Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Next Level Games
Nintendo claimed 2013 to be the “year of Luigi” in their Nintendo Direct broadcast from Feb. 14, and I say it’s about time.
Luigi, to me, has moved onto my unofficial list of the most overlooked characters in gaming history.
There has always been something enjoyable about Luigi to me, and I recently discovered it might be because I can relate to him. We both accomplish tasks we’re given with goofy mannerisms and clumsy behaviors, we’re the comic relief in our circle of friends, we are sometimes overshadowed by a more well-known person despite our hard-working efforts, but it does not dampen our spirits nor hold our attitudes down and despite what our feelings may be over the situations we are put in, we carry on with the mission at hand.
With that said, I think those are the reasons I have come to appreciate the GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion over the years. Not counting the educational game Mario is Missing!, Luigi’s Mansion marked the first time in Mario franchise history where the green brother was handed the spotlight, giving us the opportunity to get to know Luigi as a character better.
The game made a creative experience, but the three elements preventing it from being one the GameCube’s true greats were its length, replay value and breezy difficulty. No joke, I was able to beat Luigi’s Mansion in a day without dying (I had no choice but to live since I somehow misplaced my memory card at this time) right around the time I reached my first double-digit age.
So when Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was announced, I only prayed they fixed those three issues. I mean, with over a decade to plan it out, they should’ve, and they certainly have.
Dark Moon begins with the kooky old professor E. Gadd from the original title happily working in his lab with several friendly ghost assistants researching the paranormal activities in Evershade Valley, an area filled with ghostly residents and multiple haunted structures. In the middle of E. Gadd’s daily routines, a “mysterious figure” (it’s pretty obvious who it is) shatters the Dark Moon and causes its fragments to spread to multiple areas. In turn, the destruction of the Dark Moon causes the ghosts to act violently and devious while simultaneously causing Evershade Valley to be engulfed in a purple fog, rendering areas in the land unreachable.
It is here we find our cowardly heroic protagonist Luigi peacefully sitting at home watching the tube where he is then summoned to E. Gadd’s lab through the pixelator, a device breaking down Luigi’s body into pixels to transport him from area to area. Since Luigi holds the most experience in capturing ghosts, E. Gadd implores Luigi’s assistance to restore order to Evershade Valley. As you collect fragments of the Dark Moon with each venture, a mansion consumed in the purple fog will disappear and let you move on to the next Dark Moon piece.
The gameplay in Luigi’s Mansion is hard to describe because it remains unique since the series’ inception in 2001, but a large portion of it involves puzzle solving and figuring out ways to progress the level, and it is these numerous moments where Dark Moon shines. Puzzles are not performed in obvious ways and they will cause you to think hard. Exploring the game’s environments in order to figure out the puzzles is essential since the game does not hand out hints on how to move forward.
Even as a 21-year-old used to the series’ type of puzzles from the first game, I found some puzzles to be head-scratchingly difficult, but discovering the secret or technique to move forward is immensely satisfying and will induce many oh-I-got-it moments.
The other half of the gameplay has Luigi ridding the mansions of ghosts. Since Luigi first spent time with the professor eradicating ghosts in their first ghoulish adventure, E. Gadd has added upgrades to the series’ signature vacuum to create the Poltergust 5000, and with upgrades come slight changes to how the game plays.
Rather than simply shining your light on ghosts, you now have to hold down the “A” button to charge the Strobulb, the flashlight attatchment to the Poltergust. You can charge the light briefly for a quick and narrower flash or hold down the charge button longer for an illuminating 180 degree radius. The more ghosts you stun in one flash, the easier they become to absorb with the Poltergust. When you have absorbed a ghost for a short time, a meter builds up where you can tap “A” allowing to you tug the ghosts to drain their health quicker.
As you are taking in ghosts, those not stunned by the Strobulb have an opportunity to strike you, but you may avoid attacks at the cost of resetting your draining meter. It is a necessary evil since ghosts can actually dole much damage to Luigi’s health.
The mix of new and altered changes to consuming ghosts with the Poltergusts are welcoming and further extend the entertainment from the original game.
New to the game is the new Dark Light attachment to assist you in finding a wealth of hidden objects and select enemies – including Boos. Once the Dark Light is shined on an invisible article, Spirit Balls will disperse throughout the room you are in and have to be sucked in by Poltergust in order for the object to become visible.
