Gamer Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

*Insert Pink Floyd reference here*

Not every kiss begins with K…

  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
  • Release Date: March 20th, 2013 (24th in America)
  • Developer: Next Level Games
  • Publisher: Nintendo

Ahhhh, remember the early 2000’s? Gods, those were heady times. The Dreamcast went under with the arrival of the PS2, Microsoft was throwing its hat into the world of console gaming with this nifty thing of theirs called “The Xbox”, and games were poised to explode into mainstream culture as never before.

And here comes Nintendo, with their little purple Picnic Basket of a console. But in a break with tradition, they launched, not with a new Mario game (that would come a bit later, with the…divisive, Super Mario Sunshine), but with a Luigi game. A Luigi game featuring him sucking up ghosts with a vacuum cleaner. Huh. Regardless, Luigi’s Mansion is a fondly remembered part of the Gamecube’s launch window, and has lain dormant as a franchise for a number of years.

Until now. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon features the return of ol’ Mr. Green to the world of Ghostbusting, with all the flashlight shining, specter catching and treasure seeking you can want. Almost more than you can want, actually. But his return also heralds the arrival of one of the 3DS’ most unique little gems, one that evolves its predecessor, and yet still feels nostalgic at heart…

Monster Mash

It’s been an unspecified amount of time since Luigi’s last mansion-based maintenance adventures, and while Mario’s out hosting his parties and travelling galaxies, Luigi is in what appears to be a small, yet well furnished New York apartment. However, destiny calls yet again when his old companion/ghost-hunting mentor/freaky-ass manchild Doctor E. Gadd comes a calling. See, Gadd has been doing ghost research in a place called the Evershade Valley, a place densely populated by supernatural entities of all shapes and sizes. And more pointedly, they’re all quite benign, thanks to the naturally soothing power of the Dark Moon, a flying purple bit of mineral that keeps things copacetic.

SPOILER ALERT: YOU MIGHT KNOW WHO THE VILLAIN IS IF YOU HAVE EYES.

SPOILER ALERT: YOU MIGHT KNOW WHO THE VILLAIN IS IF YOU HAVE EYES.

Unfortunately, something has gone awry. Someone (King Boo) has shattered the Dark Moon, rendering all the ghosts feral. Not only that, but this mysterious assailant (It’s King Boo) did so with the intention of rendering the ghosts feral, which they have now become. Grabbing a piece of the moon, Gadd rushes to a safety bunker, presumably because he remembers those old nuclear warning drills from the 40’s, and decides to call in the big guns.

So, now that the shit has hit the fan, it is Luigi’s job (because Gadd…said so?) to scour the eponymous mansion and the surrounding landscapes for shards of the Moon, all the while gathering treasure, coins and, of course, ghosts and locking them down until things can be squared away. And he must also look for clues as to who, or what, caused this tragedy (it begins with “K” and ends with “ing Boo”…)

Crossing Streams

From a functional standpoint, Dark Moon plays much like its Gamecube predecessor. You walk Luigi around a mansion, with only your Poltergust ghost-trapper, your flashlight and your wits to protect you. When you do find a room or environment with ghosts in it, you hit them with a burst of light from your little flasher to stun them (separate from the original, where one need keep the beam focused on the ghosts for an amount of time in order to make them vulnerable), and then suck them up.

Holding down the R button sucks things in, while L blows them (hehe). When you do catch a ghost in your stream, you have to push the analog stick in the opposite direction, draining them of hitpoints until you capture them. This is aided by powerups you get throughout the game, in the form of “charges” (up to three) that build as you rodeo certain ghosts. A quick tap of A sends a burst of energy through your stream, draining significant energy from your target and, in some cases, removing their shields or items as they get more clever and arm themselves against you.

"Red Light, Green Light" is SERIOUS FUCKEN BUSINESS, HOMES!

“Red Light, Green Light” is SERIOUS FUCKEN BUSINESS, HOMES!

The other major mechanic is the Darklight device. As they always are, the Boos are back causing shit to be all messy, and being the bastards they are, decided to make some items in the environment invisible. Luckily, by shining the darklight on them, you can shoo the little invisibility…dust…things, out of the object, suck them up and make it tangible again. It’s a fun mechanic, and it adds to exploration (plus, the fact that sometimes a Boo comes out of the object gives incentive for completionists)

Actually, that’s the word at the heart of Dark Moon: Exploration. Every environment, from the mansion to the clockworks to your standard ice environment, are all sprawling and filled with stuff to vacuum, darklight and just generally wander around in. Discovering all the little nooks, crannies, safes, desks, cabinets, compartments and what have you hidden in each stage is easily the greatest joy it offers, and said spirit persists all the way to the last level.

Speaking of levels, be ready for a lot of them. There’s five worlds here, each with 3-5 stages in them, and each lasting 15-30 minutes. Dark Moon, for a handheld game, is a monster of a quest, clocking in at about 12-15 hours for the average gamer. And that’s if you just go through the game minus looking for any of the hidden gems, items or Boo locations. You’re definitely getting a shit-ton of content here for your buck.

A Pretty Bit of Scary

As far as its trappings go, the game is quite attractive. Light and shadows are used effectively, and character models are pleasing and well-animated. The animation in particular is a joy to behold, as the game’s slapstick sense of humor is well suited to the constantly quaking and shaking Luigi. He’s battered around, beaten, sprayed at, jumped on, dropped and generally handled all over in this game, and some of it is genuinely entertaining. E. Gadd is back, and just as memorably creepy as ever he was, with his childlike laugh and strangely infantile mannerisms. He acts as your mission control throughout your adventure, and you can always look forward to his “Cho-chototototototo” to greet you upon your return.

