canuckeh's Luigi's Mansion (GameCube) review

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Things that go flop in the night.

 

I think Luigi’s Mansion may have traumatized longtime Nintendo fans.

Imagine a group of kids that were raised by their parents to eat a hearty breakfast every morning. This breakfast would be nutritious and delicious; scrambled eggs with gourmet ketchup, French toast with sugar powder sprinkled on top and a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a cherry. Life is great, kids go to school happy. Now imagine one morning, all that food is replaced with rotten eggs, sour bread sprinkled with gunpowder and a cup of napalm. That’s Luigi’s Mansion. Most gamers habitually expect a major Nintendo console to launch with a life-changing, Earth-redefining, constellation-devouring Mario platformer from the gods. Super Mario Bros. Super Mario World. Super Mario 64. That hot streak of divinity was soundly broken by a heaping spoonful of Luigi’s Mansion.

Now, I never played this game when it first came out, so I never felt the blunt of the meteor impact when Luigi’s Mansion hit retail shelves. I was a late bloomer to this whole Gamecube concept, too pre-occupied with the Metroids, the Eternal Darknesses and the short controller wires of the world to stress much over a title whose reputation was dragged through the mud by many a critic. But with about 8 years passing, my curiosity has struck and I am inclined to find out if time and lowered standards has eased the tragedy. Maybe Luigi’s Mansion is a pretty good game, just merely misunderstood. Miscast as a Mario platformer that turned people away when they realized there wasn’t even a jump button.

So you play as the cowardly Luigi, the less courageous of the bros, sure, but at least fear is one more emotion than Mario ever displays. He enigmatically inherits a mansion, which predictably turns out to be haunted, and just so happens to have plumbernapped Mario. So we have a Donkey Kong Country 2-like dichotomy going on. The game has little in the way of noteworthy story beyond “Luigi fights ghosts”, which makes it a surprise that there’s so much danged dialogue in the game.

Luigi’s Mansion is baby’s first survival horror game. Luigi walks around this big mansion that seems custom-built for Scooby Doo and his crew to make the mistake of splitting up again. There are ghosts of all kinds, and Luigi is best served to catch them with his vacuum-weapon-thing. Some ghosts are but mere cannon fodder, while some of them are bigger and demand a bit of thought to trap. These are the “portrait” ghosts, and they are part of some kind of presumably large undead family that haunts the mansion. An eclectic and decidedly brady bunch that includes at least three grandmothers, 3 babies, a bodybuilder, a pool junkie and a starving artist. I question the drug habits of all of them, and the circumstances that led to their simultaneous demise. Occult?

But all ghosts will vanish by means of a similar method; vacuum cleaning. First, when their “heart” appears, you surprise them with Luigi’s flashlight. Then you draw the vacuum, suck away while aiming the right analog stick in the opposite direction to whittle away their hit points until they submit to your suction. The aforementioned portrait ghosts will require you to solve some kind of puzzle, like flipping a switch or something that’ll cause them to lose their temper and reveal their weak hearts so you can pull them in all the same…they just have more hit points to suck up. A similar mechanic was ironically used in the recent Ghostbusters game, but I can’t help but feel that Luigi’s Mansion does it better. For one, the ghosts put up a bit if a fight, running around the room resisting your vacuous wrath while Luigi is dragged along the room, dodging evil mushrooms and banana peels (I know. It’s a Mario game.) In a way, it’s kind of exciting, a form of spectral fishing.

Along the way you’ll…walk…and…hit walls and…call for Mario’s name and…well I guess Luigi’s Mansion’s biggest fallacy is that the scope of the game is rather limited. You solve puzzles, but they generally consist of vacuuming a surface or using an elemental attack; and what would a Nintendo game be without some kind of elemental influence? Inhaling a fire, water or ice spirit enables Luigi to temporarily exhale said form of molecular activity, but the uses of this ability are rather limited to some arbitrary puzzles.

You also get the impression that the game developers ran out of ideas about half-way. In fact, this seemed to be a defining trait in the Gamecube’s existence; games built on a gimmick that was too insubstantial to carry a whole game (Mario Sunshine, Mario Kart Double Dash, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Zelda: Four Swords, Zelda: Wind Waker, Kirby’s Air Ride, etc.) Eventually, you’ll realize that all you’re doing is sucking ghosts off, and that the puzzle elements consist of “find the hidden trigger”. And then there’s the Boo quest; the Boos from Mario games past make a return about a third of the way, hidden in assorted objects. You’ll suck them up in the same manner, except many of the boos have a tendency to run into other rooms. With the later Boos having so much health, this part of the game becomes equivalent to catching a panicking across a giant mansion. But this can run through walls and you must respect the laws of matter.

This repetition of ideas drags to you in the game’s final chapter; where you realize that the puzzles haven’t gotten anymore sophisticated and the only thing about the ghosts that’s harder is their increased hit point number. (I doubt ghosts can get erect but I wouldn’t know.) I was starting to wonder if perhaps this is a game aimed at children, but then this giant beast of a final boss surfaces and paints the floor green with Luigi’s corpse. I’m all for a challenging final duel, but the difficulty curve in this game shouldn’t spike from zero to the heavens in a single moment.

And the repetition of vacuuming is bogged down by several other nagging repetitions. There’s the repetition of having to backtrack all across the mansion to open up a new part with your newfound key. There’s the repetition of hearing the exact same audio clip of Luigi yelling “MARIO!” every time you accidentally press A away from the surface you wanted to interact with. There’s the repetition of hearing the same two songs over and over; the haunted room medley and Luigi whistling the haunted room medley. The repetition of being unable to skip cutscenes, a frequent problem in early Nintendo games. The repetition of watching the same animation of Luigi panicking every time a ghost manifests behind him. I don’t know if the gamer was meant to find this scary, or be amused at the green one’s expense, but I stopped feeling either emotion about ten minutes into the game. And finally, the repetition of dialogue.

A note about dialogue. I know people have this unspoken idea about how Nintendo games like Mario and Zelda shouldn’t have spoken dialogue. This idea stemmed mainly from Super Mario Sunshine having such terrible voice acting that players never wanted to hear the Princess utter another word again. (I wonder if the plot in the first Mario and Luigi game was some kind of jab at the Princess’s voice work.) But that shouldn’t scare people from demanding that Nintendo be more liberal with spoken word. No voice acting may be better than badly spoken dialogue (thank you Resident Evil) but strong speech is better than both. Any chance Luigi’s Mansion had of sending chills up my spine was ruined when a text box appeared displaying the spooky message the mysterious entity in the room was trying to terrify me with. And don’t get me started on Professor E. Gadd, the scientist figure that gives Luigi his vacuum. That dweeb needs to shut the hell up. And get an atomic wedgie.

So the verdict on Luigi’s Mansion? Decent but not great. Nothing you need to go out of your way to see, but any store that sells it will have a reduced price, so you won’t lose out on much for your financial investment. But I should at least give some credit where credit should be given; it’s a unique concept, it has a bit of charm and character, it went against the expectations of the masses (even though it kind of failed in doing so) and it’s significantly better than the real Mario game, Sunshine. And in an unlikely surprise, I had more fun with Luigi’s Mansion than I did Ghostbusters. How about that?

3 stars

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