While Nintendo’s penchant for going back to the well of tried and true franchises has worn thin for many a gamer, it’s hard to fault their decision in bringing Luigi back to the forefront – to the point of declaring it the “Year of Luigi” even. In this case, we revisit the neglected green plumber’s lone starring role in a sequel to his 2001 GameCube title, Luigi’s Mansion. The 3DS version, subtitled Dark Moon, is obviously trying to reclaim the magic of its predecessor, which incidentally managed to be the most successful title on a relatively disappointing system. It’s hard to argue that they haven’t, but while it overcomes some of the shortcomings of the original, there’s still some flaws that linger and serve to keep Luigi in his brother’s shadow as far as gaming perfection is concerned.
For instance, the developer’s turned to a trusty trope to help drag things out into a little lengthier affair. You see, Professor E. Gadd, who you might remember from before, is studying the friendly, peaceful ghosts of Evershade Valley when all of a sudden the Dark Moon that pacifies them is shattered by King Boo. Luigi is called in to do.. what else? Retrieve all six pieces and put it back together of course! Of course this involves cleaning out several buildings instead of a singular mansion this time. There is a little predictable twist at the end to add a little gravity to affairs, but that’s about it as far as the story goes, which is just fine by me.
Once you’re in the game, the mechanics are somewhat familiar for those who have played the original, but with some new wrinkles. Luigi is given a specialized vaccum cleaner to suck up ghosts, called the Poltergust 5000. This device not only helps you clear the various rooms of baddies, but is used to push and pull on various things in the environment, unlocking switches and discovering hidden treasures, which can be used to upgrade your equipment. Unlike in the first Luigi’s Mansion, it is not sufficient merely to light ghosts with your flashlight. Instead you use the Strobulb by holding and releasing the A button to emit a bright flash, stunning the ghosts and thus allowing you to suck them up with the RB button and pulling away from them. You can give the ghosts an extra tug by timing further A presses as the bar fills, leading to bonus treasure on captures, or you can even dodge attacks from other ghosts by pressing the B button during your tug of war. Another new feature is the Dark-Light, which reveals objects and doors hidden by the mischievous Boos, which you can capture and collect for further bonuses. These new features add some welcome complexity and variety to the gameplay, and the basic game is fun to walk through and explore, trying to collect as much treasure as possible by tinkering with the interactions between several objects and your abilities.
On the downside, the increased length of the game suffers from the revisiting of the same levels again and again for each mission, so while you’ll be doing relatively different things each time the general sameness in the surroundings starts to weigh on you by the end. Another annoyance is the utter lack of checkpoints. Now I’m not saying Dark Moon should be littered with them the way some games are, but a couple of times when a boss or new type of ghost is introduced you can suffer a tough death, which in turn requires you to restart the entire mission from the beginning, which makes for a pretty boring and pointless trek back to where you left off, especially harsh considering this is a portable title where you presumably have less time to be playing to start with.
But on the plus side, there is a new multiplayer feature of the game, and it’s quite a blast with the right group. Even better, if you’re playing locally, not everyone needs a copy of the game! The feature is called ScareScraper and actually involves 3 different cooperative modes and a tower of variable height (5, 10, 25 or infinite floors) you make your way up in. The three gameplay types are as follows: Hunter, where you capture all the ghosts on each floor as you make your way up; Rush, where you race to find the exit; Polterpup, where you first have to follow the tracks of multiple ghost dogs to capture them; and Surprise, which picks one of the previous objectives for each floor. There’s also difficulty settings of Normal, Hard, and Expert to extend the replay value. You can also play this mode alone but some of the objectives are just too difficult to solo, especially the bosses which occur every five floors. While it is co-op there is a bit of competitive element as a leaderboard appears at the end of each floor, and there’s also scramble for red coins at the completion of an objective, which in turn give you a chance at various upgrades which can make the difference in the next round. The online system works fine, though you can’t sort by game type it’s fairly easy to find or host a game, and it’s pretty lag free in my experience. My only complaint is if the host drops it just turns into a solo game which nobody else can join, but I suppose that’s better than kicking you off. There’s also no perks system to keep you playing, so the ultimate replay value is diminished a bit.
Dark Moon does a fine job of capitalizing on its graphics and sound to create a spooky but cute atmosphere. The visuals are clearly an upgrade over what the GameCube was able to do over a decade ago, and the 3D effect is a strong one. It’s also quite useful in making some of the hidden treasure a little more noticeable than they would be on a flat screen, so I recommend playing with it on if you can. While the fixed camera angle is also an improvement over the original’s, combining it with the tiny screen does make some of the interactive switches a lot harder to make out. In one case I got stuck in the game because I simply didn’t see the starter on a lawnmower as it was practically only a couple dark grey pixels on the screen. The game runs at a very playable framerate, though it is noticeably smoother in smaller rooms, so there is certainly a performance penalty for some of the detail put into it. The music is a bit too catchy and will worm itself into your ear if you’re not careful. Even Luigi concurs, as he will start humming it to himself if you slow down a bit. Though he doesn’t really speak full sentences, the voice acting adds a lot of charm to his character and you’ll feel sorry for the little guy as you put him through one scare after the other.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is not as much of a pleasant surprise this time around, but more of a known quantity for those who remember and cherish the original. The changes in controls and gameplay give it a bit of freshness, but that slowly wears off with repetitive nature of the story missions and the lack of checkpoints, though the creative boss battles and the introduction of multiplayer somewhat make up for it. I’m not sure the “Year of Luigi” will be all that memorable in the face of “Decades of Mario” but it certainly has given 3DS owners another reason to be happy with their choice of handheld.