It wasn't easy for Nintendo fans to create their own Mario levels until Super Mario Maker was released in 2015. But two decades earlier, there was a computer program called Game-Maker! I could make my own Mario game using that, right?
Well, yes and no. Game-Maker was best suited for creating overhead adventures, although side-scrollers were possible as well. Standard Mario mechanics such as stomping enemies, collecting power-ups, and fighting big bosses were difficult to reproduce with the software. But that didn't stop me from trying.
I stayed as faithful to the original games as I could, and replaced what I couldn't replicate. For example, instead of stomping enemies, Luigi relies on his plumbing experience and attacks with a retractable plunger.
Other series staples function mostly the same in my version. Coins, ? Blocks, and Springboards are all present. There are plenty of pipes, but you can't enter any of them. Hearts replenish health instead of mushrooms, although the 1-Up variety can be found.
Several classic enemies appear, including Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Bob-Ombs, Bullet Bills, Pirahna Plants, Cheep Cheeps, Bloopers, Thwomps, and Bowser.
I decided to made Luigi the hero because I empathized with his second fiddle status. It would be another five years before he starred in his own successful Luigi's Mansion series. Between worlds are cutscenes that shows Mario's impatience while Peach grows increasingly annoyed with him. There's also a running gag where Luigi meets a series of fake princesses before rescuing the real one.
World 1 looks like a standard Mario level. Hop across pits, collect coins, defeat enemies, that sort of thing. At the end is a giant Koopa Troopa. Keep hitting his head to force it back into his shell, then move on.
World 2 takes place in a forest. Owls throw eggs from above, and bear traps lie in the pits below. Jump from one branch to another, climb a tall tree, and slip past the big, bad bird at the top.
World 3 is entirely underwater. Cheep Cheeps and Bloopers patrol the briny depths, and floating mines explode if Luigi gets too close. A large octopus must be defeated before returning to dry land.
World 4 begins with a trek through a desert and ends inside a mysterious pyramid. Luigi finds the Koopa Kids in the treasure vault, and they're blocking the only exit from the tomb.
World 5 is the end of Luigi's quest. He slogs through a small cave that leads to Bowser's giant castle. After climbing a tall tower, he knocks King Koopa off the roof to save the princess and his brother.
So, that's Luigi's Heroic Debut. As a Mario tribute, it falls far short of the fun and functionality Nintendo puts into their games. But as a learning experience, it was very valuable. The side-scrolling mechanics I experimented with here were honed in my next Game-Maker game, Invasion of the Blobs II.
If you'd like to learn more about Luigi's Heroic Debut, you can find an entry on The Game-Maker Archive. Maps for every level are included. A YouTube channel called Nap'n'Retrogaming has a nearly complete playthrough of the game. I'm sorry the final tower is so unfair...
Well, you can! If you have Java installed, you can play within your web browser. Or, if you have experience using a DOS emulator such as DOSBox, you can download a ZIP archive containing all of the files needed to play the game.