Since its debut on the Nintendo GameCube, the Luigi’s Mansion series has been nonexistent. Now, Luigi has returned to his Ghostbusters-esque role as a spirit sucker. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is out now for 3DS, and it finally brings the green brother back from the dead (pun absolutely intended). But how does this new outing fare, especially when compared to the original?
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon opens with a standard Nintendo plot. King Boo returns and shatters the Dark Moon, turning all the ghosts in Evershade Valley to the evil side. With the moon shattered and the ghosts running rampant, Professor E. Gadd calls out to the one ghost grabber he knows, Luigi. With this supernatural stopping team back together, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon starts doing what the series does best – catching ghosts.
This mechanic is greatly improved in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Luigi’s new toy is the Poltergust 5000, an upgrade from the original’s Poltergust 3000. Catching ghosts is still a matter of playing tug-o-war to wear down their health, but you now have an energy meter associated with this activity. Fill the meter, and you can shock the ghost for extra damage. Both the thumbstick and the 3DS’ accelerometer allow you to tug against the ghost, so you have plenty of options for taking down the ghouls. You’ll take on typical slim-to-tough ghosts, but don’t expect the personable portrait ghost bosses of the original game. The unique storied ghosts of the first game are replaced with generic big ghosts and possessive spirits.
On the plus side, the stunning mechanic is improved. Where the original forced you to flick your flashlight at enemies, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon arms you with the Strobulb. This strobe light can be used to quickly stun enemies, and it can be charged for a larger flash and a larger area of effect. Flashing the Strobulb is also used to activate E. Gadd’s mechanisms, found all throughout the game. It’s a nice addition to both combat and exploration, and a definite improvement over the standard flashlight.
Finally, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon introduces the Darklight Device. This allows Luigi to scan the room for invisible objects. Often, these are hidden treasures, but sometimes this scanning is necessary for solving a puzzle. This can be problematic, as we are all trained to solve puzzles based on what’s laid in front of us; looking for the things we can’t see is unnatural. Still, it adds a (literally) hidden layer to the game’s environments.
Speaking of environments, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon offers many. The original saw Luigi exploring one sprawling mansion, while the sequel sends him to several slightly smaller venues. Gloomy Manor, the first stage, is similar to the original’s mansion, but later levels explore various elemental states. The second (and best) stage, Haunted Towers, is forest themed. These give the game a Legend of Zelda-ish vibe, likening each mansion to a themed dungeon. Puzzles further the Zelda comparison, tasking Luigi with filling weighted buckets with water or using special plants to balloon around large rooms. These puzzles are usually enjoyable to solve, but the occasional “how was I supposed to see that?” solution does exist. For the most part, however, they are well done. In addition, secrets abound. Boos make return, and there are several to collect in every mansion. Tugging away curtains or bed sheets can also reveal money, the game’s biggest resource. You can also seek out special gems – there’s a set to find in every stage.
Considering the great care given to little details and moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s a shame the overall structure of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon falls flat. The game is mission based: you are sent into a mansion to complete an objective, and you are pulled back out after doing so. There is no sense of exploration, and you miss out on the sprawling nature of many of the stages because of this stop-and-go mentality. These missions should be fine for handheld play – a mission before heading out for dinner, a few moments while waiting line – but that just isn’t the case. They are too long for quick sessions, so playing in sittings is the only option. When you’ve got time to dedicate to playing through Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, you start to hate the drop in, drop out nature of the game. Considering the size and secrets of the original game’s mansion were its biggest selling points, the mission-based breakdown here is disheartening.
You’ll get a rank at the end of each mission, based on how you performed, how much money you collected, and if you caught the Boo unique to the mission. This adds a decent incentive to replay missions, but money – fortunately – has a second purpose. The more you collect, the more you’ll rank up. This upgrades the Poltergust’s shock power and the Darklight Device’s time of use.
This is all just fine for the single player, but how does the multiplayer fare in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon? On the plus side, it allows multiple ghost hunters to play through the ScareScraper (the name of the mode), seeing how many floors they can complete. Modes will ask you to hunt down ghosts, find the exit, chase down special enemies, or do a combination of each. Online and download play make it easy to team up with others, but there’s really no reason to do so. Multiplayer here is really just a distraction, and there are few incentives to play it at all.
The original Luigi’s Mansion is a must-play GameCube title, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is merely a decent way to pass the time on a handheld. It’s an odd thing that Nintendo would get the little things so right, yet completely drop the ball with the overall experience. Catching Boos, solving puzzles, and finding new surprises in rooms are fantastic experiences, but the mission-based structure of the game means you’ll be having them in a painfully stunted fashion. There’s no sense of sprawl or exploration here, and the use of generic bosses in place of interesting portrait ghosts further distances this title from the original. There’s plenty of the series’ charm and humor here, but it’s tethered to a stunted single player game and a throwaway multiplayer experience. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon does a lot of good things, but it comes no where near the heights of the originals. What’s worse, you’ll be pulled back to E. Gadd’s bunker for another mission every time the game comes close to achieving those heights.