Lackluster Mansion: Disappointing Moon
The first Luigi’s Mansion turned the concept of ghost busting into what could be described as a fishing game adventure. You would find a ghost, discover how to lure it out, “hook” it with your flashlight, and then proceed to capture it with a vacuum that somehow became more effective the more you tugged away from a ghost. Only, instead of being set in a placid lake, it was set in a spooky, cartoonish mansion filled with whimsical puzzles, secret rooms, and treasure that somehow made it inside of every conceivable object, waiting for Mario’s timid brother in green to come along and vacuum it up.
That first Luigi’s Mansion was a fun game with some problems, but chief among them was that it ended too soon. But, while its 3DS sequel, subtitled “Dark Moon,” has the core gameplay and the trappings of the first in addition to lasting a good deal longer, it is plagued throughout by less than desirable controls and by a game structure that discourages the player from experiencing the best of what it has to offer.
Being a 3DS game, Dark Moon of course doesn’t have the benefit of coming with a second analog stick to help aim your vacuum or your flashlight, and it also isn’t one of the few 3DS games to support Circle Pad Pro peripheral to add a control feature that would have made the game somewhat more tolerable. As is, you’re stuck pointing your flashlight in whatever direction you happen to be moving, which is a problem when you turn slowly and ghosts have a habit of surrounding you, only to flee or disappear when you try to face them. The problem isn’t that the controls will get you killed over and over – indeed, the game isn’t very difficult – it’s that they make combat feel like a chore.
But, while the controls make encounters with your average ghost feel tedious, they make almost every boss fight feel genuinely frustrating. To the game’s credit, many of these fights require you to use the environment in some clever way to damage the boss. Unfortunately, this means you often have to interact awkwardly with certain objects while avoiding attacks. And, the couple of bosses that don’t have this problem just don’t have enough to them to make them interesting.
Even outside of combat, the controls only serve to hamper the experience. There are still plenty of things in the environment you can use your Poltergust 5000 to suck up, and many of them happen to be on the floor or the ceiling, meaning you have to make Luigi look up or down. You do this using the X and B buttons, which makes sense given their positions on the handheld and the lack of an alternative, but using these buttons in conjunction with the shoulder buttons of the 3DS is just uncomfortable given how often you have to do so.
Still, being outside of combat and exploring is the one thing Dark Moon does better than its predecessor. There’s not only one mansion to explore, but five. Each has a theme such as forest or desert that is incorporated into the mansion aesthetic and even the puzzles you’ll encounter. The forest area, for example, will have you watering plants that bear different fruits that can be used as weapons or as a means to access out-of-reach places. There are also several secret passages conspicuously disguised as bookcases, statues, and other such fare that trigger brief yet funny animations of Luigi quizzically examining said facades, only to be abruptly and forcefully thrown to the other side of the passage.
Unfortunately, just as Luigi is cut off from his examinations, so too are you cut off from whatever interest you might have in exploring the varied and detailed environments by game’s mission structure. Each foray into a mansion is part of a mission with some objective like finding a certain object or making your way to a certain room. This wouldn’t be bad if the game didn’t decide to rank you on each mission based not only on the treasure collected and ghosts captured but also on completion time. Not that mission rankings really matter, but having the game indicate that you’re doing poorly because you refuse to be funneled along from one stiff combat scenario to the next and instead see how far you can delve into the meticulously crafted environments for treasure is frustrating.
The urge to search for treasure is further squelched by the fact that Dark Moon rewards you with some superfluous and unexciting upgrades for your efforts. Two upgrades each add another bar to the power meter of the Poltergust 5000. The power meter fills the longer and harder you struggle to “reel in” ghosts, and for each bar you fill, you can deal greater amounts of damage and receive more cash should you press the A button. While having the extra power is indeed helpful, I ended up being more grateful that it let end battles quickly as opposed to letting me excel at them. The one other upgrade I got simply extended the amount of time I could use my Dark Light, a new device that reveals invisible objects, for a longer time before it had to recharge. Since you never have to use the Dark Light for more than a few seconds at a time, the extension is completely meaningless.
Dark Moon is full of neat ideas, which makes experiencing its many flaws all the more disappointing. Perhaps if it supported the Circle Pad Pro, the combat and the basic movement of the game might have benefited enough to make the game somewhat fun to play. But even with a second analog stick, there still wouldn’t be any reason to venture off the prescribed path or to spend your time collecting the money that will often literally fly at you regardless of how you interact with objects in the environment.