For the first time since 2001, Luigi takes the spotlight in his own title. Is it worth the wait?
The game proper starts with Professor E. Gadd continuing his research of ghosts, many of which are even helping the good Professor around his lab. All that comes to a screeching halt when the Dark Moon, a crystalline moon that hangs over Evershade Valley, shatters and turns the ghosts hostile and mischievous. After retreating to a secret bunker, Professor E. Gadd knows that there is only one person he can call. No not the Ghostbusters! None other than the famous (okay not so much) Luigi, who straps on the Poltergust 5000 and once again heads into a mansion to battle the spirits of the dead and to restore the Dark Moon.
For those that haven’t played the first Luigi’s Mansion (shame on you), gameplay revolves around exploring a haunted mansion while using a vacuum strapped to the plumber’s back to solve puzzles and catch ghosts. Dark Moon has plenty of action when it comes to the catching of ghosts, but the real draw here is exploring the various mansions’ every nook and cranny. Using numerous devices and upgrades to the Poltergust 5000, you’ll solve puzzles across a variety of mansions this time with a greater scope of enemies and upgrades. You’ll use your stroboscope to stun ghosts, the vacuum for various tasks and the Dark Light to turn the invisible visible. For instance you might use the vacuum to suck a cocoon out of a giant web blocking your way towards an open flame that you ignited earlier, which sends the web up in smoke and clears your path. Another puzzle might have you seeking out a way to water a plant and cause it’s petals to open so you can retrieve the key hidden within.
The game always encourages and rewards players who check in every vase and vacuum every loose or dangling piece of cloth they can find. Usually you’ll be rewarded with gold coins, bars or dollars that will go towards giving you a better ranking at the end of the mission and enable you to upgrade your Poltergust 5000. Often these upgrades make the vacuum more powerful or enable your Dark Light to work longer. Either way it’s an addictive gesture that ensures that you’ll be hooked in finding every secret in every mansion.
It’s a good thing then that you won’t mind doing just that, as the mansions themselves are well designed and each of them plays very well off a central theme. Unlike the first game, where you are restricted to one mansion with different themed rooms, Dark Moon packs in various different mansions that all feel unique and bring with them different sorts of ghosts, puzzles and other challenges. The rooms themselves are not barren affairs either as they are usually absolutely packed to the rafters with little details like various decorations and furniture. Most of these items are not even essential to the main mission and almost all of them are able to be interacted with in some way. These small details turn it from simple level design to something more and lends a sense of permanence to the mansion, like these places existed before you arrived and will exist long after you’ve left.
Of course you won’t be just strolling from room to room enjoying the view and thinking your way through puzzles. Along the way you’ll be assaulted by a variety of ghosts who will seek to scare the pants off poor Luigi and to keep you from advancing towards your goal of putting the Dark Moon back together. The way you battle ghosts is simple enough: you’ll flash them with your stroboscope which blinds them and then you’ll use their vacuum to suck them up. Using your vacuum turns the ghost fight into a tug of war where the ghost will pull you about the room as you steady the analog stick in the opposite direction and hang on until the ghost is sucked up. Often the ghosts will use varying tactics like using sun glasses to keep you from flashing them, sneak up on you invisibly, or even attack you with shovels. It’s your job to figure out ways around these tactics so you can capture each spirit.
This is where one of my only contentions with the game comes into play, because the actual ghost wrangling controls can take some getting used to. While the controls are certainly simpler than the Gamecube’s iteration, there still is an issue with the aiming. Since there isn’t a second analog stick you’ll be using the Y and B buttons to look and aim up and down respectively. Typically this doesn’t really cause a problem, as Luigi automatically strafes while you play and most ghosts won’t need to be aimed upwards at. Earlier in the game though it did cause some issues where I took damage, simply because I couldn’t aim up or down quickly enough. The game also supports the use of motion in order to aim where tilting the 3DS slightly up or down adjusts the vacuum’s direction. Actually, this makes aiming a breeze and works extremely well; as long as you aren’t playing in 3D. As any 3DS owner can tell you, moving about with the system will often cause you to lose that sweet spot for the 3D effect, and the last thing you want in a heated ghost battle is to suddenly see triple of the buggers. If you’re playing in 2D however, it solves the aiming issue and is what I recommend control wise.
It’s really a shame that the easiest way to aim is by using 2D, because the 3D effect is used very well within the game. Nintendo proves once again they are masters at using this hardware for much more than just having things jump out at you. The 3D lends a depth to each room giving you the feeling that you are actually peering into a highly detailed diorama through your screen and manipulating Luigi within. When our erstwhile plumber turns towards the camera with his flashlight it will flare out towards the player in a very cool effect. Simply put, though 3D can often be a gimmick, when it works it really works and here it can actually be pretty awesome. If you have no problems with the aiming, or can overcome it easily, I highly recommend playing with 3D on for this title. It’s one of the few times I felt it really added something to the experience.