If I was stuck in an area, I scanned every square inch of a room until I discovered something with the Dark Light and it usually worked. The Dark Light adds a new layer to the gameplay, as objects hidden objects could be anywhere in the game, making the ascertainment of every collectible in the game a rewarding challenge.
Moving along with the times and advancements in gaming, Luigi no longer communicates with E. Gadd through the Game Boy Horror. Instead, they communicate via DS, or Dual Scream, which has a hilarious version of the game’s theme song for its ringtone. The Dual Scream also displays both the mission objectives and map of the building you are in on the 3DS’ lower screen.
The only obstacle hindering the improved ghost hunting experience from further joy is no option to use the Circle Pad Pro. As you are charging the Strobulb, Luigi can only step side-to-side, thus taking away his “mystical” ability to turn around, which doesn’t make much sense because you can use the 3DS’ gyroscope to look vertically, so why not include the option to look horizontally?
Money in the first game ultimately had no point. The more money you gathered, the better mansion Luigi would get in a framed picture at the game’s conclusion… yep. In Dark Moon, money is a relevant factor since it grants you upgrades for the Poltergust, particularly its ease to consume ghosts and the Dark Light’s battery life. There are a number of ways of acquiring money from sucking in ghosts with the Poltergust at a higher rate to flashing ghostly vermin and a number of other methods where stashes of money are cleverly hidden. Additionally, there are segments where Luigi is warped to another dimension where he must collect red coins within a short time limit to gain piles of deniro.
Were it not for the inventive and innovative puzzle elements, the basis of the missions would make the game rather repetitive for my tastes. For the majority of the missions, you will either spend time fetching objects or retrieving them back from Evershade Valley’s now mischievous residents and the admittedly adorable Polterpup.
Even more dreadful are the escort missions involving E. Gadd’s Toad lab assistants. Never have I ever witnessed such whiney, dumb, and downright irritating characters than the Toads in Dark Moon. I would sometimes suck them in with the Poltergust and shoot them at the walls just to shut them up to vent my frustrated feelings towards them.
One element from the original game I loved was the amount of ironic life there was to the mansion. As a sizeable mansion, there were numerous types of ghosts reflecting their appearances during the times they were alive, giving them more personality.
Exempting three sister ghosts only barely tougher to absorb than the average enemy, no other human-like ghosts exist in the game. With several different mansions in a land brimming with ghosts, you would think more human-like specters would make appearances akin to the first game. It is disappointing mainly because there are ultimately less than 10 different ghost types making frequent appearances. The ghosts in Evershade Valley are charming, sure, but character variety similar to the first game would have been nicer.
The intelligence of the ghosts, particularly the Greenies, somewhat justifies the absence of arrayed character models. As the most continually reappearing enemies, Greenies are the weakest types of ghosts, but unlike the stronger, more enduring ghosts, they can snag objects in the environments to defend themselves from the Strobulb’s flash. They will grab everything from buckets to shovels to pots and even embody themselves in mummy bandages to make their apprehension more difficult, yet fun than the stronger ghosts at times.
Completing every mission results in a star ranking based on how fast you cleared the objective, the number of captured ghosts, lost health over the duration of the level and the amount of treasure/cash you acquired. Playing through the story without intentionally attempting to acquire the coveted three star ranking, I averaged one or two stars for most levels exempting a few prideful missions. Since there are rankings to levels, this allows you to play through levels multiple times unlike Dark Moon’s completely linear predecessor.
In addition to rankings, there are rare gems to collect for each mansion alongside one Boo for every mission. Even as someone who can’t help but explore a game’s environments just a little bit the first time around, I acquired less than half of each during my first play through. With that said, three star-ing levels, collecting gems and finding the cleverly hidden Boos extends Dark Moon’s life quite a bit.
Once you have collected all the Boos within a mansion, a special mission is unlocked where you attempt to capture sporadically appearing ghosts in the fastest time possible. It does not add a huge chunk to the game, but it is a neat bonus to have if you enjoy speed runs.
To top it off, the story clocked in at 10.5 hours for my playthrough – where at least an hour to 1.5 hours of that was likely me either getting stuck or not resisting the temptations of exploration – and therefore fixing two of the first game’s biggest issues: its length and replay value.
