Busting makes Luigi feel good
It must be rough being Luigi. Always following in his brother's foot steps, Luigi was usually portrayed as the cowardly sidekick who always relies on Mario to hog the spotlight and save the day. Well, he was finally given his own game.....on the NES, which stunk, but then he got a second chance in a ghost catching game on the Gamecube, which didn't. The first Luigi's Mansion was definitely an odd choice to throw this cowardly anxious sidekick into, but luckily it ended up being incredibly fun and a good example of what the system can do. It took only 12 years, but Nintendo finally decided to give us some more ghost catching goodness with a sequel; Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for the Nintendo 3DS. Now the question is; was it truly worth the long wait for a second helping?
The game begins in a place called "Evershade Valley," where Professor E. Gadd lives in his laboratory and studies the friendly ghosts living in the area. One night, King Boo escaped from his prison and shatters an object called the "Dark Moon," which immediately causes the ghosts to become hostile. Retreating to his secret lair, E Gadd knows that only one man is right for the job (mainly because he's the only ghost hunter he knows about). Luigi, who was relaxing peacefully at home, is summoned by E Gadd to put on his Poltergust once more, recollect the 5 pieces of the Dark Moon, defeat King Boo and restore peace to Evershade Valley once more.
For a Mario game (or Luigi game), the story actually has a lot of personality to it. There's hardly any cut scenes out side of text boxes when you're back in E Gadd's lair, but it tells the humorous narrative very well. Luigi himself has plenty of expression to give. You feel bad for the poor guy when he shivers or freaks out at any ghost he comes across. I also like how the comedic timing was handled. Most of the humor in the game has to do with interacting with the environment around you; watching ghosts through a peep hole or Luigi being pulled into a closet. I thought it was especially funny when Luigi's hums to the background music.
The gameplay and controls are actually pretty straight forward, but it is engaging and fun. Your main tool that you'll be using is the Poltergust 5000 that is used for almost everything. You can press the R button to suck and the L button to blow, which can help either reveal secrets (like sucking up dust or rugs) or even catch ghosts that wander the mansion. Catching ghosts basically turns into a game of hide and seek. To actually find and catch them, you'll have to blind them with your attached strobe light and then engage in a long struggle with your vacuum. A timer will count down until you can officially suck the ghost up but when the above meter fills, you can press A to make the timer drop faster. It sounds easy at first but some ghosts are protected with armor or other ghosts may hit you while trying to catch another. This adds a bit of strategy to the gameplay as you may have to decide whether or not to sacrifice your catch in order to move out of the way is worth it.
The other tool you'll get on your poltergust is the light-dark device, which will be used to find invisible objects or enemies (like boos). When you find an invisible object, you'll need to suck up all the orbs that pop out of it in a limited time or it will remain invisible until you do. This and the strobe light seem pretty weak at first but luckily, you can find a lot of money within each mansion that you can collect to upgrade your gadgets, though they work more like experience. Upgrades include a stronger strobe light, a longer lasting dark light and a stronger poltergust (you can suck them up faster). All of these gadgets work well and they add to the great amount of exploration this game offers.
Speaking of which, this game gives you 5 mansions to explore, each with a different look and layout than the last. With the help of your tools, you must explore every nook and cranny in these mansions to find money or other collectables by blowing fans, pulling ropes or sucking up rugs or curtains. The game follows a mission based structure where E Gadd will give you objectives and tells you where you need to go, but don't this game is linear for that. In fact, exploration is greatly rewarded by giving you extra money or collectable gems should you go out of your way. The missions structure works surprisingly well and each mansion feels fresh and new from the last, giving you plenty of variety in its level design. The only problem you may come across is there's no checkpoints in this game, which means you have to do it all in one go. However, this game isn't particularly all that hard and I had few problems with dying.
The music and graphics also help the atmosphere and feel of the game. I already mentioned how expressive Luigi and the ghosts are, but the eerie music in the background and the graphical style help lay into this too. The visuals themselves are nice and crisp, possibly one of the better looking games on the 3DS. The 3D also adds plenty of depth to the visuals, but not a whole lot. The depth is nice but it doesn't add to the experience as much as you'd think.
The atmosphere in all of these mansions are brimming with personality, but the only thing that ruins this is, actually, E Gadd. At first, he calls you on the Dual Scream (hehe) more often than an overprotective mother at the beginning of the game, but luckily he calls you only when you beat an objective over time. The biggest problem I have is when you complete a mission. When you finish your last objective, instead of letting you explore the mansion a bit longer, you are immediately pixelated back to E Gadd's lair, which can break the immersion. I wish it was more open ended, letting you walk from mission to mission instead of pulling you back in between segments.
This game is full of surprises, and perhaps the biggest surprise is its multiplayer mode. Whether local or matchmaking, you and up to 3 other people enter the Scarescraper and are given one of three objectives. Players have a choice between Hunt (work together and catch every ghost on each floor), Polterpup (catch every Polterpup on each floor), or Race (find the exit on the floor). Once you and your teammates work together and complete the task on a floor, you move on to the next until you reach the top. If everyone dies or the timer runs out, the game is over. Even though this is a co-op mode, it feels very competitive when trying to get a higher score than your teammates. You'll also find yourself trying to catch ghosts or collect red coins for the bonus upgrade before everyone else. Surprisingly, the multiplayer works very well. This mode adds to the high replay value and each mode feels engaging, when you don't deal with people quitting all the time. It's also important to point out that coins collected in this mode get added to your total amount.
To answer my question before; yes, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was well worth the long wait. Next Level Games basically took the amount of fun and potential the first Luigi's Mansion created and added more content as well as fleshed out the gameplay and exploration aspects, making for a more engaging and entertaining experience while keeping what made the first game such a gem. Dark Moon has plenty of charm and personality to go around and it will make an excellent addition to your 3DS collection.