Super Mario 64 was a watershed moment for our favourite video game plumber. Mario made the leap into the third dimension and brought a colourful array of characters with him. But a major ally was missing: His brother Luigi. Was he just hiding the whole time?
Mario's brother Luigi has always had his back ever since the pair conquered arcades in 1983. When Mario went missing, Luigi was on the case. But he was notably absent in Super Mario 64.
It's hard to know the precise origin of the rumours regarding Luigi. The most popular myth centres around what has become known at the "Eternal Star". It is a statue resting inside a fountain that can be found on one of the lower levels of the game's castle hub world.
The statue gained its name from the plaque it bears. Some players claimed that it read "eternal star". The most interesting fan translation was a coded message: "L Is Real 2401." It was a sign from the creators according to some. The statue was a key for unlocking Luigi.
Numerous fake methods began to circulate. You had to collect 64 coins and then jump in the fountain. You had to capture the rabbit MIPS and jump into the entrance to Hazy Maze Cave. You had to play the game with a green controller. Older sources have complied some of the best theories. None worked.
Luigi fever reached a breaking point when N64.com (later rolled into IGN) placed a $US100 bounty on the plumber on 20 November 1996. Anyone who found a legitimate way to unlock him would get the prize money.
"Call us cynical, but prove us wrong, and you get the cash," the site offered. By the end of the week, no one had claimed the prize.
Nintento Power, Volume 107
The prevalence of the "L Is Real 2401" theory was so widespread that Nintendo Power referenced it in Volume 107 during April 1998. A page full of fake "April News Briefs" mentioned Luigi 64, a game that supposedly featured everyone from Fox McCloud and the Wave Race runner. The magazine promised to reveal a special code on page 128. The magazine only has 106 pages.
A significant hole was punched into the theory when players noticed the plaque on the Eternal Star statue was also in Ocarina of Time. The myth endured largely as a joke to bring up on April Fool's Day. Fans came to accept that Luigi was not in the game.
Official letters recovered from a fan reveal an explanation from Nintendo representatives at the time. They directly refer to the "L Is Real 2401" message.
"The real answer is that the programmers put it in there as a joke," Game Play Counsellor Michael Chandler says in the letter. "It doesn't mean anything at all."
Whether or not that's true, we do know that Luigi was intended to be in the game thanks to a series of strategy guide translations from shmuplations. In them, game director and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto explains what happened.
"Ultimately, due to memory issues, we had to take him out," Miyamoto said.
Popular ROM hacks add Luigi Super Mario 64
Luigi did find his way into Super Mario 64 DS as a playable character alongside Yoshi and Wario. Players could unlock him through a secret process in the Big Boo's Haunt level. ROM hackers have also added him into the original game.
The time has passed to claim IGN's bounty but the myths remain. The silly tricks, the April Fool's and the developer interviews paint a picture of a ridiculous but wonderful moment in gaming history.
Godspeed, Luigi. One of the best things you ever did was nothing at all.