Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon Review
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Developer(s): Next Level Games
Release Date: March 24, 2013
Poor Luigi. His brother, Mario, has always cast a large shadow, one Luigi finally managed to emerge from with Luigi’s Mansion back when it released on the GameCube as a launch title (No, Mario is Missing doesn’t count. Don’t even try to argue that one.). While Mario has bravery and courage on his side, Luigi has always been cowardly and a spaz. When the guy finally gets his own game, it couldn’t just be typical Koopa-stomping, something he’s grown accustomed to, could it? Instead, he has to trek through a creepy mansion and tangle with ghosts that constantly play tricks on him. Talk about getting the short end of the stick yet again! What sucks even more for him is that his days of ghost-busting aren’t over. However, this is great for us, because now one of the most underrated gems Nintendo has released since the turn of the century has finally received a sequel, and while it may not knock your socks off with innovation and ambitious design, it’s still a lot of fun.
Luigi is relaxing in his home when he’s suddenly summoned by the loopy Professor E. Gadd to Evershade Valley, where he’s been conducting research on the friendly ghosts that inhabit the area. The catalyst for the ghosts’ friendly behavior, the Dark Moon, has just been shattered by the mischievous actions of King Boo, causing all of the ghosts to go crazy as well as creating a thick, purple fog that has covered the entire valley. Naturally, given his experience in tangling with ghosts, Luigi is the Professor’s only hope in piecing the Dark Moon back together and restoring peace to Evershade Valley.
In what is a major change from the original GameCube title, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon actually has five smaller mansions instead of one very large one, though all five combined make up roughly the same size, if not more. Each mansion has its own theme, as one is actually an icy mine, while another is a clock tower, etc. This gives each mansion it’s own distinct look and feel so it doesn’t seem like you’re just exploring the same mansion over and over, which the original game suffered from to an extent.
The greater departure, though, comes from the mission-based structure of the game as opposed to having each mansion being more open-ended like the first game. I preferred being able to openly explore that mansion, but given that this entry is a portable title, its structure is actually a better fit for the on-the-go nature of the 3DS. So, if you’re looking to get a little Luigi’s Mansion in during a work break or on a bus ride, you can without worrying about stopping at a bad time, as most missions can be wrapped up in about 15 to 30 minutes. Missions tend to vary from navigating to a certain room to collecting specific items, so on and so forth. It’s pretty much standard fare, but the journey far exceeds the destination as you’ll be solving puzzles and hunting down keys in order to traverse each mansion. Each mission is also individually scored from 1 to 3 stars, with the amount of ghosts you suck up, money you collect, time taken to finish the missions and more judging what your score will be.
Of course, what you’ll primarily be doing is busting ghosts with the new-and-improved Poltergust 5000. It functions largely the same as the first game with a few minor differences. For starters, to engage ghosts, you now have to flash the Strobulb instead of simply aiming it at the ghosts. You can charge it up for a larger burst of light, too, enabling you to stun multiple ghosts at once. Once you start sucking up the ghosts, you don’t have to keep yanking back on the left stick in order to do more damage. A meter now fills as you tilt the stick away from the ghost, and once it fills, you can hit A to take out a large chunk of health. Aiming is more suspect this time, as you can’t change the direction Luigi is facing while the vacuum is running, so you’re stuck facing whichever direction you were when you started using the vacuum. You have to stop using the vacuum, turn, and then start vacuuming again, which feels awkward and takes some getting used to. You also now use the X button to tilt the vacuum upward and B to tilt it downward, which isn’t a big deal and functions pretty soundly. It’s not as ideal of a control scheme as the original game’s, but this is largely due to the limitations of the 3DS.
One new feature the Poltergust 5000 uses is called the Dark-Light Device. Once you pick up this little gizmo early on in the game, you can use it to reveal hidden objects as well as devious Boos that lurk around during each mission. When you’re in a jam and can’t figure out how to advance, the Dark-Light Device is essentially your go-to item. It’s a welcome addition that adds an interesting wrinkle to puzzles. It can also be used to find hidden objects that may contain money, which makes its return from the first title. Instead of money deciding how big your mansion is at the end of the game, it now is used to upgrade the Poltergust 5000 as well as serving as a universal “score” of sorts across all missions.
The improvements of the Poltergust 5000 and the variety of mansions are great additions that make for a very fun game, but once it all was said and done, I couldn’t shake a certain feeling I had with the experience as a whole. The issue is, Luigi’s Mansion really doesn’t push the envelope. It’s ultimately familiar and nothing really ever stands out as “Holy crap, that was phenomenal!” material. Nintendo has been known time and time again to be true innovators and creative geniuses, but with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, it just feels safe. Perhaps the only “wow” moments really came from the boss fights, but even then, not every single one is a standout.
Oddly enough, the Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon experience doesn’t end with the single player story. There’s actually a multiplayer suite included called the ScareScraper, which features three modes of play. The first is Hunter Mode, which tasks up to four players with hunting down every ghost within the time limit of a single floor of the tower. I found it a bit on the easy side, as four players can easily overpower the meager quantities of ghosts thrown their way. The second is Rush Mode, which for some reason people online can’t seem to grasp the concept of. This tasks you with finding the exit in a very limited amount of time, but for whatever reason, everyone I played with decided it’d be more fun to aimlessly wander around even after the exit was found, and every character needs to be standing on a switch around the exit in order to move on, so every time I played this mode, it typically ended in failure. The last is Polterpup Mode, which tasks you with hunting down Polterpups (i.e. Ghost dogs) with your Dark-Light Device. It’s a decent amount of fun, but, like the multiplayer suite as a whole, it’s not all that remarkable and you’ll likely play everything once, then shelve it.
When talking visuals, Dark Moon has that signature Mario aesthetic, with clean and colorful environments combined with polished and lively animations. The game does tend to get dark, as you are hunting down ghosts in spooky mansions, and while the lighting is solid for the most part, dynamic shadows are oddly absent here, which really could have made for some impressive visuals when searching around with your flashlight. The soundtrack tends to reuse the same theme far too often and really could have used some more variety, but when wandering through mansions, creaks and ambient noises help lend to the spooky tone of the game in fitting fashion.
I loved the original Luigi’s Mansion so much that I blew through almost the entire game in one day, as the experience felt so fresh, innovative, and fun. While Dark Moon certainly has the “fun” part down pat, it shows little in terms of innovation, feeling more like a safe follow-up that addresses some issues with the first game while also adopting a suitable portable format. Then again, having fun in the end is what really matters with any game, and at the end of the day, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is still recommendable solely based on that. There were definitely enjoyable moments where I laughed at some of the downright goofy things Luigi did or had happen to him, so the personality and fun we’ve come to expect is intact, at least. Just don’t expect it to knock your socks off.