If the one thing you were scared of coming into Dark Moon was void humor throughout the game, the game is constantly pouring out buckets of humor whether it’s E. Gadd’s stereotyping of elderly people, Luigi’s shaking body as he hesitantly faces his next ghoulish foe and the comedic performances from the ghosts of Evershade Valley as Luigi peeks in through broken windows.
The developers retained Luigi’s happy hums to the tune playing in the background. Heck, even the D-Pad’s sole purpose is to call out for things (minus the hilarious “Maaarrrrioooo?!” from the first game). There was never a mission in Dark Moon where I did not at least giggle at something happening.
Although Dark Moon is lighthearted, it contains eerie music at times and the typical sounds to accompany its “horror” theme. Wooden floors will sometimes creak, winds will haunt longs halls and ghosts scream or laugh in a nearby room. As a comedic game not taking itself too seriously, the sounds add a surprisingly creepy atmosphere at times.
New to the series is a multiplayer component where up to four players assume the role of Luigi to explore the cleverly named Scarescraper. With options to play locally, via download play with limitations or online, players will either search their own matches, play with friends or create their own matches. Creating your own matches lets you customize which game mode you wish to play, how many floors you want to play through in the Scarescraper and the level of difficulty.
The three game modes – Hunter, Rush and Polterpup – mainly have you capturing ghosts. While Hunter has you simply eradicating ghosts within a time limit, Rush and Polterpup adds twists. Rush has you trying to find an exit point before times runs out where capturing ghosts and discovering hidden objects with the Dark Light extends the time. Polterpup has you searching for the ghostly K-9s using the Dark Light before time depletes.
Money is also used in this game and progressively gives you upgrades to make ghost-snagging tasks easier. Bonus rounds occur after each floor is complete and has players trying to gather four red coins randomly spread across rooms in order to get a bonus through slots. The more red coins a player had, the greater their chances are for earning a bonus for the next round.
It all sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It certainly is on paper, but the performance itself falls flat on its face. I am a self-proclaimed adept ghost hunter in the franchise, and unless you can find friends who will not only use teamwork but stay in your matches, the ScareScraper is nowhere near as fun or engaging as the single-player’s experience. Even then, the multiplayer is quite difficult. With three other Luigi’s on the minimum five floors and normal difficulty, I did not once complete all the preset floors.
At least the visuals in both the single-player and multiplayer of Dark Moon are distinctive from the typical Mario game, but look great nonetheless. The ghosts look as if they have eaten neon lights to emit a bright glow, the environments somewhat resemble a polygonal art style similar to a 3D cartoon, the lighting projected from the Strobulb gives realistic shadow effects and the game always ran smoothly with generally colorful aesthetics.
Dark Moon marks the first time I have found a 3DS game developed by Nintendo to not hold appealing 3D effects. It may be because I’m used to the 3D effects after my fair share of time spent with the 3DS, but Dark Moon hardly contained any depth to its 3D.
Dark Moon makes for a great successor to what the first game could have been primarily because they added further replay value, extended the story’s length and made it more difficult. Solving the puzzles inside the mansion still makes for a unique experience since they are not carried out through normal conventions. Finding all of the collectibles in the game makes for entertaining time because of the mansion’s deep structures.
Sadly, the game does not work as near as well without two joysticks and it is strange there is no option to use the Circle Pad Pro. The missions were also a bit stale (I’m furiously looking at you Toads!) and the multiplayer could have made for an exalting addition to the franchise instead of being that thing just sitting there in the corner.
If you loved the original Luigi’s Mansion, you will fall in love with the series’ long absence once again. If you never had a chance to play the original title “back in the day,” Dark Moon will still make for a great add-on to your 3DS library.
Bottom line? Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a fantastic canon launching “the year of Luigi.”
- Luigi’s Mansion is back!
- Extremely clever puzzles
- Fixed the orignal game’s main problems
- Great replay value
- Repetitive missions
- Irritating Toad escort missions
- Lackluster multiplayer
- No Circle Pad Pro option
- No depth in 3D effects
Robbie Key is a “Reviews and News Editor” for Analog Addiction, Entertainment Editor for the Pine Log newspaper at Stephen F. Austin State University, and blogger for IGN. Follow his completely relevant Twitter updates, watch his awesomtacular YouTube videos, and view his LinkedIn profile.