For any readers who have been gaming for more than a decade, think back to the year 2001. Nintendo was about to launch the Gamecube, and anticipation for a new Mario title to release alongside the system was high. After all, the Super Nintendo launched with Super Mario World, and the Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64. Imagine the surprise when Nintendo instead kept Super Mario Sunshine in development until the following year, and instead released Luigi’s Mansion as a launch title.
Though there had certainly been fans hoping that the often-neglected other half of the Super Mario Bros. duo would get his own game, the actual product wasn’t what one would expect from a traditional Mario title. Luigi didn’t collect mushrooms or jump on Goombas; in fact, he couldn’t even jump. Instead, the game revolved around Mario’s meeker sibling exploring a very haunted mansion, and sucking up spirits Ghostbusters-style with a unique vacuum.
The game was best categorized as a very lighthearted take on the survival horror genre, and those who were still willing to try it despite the unorthodox premise found a quality game that helped Luigi carve out his own niche a bit further. Now, over a decade later, Luigi’s finally getting his very own sequel with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, and the final product, while hosting some unique problems the first didn’t suffer from, also offers plenty of great new ideas that expand on the original in a clever way.
The game takes place in Evershade Valley, where Professor E. Gadd, Luigi’s supernatural-studying ally from the first game, is getting along fine with the numerous ghosts in the area thanks to the titular Dark Moon, a jewel that keeps the spirits from getting too mischevious. When a familiar villain shatters the jewel and causes the ghosts to run rampant once again, Gadd summons a snoozing Luigi from his home using a new teleportation device called the Pixelator and tasks him with putting on his old Poltergust 5000 vacuum once again, capturing the wild ghosts, and collecting and repairing the shards of the Dark Moon, scattered this time throughout not one, but four unique mansions.
This setup cleverly allows for a more varied visual style this time around. While you’ll start in a rainy environment similar to the original game’s mansion, the later levels take on different aesthetics, such as jungle-like or icy coverings. The basic gameplay, on the other hand, mostly sticks true to the same system established before. Players move Luigi from room to room, making use of his flashlight and Poltergust to seek out each ghost.
Where things differentiate a bit this time, however, is the fact that the game now uses a mission-based system, where players go to the same mansion multiple times with different individual tasks in mind, marked via a handy map on the lower screen. This system isn’t as repetitious as it might sound, though, as it’s common for each following mission to unlock and focus on more new parts of the environment each time.
The controls do their best job of replicating the original Gamecube game’s dual-analog setup. The left analog nub still moves Luigi around, while the top and bottom face buttons on the right side aim his beam and Poltergust in their respective directions, with the shoulder buttons controlling whether the vacuum will suck things in or expel them. Unlike the original, some new tools are eventually unlockable for the flashlight, including a flash bulb-like light burst that will temporarily freeze ghosts and enable them to get sucked up, and a special darklight that will reveal hidden objects and passages.
As in the original, Luigi will encounter numerous types of ghosts, including generic green drones, brawny red ones, and gelatinous purple ones. These ghosts are well-animated and have plenty of personality, but the downside is that the lineup pales a bit compared to the original, which had a larger variety of unique characters with its ghosts.
On the other hand, Luigi himself is very expressive and funny, more so than almost any other game I can think of. Though he doesn’t have any proper dialog outside of several expressions and short sentences provided once again by longtime Mario voice actor Charles Martinet, what’s there is charming, along with a variety of funny animations provided through several cutscenes.
Despite a downgrade in resolution compared to the original, the art design is still very good, with colorful characters and environments. The game also makes occasional good use of the handheld’s 3D – be sure to try that out when you’re outside in the rain early on. The soundtrack also manages to be eerie and lighthearted at the same time, which is helped by the fact that you’ll be able to occasionally hear Luigi humming along with it.
A big change this time around is a heavier emphasis on puzzles, both environmental and enemy-based. Almost akin to a classic point-and-click adventure game, many points will require players to use their heads and make use of every element in the environment to overcome obstacles or take down certain adversaries. This leads to some very clever sections, but at the same time, if my playthrough is anything to go by, it’s also going to lead to some extreme frustration. I spent upwards of half an hour in individual missions searching bit by bit in each room to figure out what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go. When things come together and a puzzle feels intuitive, it’s great, but the amount of times you might find yourself getting stumped feels like the game’s biggest downfall.
The other big addition comes in the form of the ScareScraper, a multiplayer-centric area that can be played both locally and online. If you’re like me, you might be wondering how on Earth Luigi’s Mansion could be translated into a multiplayer mode, much less an enjoyable one. The answer turns out to be that not only can it be done, but that it can be done well. Players can set up lobbies for 2 to 4 differently-colored Luigis to join in and partake in one of three modes. These include a standard mission of finding every ghost on an individual floor, finding an exit within a certain amount of time, and following paw prints to seek out dog-like Polterpups.
Communication is limited to four preset expressions that can be activated via the D-Pad, which is a shame, as I found myself at one point discovering an exit that required every player to be present, and we lost the match because no one could vocally tell the last player where to be. Still, most of the time, this component is a surprisingly fun diversion. It’s also a nice feature that some of the money you earn from each match can be transferred into the single-player campaign, where it is used to unlock upgrades for your vacuum.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon contains a notable amount of frustration due to its heavy reliance on puzzle-solving, but it still contains a lot of fun and charm, along with the surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer modes. Those looking for a fun new 3DS title, as well as those who enjoyed the original back in the early days of the Gamecube, will probably find themselves liking the final product.
This review is based on the 3DS version of the game.
Dark Moon's puzzle-heavy gameplay will undoubtedly cause some head scratching, but the great presentation and fun multiplayer make up for it.