Who you gonna call? ...Oh, are you sure about that?
Been a while since you’ve busted some ghosts? Say, around 12 years or so? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that Nintendo’s going green again with what arguably is the game Luigi’s Mansion should have been last decade.
If you’ve spent time with the quirky original, you’ll know that it had its pluses and minuses. On the plus side was a completely off-the-wall, unexpected offshoot of the Mario franchise that had some notable bright spots—specifically, the atmosphere and the occasional brilliance of the puzzles that decorated it. The gameplay, meanwhile, wasn’t ever anything truly remarkable; it almost felt at times like an unapologetic tutorial covering dual-analog mechanics for those who had been sheltered from them up until that point. And finally, it was disappointingly short.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the Nintendo 3DS is a completely different game, however. It’s the fully-fleshed (unintentional pun irony there) successor to what was previously dismissed as many as a mere “tech demo”. For starters, it’s anything but short, often very pretty, relatively clever, and varied in its offerings.
The story begins with good old Professor E. Gadd working in his lab alongside—of all things—friendly ghosts, who have been shamelessly repurposed by the mad doc as his research slaves. This is all thanks to a bizarre phenomenon known as the Dark Moon, which pacifies the ghosts and sends them into a sort of human-like friendliness state. Naturally, of course, this doesn’t last, and a mischievous Boo appears on the scene before long to break the Dark Moon into six pieces scattered throughout the land. E. Gadd blows the joint and holes up in his lab, where he calls Luigi to arms and particlizes him to the lab for further instruction, presumably against the poor man’s will.
But, alas—narcissism makes for all sorts of great game concepts, and before long, Luigi is teleported to the Gloomy Manor, where he roams the halls in vividly familiar fashion, waving a flashlight and commandeering the PolterGust 5000 spectral vacuum cleaner device as his only means of protection. You might recall that this device can both suck and blow, providing all manner of useful gameplay opportunities and making our jobs as hopeless games editors far too perilous on account of immature TWSS proclamations.
From the start, this game feels just like the last one: a massive number of environmental objects can be manipulated through the use of the PolterGust, such as sucking off curtains or shooting out projectiles to accomplish tasks and collect money (which can be used to upgrade your equipment). In addition to that, the context-sensitive X button provides the option of opening doors, drawers, toilets, and interacting with just about everything else. There’s also the ability to flash your flashlight in a quick blast to stun enemies in front of you, open special locks, and solve puzzles. The flashlight beam can be charged to produce an even bigger blast.
These little guys like to startle Luigi
Before long, you’ll also gain the ability to use a special dark beam that can reveal hidden objects. Once these objects come into view, little orbs fly out of them which can be sucked up to bring the object completely back into reality. This makes for some sinister puzzles later on involving inconspicuously hidden keys and other items, as well as one hidden Boo in every level.
Most of this probably sounds familiar (save for the new hidden objects mechanics), but rest assured, that’s where the similarities end. For starters, rather than plummeting you into a single mansion and expecting you to roam, Metroid-style, in an effort to progress to later areas, Dark Moon is instead divided into missions, which are spread across multiple areas—in other words, you aren’t simply stuck in a single mansion this time around. Luigi is dispatched to these missions directly from E. Gadd’s lab, which makes the experience considerably more bite-sized than it was in the first game (each mission ranges from between 15 minutes to 35 minutes in length). Plus, you’re scored on your performance at the end of each mission, totaling up the money collected, any special gems you found (hidden throughout the levels in special locations), and the time it took you to complete it. There are seven missions per area, including an unlockable final one which is essentially just a timed ghost hunt.
The missions themselves are much more focused this time as well. In essence, much of environment is “roped off” to help you find your bearing in the introductory stages of each area, and the various objectives are clearly spelled out. Most destinations are also marked on your map, ensuring you don’t stay lost for too long. Nevertheless, there are some tricky puzzles from time to time, most of which center on overlooking something simple or failing to check the environment for hidden objects. For instance, keys can be hidden in some creative places, such as behind walls which must be moved by rotating ceiling fans with your PolterGust air streams.
Some of the puzzles are quite clever
In fact, the game’s intensified focus on puzzles is one of its best additions. Without getting into too much detail, you can expect to have to remain aware of your surroundings much of the time, lest you will have to retrace your steps in search of things you’ve missed to progress (but not too far back). The pacing is relatively slow thanks to this, but it rarely grates on the player unless they start to become careless. Thanks to this, the game sometimes almost feels Zelda-like, and there are at least a few “woah, that was really cool” moments in each area. Probably the coolest of all is the third area, which is a haunted Clock Tower (and a factory below it). It’s much more diverse than anything in the first game.
Speaking of diverse, the enemies you’ll encounter are considerably cooler this time around also. There are a couple dozen different ghosts in all, and they’ve got a lot more smarts now, frequently hiding in furniture, carrying objects as shields, and masquerading as puddles of water on the ground. Some ghosts even wear sunglasses or buckets on their heads that have to be removed in order to successfully vanquish them. Once each room is cleared of its occupiers, you’re rewarded with a warm flash of inviting light to indicate that you’re ready to move on. It works well and can be quite challenging in the midst of multiple ghosts.
The boss battles are also pretty neat. You couldn’t really describe them as cinematic, but they’re much more memorable than those in the original GameCube title. Most of that has to do with foreshadowing and environments, as the battles take place in front of some cool backdrops and feature some striking introductions.
More clock puzzles
All of this welcomed refinement and depth is accompanied by an impressive presentation. The music is generally quite good, though it’s not live orchestra and it’s occasionally repetitive. But graphically, Dark Moon is one of the most attractive 3DS games to date. The 3-D actually looks fantastic (even though I still occasionally switched it off thanks to eye strain), and the stylized environments are both spooky and gorgeous. The world is impressively life-like, with nearly everything reacting to Luigi's vacuum gusts and a completely unique stylized nature for each new area. It’s also a very funny game, never losing sight of its lighthearted foundation even in spite of the morbid subject matter and silly extrapolations of haunted lore.
Finally, you’ll also find an excellent multiplayer mode called ScareScraper—though it isn’t just multiplayer (you can go it alone if you wish). This is an incredibly fun addition that features multiple modes of play (online or local, including a limited Download Play option). You can choose between:
Rush Mode (find the exit in a limited amount of time)
Hunter Mode (team up to hunt for ghosts), and
Polterpup Mode (search for hidden ghosts using your Dark Light device and capture them)
Multiplayer games range from quick to endless—you can choose from just 5 up to 25 floors of action depending on your mood. They also have selectable difficulty levels that range from Easy to Expert, and while it’s possible to play solo, it’s not possible to manage Expert without some teammates.
As is often the case with these types of games, it’s much more fun locally than over the internet, primarily because the frenzied style of communication is so much more fluid when you’re sitting amongst your teammates. You can yell at your friends, of course, but it’s also possible to tap on the map on the bottom screen to indicate a location—which is a really cool use of the touch interface. There are plenty of competitive aspects to the different games as well—think New Super Mario Bros. style, where everyone is rushing to do as much as possible to avoid being ranked at the bottom. And lots of nasty little extras, such as the ability to be cursed (and have your controls reversed… Bomberman style) and spread it to your peers, keeps things lively and humorous.
Revealing a hidden platform using the dark beam
Overall, Dark Moon is everything it should have been. The only scary thing about it is that it took 12 years for Luigi to finally see stars.