Ugh, he's like the palsied offspring of Doc Brown and Mesmero...

Ugh, he’s like the palsied offspring of Doc Brown and Mesmero…

Also entertaining are the ghosts, who all exhibit tons of personality in their animations and designs. From skinny, mischievous Greenies to the hulking Slammers, to more threatening Poltergeists and Possessor ghosts (the latter acting as world bosses, holding a shard of the Moon until you defeat them), they all are well-animated and lovable, in their own way, and are as responsible for the personality of the game as anything else.

Which is a good thing, because the game isn’t particularly hard…at all. Really. I died maybe three times throughout the game, and two of those were during the final boss, and even THAT was until I figured out how to beat him. Because of this lack of challenge, repetition becomes a bit of an issue at some points. You enter a mansion, oh look! You need to find a key. Better go two rooms over to find it. What, an item you need was stolen by the ghost dog? Old Yeller the fucker and get it back. The boss battles, thankfully, generally avoid this trap, with each one being memorable combinations of puzzle solving, reflex and rodeo work.

I think I just pooped a little...

I think I just pooped a little…

As this is a ghost story, be prepared for jump scares galore. Ghosts will pop out of any object to give you a little “boo!”, but of course it’s nothing our inner three-year-old can’t handle. Worth mentioning is game villain King Boo (say something about spoilers and I’ll eat your parents), who despite the subject matter of the game, is…shockingly intimidating. Seriously, he’s quite large, moves almost solely in the background, and with his black-set, manic purple eyes and more insane laugh, actually was responsible for two surprisingly effective scare moments. He’s not gonna send anyone under their sheets, but still, it was nice to have an effective, intimidating villain in a Marioverse game for a change.

The music, for what it was, was effectively enjoyable. Most tracks were permutations on the standard theme of the game, a memorably baroque piece of orchestration that plays whenever you’re in the bunker. Some of them kinda blend in, though, making for a rather unmemorable audio experience. Among the standouts, my favorites are a more lower-string-centric version that plays when you’re exploring the more densely riddled areas, and the quieter, more lilting remix that plays during the “snow world” stage, which even manages to be a little creepy in its own way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBSX6dGj-Q8

Team Ghoul

In what was a first for me, I actually played the multiplayer on this with James and Anthony (Suiko and Prota, respectively). The Scarescraper, as it’s called, allows you to choose five, ten or twenty-five floors of ghost hunting chaos and traverse them in one of three styles: Hunter, which is basically a timed version of the main game, but with bosses every fifth floor and uniquely equipped, vastly more difficult ghosts. Rush, which involves picking up time extenders so you can last until you find the exit. And Pulterpup mode, where you must follow tracks to find an (oddly adorable) ghost puppy running around the floor.

Overall, the various modes are indeed fun. Floors are well supplied with rooms, traps and items, and the time limit keeps things brisk. The only two problems are that the mode is quite difficult, and you’ll definitely need multiple friends to make any respectable dent on the higher difficulties, which at the same time is a welcome change from the breezy main game.

Shockingly few fights over who has to be pink...

Shockingly few fights over who has to be pink…

The other, more difficult issue, is the stability of the mode. We sampled all three modes in our testing, and all the times we lost (barring the first as we gathered our bearings), it was because of a glitch that manifested as an unwinnable obstacle. Each time, an item didn’t spawn, or an enemy didn’t appear, or even worse, some of us just disconnected in strange ways. I still recommend giving it a whirl, and in fact we’ve all agreed to run through it again in local multiplayer (hopefully a more stable connection will mean more consistency), but still, just be ready for the frustration…

*Resisted Ghostbusters Reference Here*

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a one-of-a-kind experience on Nintendo’s similarly unique handheld. It’s expansive, fun and brimming with charm and personality. It’s not a perfect game, not by a longshot, and it’s occasionally irritating. But I must admit, I kinda miss it now that it’s gone, and if it’s charm managed to ensnare me in its time, then odds are it’ll work its way under your skin too.

———————————————————————————————————-

The Breakdown

Playability: The game controls just fine, although some wonkiness with the vacuum here and there grated a bit. There’s a “jump while vacuuming” mechanic I never used, and making you unable to aim while charging a light burst is frustrating, but they are easily overcome issues. 16 out of 20

Graphics: Solid texture work married with great animations make this a great and entertaining visual experience. There are just enough enemy ghost types that the whole thing never goes bland, and Luigi’s timidity never ceases to make one smile. Tiny glitches here and there hold it back from perfection, but all in all it’s a purdy piece of work. 18 out of 20

Sound: Ghosts make the normal hoots and hollers you’d expect, the high-pitched giggles of the Boos is to be expected, and King Boo’s mad cackling is like a downpitched PeeWee Herman, which is as terrifying as it sounds. Music is good, if a bit repetitive, and serves its atmospheric purpose. Not bad, but not one of the classics either…13 out of 20

Gameplay: Ghostcatching never loses its entertainment, despite undergoing very little change in the game, and boss battles are interesting and unique. The game’s strength lies in its spirit of adventure, and exploration is a constant joy. The more varied scarescraper offers a wide variety of challenges, assuming you can make it work. 17 out of 20

Content: A truly mammoth little game, with expansive stages and lots of unlockables and collectibles in each. The multiplayer mode adds even more legs to the game, making for one hell of a package for the collecting enthusiast. 20 out of 20

Weight: No weight

Rounded Score: Spookily Fun, 8/10

Silver Award

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