Bros. anniversary feature in Animal Crossing, even as Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Wario—freakin’ Wario—are set to be featured.

Unsurprisingly, the subreddit is a place where Waluigi’s failure to advance in the Mario ecosystem is obsessed over. Posts are riddled with vaguely conspiratorial comments about Masahiro Sakurai, the longtime director of the Super Smash Bros. franchise, whom Redditors broadly accuse of blacklisting Waluigi. One particularly devoted member, u/Waluigification, has launched a one-man crusade: Over the course of the past month, they have been recreating every Smash character styled as Waluigi, as either a protest or a hope for the future. Others have suggested that the anti-Waluigi conspiracy might run so deep that even his clothing is designed to look cheap.

There is hope, maybe, to be found in Princess Daisy, the Mario franchise’s brunette, yellow-ballgowned, much-less-known answer to Peach. Like Waluigi, Daisy was once seen by her own fans as having been forgotten by Nintendo, but seems to have been elevated in recent years: She, for one, was fully playable in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. And this month, a Waluigi sleuth discovered that had ceased to forward to Nintendo’s website—a development that could hint at greater plans for the gangly villain. (As of this week, it once again forwards to Nintendo’s website.)

But as for Waluigi’s latest erasure, his cruel exemption from The Ringer’s character bracket? All I can say is this: Waah regret the error.