Dubious Games: Ennuigi confronts the sadness of being Luigi

Dark post-apocalyptic reimaginings of kid-friendly entertainment are nothing new, but no fan or official work in that vein works quite like Ennuigi. Set in a desolate, ruined Mushroom Kingdom, this browser game from Josh Millard features a solitary Luigi meditating on the nature of the Mario franchise.

You could view it as tragic, pretentious, darkly funny, or all three it once. Though its look hews closely to that of the classic NES Mario titles (albeit with everything looking severely decayed), at every turn it defies what the series is known and beloved for.

Pointless wandering in the Mushroom Kingdom

The world Luigi finds himself in is procedurally generated, and you’ll never go far before running into an obstacle. That's generally not a problem in a Mario game, except here, Luigi can’t jump. If you press the up key, he’ll only look up, and then a thought will scroll across the screen. Thus, you’re stuck backtracking until you hit another insurmountable object, whereupon you’ll have to go another way again, and so on and so forth.

Not that you actually have to walk anywhere, what with there obviously being nowhere to go and nothing to see besides ruins. You can also hit the down key to have Luigi take a drag off the perpetually lit cigarette he has perched in his mouth.

If that sounds pointless, it is! The pointlessness is the point. Luigi’s many musings reflect this. It seems the Mario Brothers' adventures are all long in the past – how long ago, he’s not sure. In each recollection, the shiny happy Mario games are recast as unsettling, confusing quasi-nightmares.

Philosophy with a sense of humor

Drawing somewhat from the (unfairly maligned) Super Mario Bros. movie, Luigi remembers the brothers as coming from real-life Brooklyn and discovering the Mushroom Kingdom, and being equally awed and horrified by the sight of so many monsters and things like blocks of bricks floating suspended in the air. Shigeru Miyamoto originally drew from elements of Alice in Wonderland when crafting the world of Mario, and Ennuigi circles back to viewing the series’ imagery and tropes through that uncanny, otherworldly lens.

It’s kind of overdone at this point to look at any given thing made for kids and chuckle “Hey guys, this is kind of messed up when you think about it, am I right?” But Millard’s writing isn’t really out to deconstruct Mario or apply too serious a frame to it. The sheer ridiculous of Luigi smoking like a mid-20th-century philosopher should be enough to make clear this game’s tongue-in-cheek spirit.

But in trapping the character and player while purposefully reminding them of how these games usually work, both through the aesthetics and Luigi’s thoughts, Ennuigi forces you to think about the mechanics of these games on the most elemental level. It’s similar to Grant Morrison’s Animal Man comic “The Coyote Gospel,” in which Wile E. Coyote’s amusing antics become a horrifying cycle of gruesome death and rebirth.

In Mario's violent shadow

Things like the repetition and violence built into both the Mario series and games in general become highlighted when the latter is removed and the former is mutated from a “fun” form to a more “realistic” one. Luigi could technically be substituted for any video game protagonist placed into the aftermath of their adventures.

Except the writing plays to his status as a perpetual sidekick to Mario throughout their games. His reminiscences are those of a witness, not a perpetrator. He recalls Mario killing enemies – in graphic detail – like a war veteran. At one point he muses, “It’s a kind of slow death, being an understudy in someone else’s life.”

That kind of pseudo-profound philosophizing characterizes the writing. Other choice lines include “I look at a turtle, I think I have done you one better. You wear a shell. I have become one.” and “Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I a brother, kept?”

Much of the actual entertainment value in Ennuigi comes from continually pressing up to see what Luigi will say next. He doesn’t ever come to any satisfactory conclusion about his experiences, however. After a certain point he simply begins the same sequence of lines over again.

The only way to finish is to click the game off, leaving the poor man just as lost and lonely as he was before. It’s a haunting fate, as intentionally absent of closure as the rest of the game.

Read our Dubious Games series for more on games that might not actually, technically, be games.