I realize that I may be putting myself on the lunatic fringe of gaming culture here, but it needs to be said: Luigi's Mansion is pretty great. Popular opinion seems to have landed on the GameCube launch title actually not being so great, but when has popular opinion ever been the guiding force behind anything correct? Most I've talked to seem to mark Luigi's Mansion not as a particularly bad game, but lame simply by virtue of being thrown to the GameCube launch slaughter by Nintendo in place of an actual Mario game. Despite our decades-long familiarity with the lankier Mario brother, one must confess that Luigi ain't Mario, and busting ghosts ain't stompin' on Koopas.
Still, judged purely on its own merits as a cartoonish ghostbusting simulation, Luigi's Mansion was a fun, simple, deeply charming little game that Nintendo went on to completely ignore for years following as if it were some kind of ghastly mistake that would bring shame upon the company were its name ever to be uttered again by human mouths. At least, that was the case until this year's E3, where Nintendo inexplicably decided to revive the long-dormant title and give it a proper sequel on the publisher's new handheld system, the 3DS. As a longtime Luigi apologist, I felt it deeply necessary to get my hands on this thing and see for myself that it actually existed. I can happily report back to any interested parties that yes, Luigi's Mansion 2 exists, and it's looking quite good.
Let me make one thing clear right from the get-go: This is Luigi's Mansion. New developer Next Level Games who previously did a bang-up job reviving another hibernating Nintendo franchise in Punch-Out!!, does not appear to have reinvented the vacuum cleaner here. The demo at E3 brought me right into familiar territory, with noted Professor of Ghostology E. Gadd briefing our perpetually terrified hero on the first of several mansions he'll be exploring in the name of ectoplasmic extermination, followed by gameplay involving flashing lights at ghosts, and then hitting them with vacuum cleaner suction. Sometimes the ghosts fight back, sometimes you are collecting coins, sometimes you are hunting for keys. This is very much the thing.== TEASER ==
Okay, so it's a familiar formula, I grant you, but it also still plays great, provided you can get behind the generally slower pace of the title. Maybe it's more a result of the deluge of recent titles in other Nintendo franchises than an actual testament to Luigi's Mansion 2's gameplay, but nothing about the game felt particularly rehashy or tired. It's been close to ten years since we played a new one of these things, and while it'd be great if Next Level could find a way to throw a few surprises our way--and perhaps they will, since I did only see a super early level, after all--I still enjoyed running around and chasing ghosts just like I did back on the GameCube.
Now, for the small matter of this story's headline. Let's face it: the 3DS is currently in a state of needing some damned video games, and while Nintendo did bring out some heavy hitting names at its press conference, including the likes of Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, and Kid Icarus, few of these titles--that have been shown anyway--seem to really do much with their 3D presentation beyond simply existing in 3D. Mario Kart in 3D is still pretty much Mario Kart, you guys.
Luigi's Mansion 2 isn't radically different in its handling of 3D, mind you. The game isn't some ludicrous revolution in how we perceive 3D. Rather, what I've seen so far is actually an intelligent way of effectively using 3D while keeping it entirely in the background. The game's camera maintains a fixed perspective, and the 3D is used to add depth to each room you find yourself in. With 3D turned up, hallways appear longer, objects in the room appear closer or further, and as you get your ghost hunt on, you get some nifty three-dimensional effects as you crawl ever closer to sucking that mean old ghost into your handy vacuum bag.
It's great, because after a short bit, the 3D just seems like a completely natural thing. It's there, and it aids the visual presentation immensely, but it never goes out of its way to call attention to itself. It appears similar to the mentality Naughty Dog took on when adding 3D to Uncharted 3--find a way to benefit the visuals and the gameplay, and avoid unnecessary gimmicks.
It's a great-looking little game, currently only hindered by a somewhat erratic framerate. The game does tend to slow down when a bunch of ghosts materialize on screen, to the point where it actually becomes a touch unplayable. That said, Nintendo only has Luigi's Mansion 2 slated for a near-formless 2012 release date, so Next Level has ample time to clean up such impurities.
To Next Level, I also suggest they use that time to add some original quirks and unexpected elements to the gameplay, not to satiate the vocal minority of dismissive players who demand every Nintendo game be brand-new and totally familiar all at the same time, but in order to truly make it a work of their own. Punch-Out!! felt like Punch-Out!!, but it also had its own distinctive quality that made it stand out as not just another remake. Next Level is on a great path here, and it just needs to find the right balance between the classic and the original. Slavish dedication to a formula will only take you so far, after all--even if that formula hasn't been employed for the better part of a decade.