Graphically speaking Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon isn’t the type of hyper realistic looking game that will wow your friends, but it certainly is a clean game that has a high amount of polish on it. The game looks better than its Gamecube predecessor in almost every way and even the darker areas burst with vibrant colors. Everything is smooth and there are only a few jaggies that tend to all but disappear with the 3D all the way up, which takes the edges off even more. What you end up with is a title that looks great even running on the slightly stretched XL screen. Essentially, Dark Moon looks like it didn’t cut any corners in design and could easily be on a home console. Various other effects, like the wispy smoke after your Dark Light burns out, are strewn throughout the game and really just makes it all feel like a really high quality experience.
Though you’ll come for the gameplay and the graphics, you’ll stay because of the overwhelming charm of the game. The mansions themselves are chocked full of personality, as are the ghosts that inhabit them, but it’s Luigi himself that brings the game to life and makes you want to play it over and over. Personally, I’ve never really liked the younger brother of the super variety, but in this game I found myself grinning at Luigi’s actions through the whole game. While Mario is always the typical hero that is rearing to leap into danger, Luigi himself is a bit of a scaredy cat and prefers safety to epic quests and princess saving. However, as one might tell you, it takes greater bravery to do something even when truly afraid of it and, though Luigi might be shaking in his boots, he takes the mansions on anyway. Luigi is animated perfectly throughout the title, with small flourishes that you might not even notice. As an example, when Luigi is first stepping foot into a mansion he shakes slightly his feet pointed inward and his stance protective. As he becomes more relaxed you’ll see it reflected in his character. The various bumbling about he does, from falling through a floor or screaming at a sudden scare, are just top notch and provide a much needed levity to the younger brother. Throughout the experience the phrases he says, including a shaky and unsure “Hello” into the darkness, made me smile and imparted a character to Luigi that (dare I say) his older brother doesn’t even possess.
After you’ve bested the main storyline you still aren’t quite done with your experience. My biggest gripe with the original title was that it was far too short, and Nintendo seemed to take that to heart with Dark Moon. Each mansion is broken up into a multitude of missions in which you are ranked based on the time it took to beat, number of treasures found and how much money you collected. In addition to trying to get the best ranking on each level, you’ll find yourself hunting out the various invisible Boos throughout the experience using the Dark Light. This lends itself well to the portability of the game, as you can pop in and try to best a previous mission or just enjoy your favorite chunks of the game all over again. Each of the missions are able to be bested in a shorter amount of time as you learn your way around the mansion, which makes them all the better for a handheld system that you are playing on the go.
Even after you’ve seen 100 percent of the campaign there are various multiplayer modes to partake in and the game even supports a download play mode where you can play with multiple people, even if you have just the one copy of the game. The three modes are a co-op battle up a tower where teaming up in pairs and sticking together saves the day, a mode where you hunt down a ghost dog, and a timed mode with each ghost netting you more time. Having the game a little early made it challenging to find anyone to play with online, but I persuaded a friend to try out download play with me.
I was very surprised and applaud Nintendo all the louder after the experience. First and foremost we found that the download play actually allowed my friend to play the game without the need for a host. After the initial download he found himself able to play both online and local modes and none of it seems to be a lesser version of the existing multiplayer as far as we can tell. I didn’t get to experiment enough with it, but if Nintendo intended this they deserve hearty praise. It isn’t often that you’ll see something like that and it’s another barrier removed in the way of just having fun with the game.
The mode we tested out the most was the tower battle mode and it was a lot of fun working up the tower as a team. The mode supports up to 4 players local or offline and I could certainly see how a couple more players would make it even more fun. It’s worth mentioning that the modes are also fully playable single player, though they do lose a bit of their appeal without a group around.
Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon does what Nintendo has always done best: at its heart it’s simply fun. It can be immersive, graphically pretty, and challenging, but it really all keeps coming down to just good old fashioned fun. It’s one of the most charming games I’ve played with exciting gameplay that ramps up in difficulty throughout the game and fits perfectly in bite sized play throughs on the handheld. The game simply looks great, sounds great, and exudes character from every moment of it’s experience.
Earlier this year Nintendo stated that this year would be known as the Year of Luigi. With multiple titles coming out during the year featuring Luigi in some way, Nintendo hopes to finally pull the green overall-wearing plumber out of his brother’s enormous shadow. With Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon being the first of these releases, I’m pleased to announced that the Year of Luigi is off to one heck of a start.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.