You know how the old saying goes: “Just when you are putting the supernatural events that happened to you 12 years ago behind you, a zany scientist calls you in the middle of the night and you will once again find yourself battling paranormal phenomenon with a vacuum cleaner and a flashlight.” Oh, you’ve never heard that saying? Weird…my great great great grandmother had it cross-stitched on a sampler above her fireplace. I don’t think Luigi had ever heard it either, because he certainly looked surprised and reluctant when the opening events of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon were unfolding.
The game opens up with Professor E. Gadd asking Luigi to help restore peace to Evershade Valley. There was an artifact known as the Dark Moon that kept the spirits residing in the valley subdued and happily living out their afterlife, but that item has been stolen. Gadd re-equips Luigi with his updated Poltergust 5000, which is a vacuum cleaner designed to capture and contain ghosts. Luigi, while trembling in his boots, vehemently opposes this notion but the Professor seems to think “no” means “yes” and thrusts poor Luigi into a valley of haunted mansions anyway.
Gameplay: Ghost bustin’
Playing the original Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube required a player to move Luigi with the left analog stick, and then use the right one to pull the Poltergust in the opposite direction the ensnared ghost was moving in order to weaken it and eventually suck it up. A lot of people were concerned that a CirclePad Pro would be required to fully enjoy the game, but the developers have tweaked the control scheme enough to where that isn’t the case. To capture a ghost, you must first use the A button to trigger the flashlight’s strobe function to stun the ghost. Then you initiate the Poltergust’s suction with the R button and use the CirclePad to move Luigi away from the ghost. A meter above Luigi’s head fills up as this is going on, and once it’s full you can press A to give the ghost a good tug and lower it’s hit points more quickly. Imagine you are fishing, but the fish is mostly invisible, flying around, and is trying to kill you while you reel it in. The mechanic works well, and it won’t take long for players to adjust to only having one CirclePad.
Gameplay: Puzzle solvin’
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is not just a game about grabbing ghosts, but it is also pretty heavily laden with puzzles. They’re usually a puzzle that involves manipulating the room or area you’re in by finding hidden objects or doors so you can proceed to the next room. A lot of the puzzles will likely leave you scratching your head for a while, but don’t worry; the solution was probably standing right in front of your face the whole time. You will have to be a fast thinker though if you want to get the maximum rating for each mission (which you can keep replaying until you get a score you’re happy with), because the amount of time it takes you to finish a mission weighs heavily on the grade you’re given at the end. A lot of puzzles make use of the new Dark Light attachment to the Poltergust’s built-in flashlight. Shining it on hidden objects reveals them and makes it possible for Luigi to interact with them. For example, the key you need to progress may be hidden in a vase you can’t see until it gets a good dose of Dark Light. Some puzzles were very challenging, but any lack of success was usually pretty easy to attribute to not being observant enough.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon offers both local multiplayer (either two game cards or a limited mode via Download Play) and online multiplayer (either with friends or worldwide). At the time of writing this review, there were not very many people playing online yet, so expect a follow-up later that focuses on this aspect of the game. However, we did get some online time in with people playing the Rush Mode. All players split up to find the exit for the floor of the ScareScraper they’re on. With only 30 seconds to start with, a feeling of panic can immediately set in, but collecting watches as you play adds 10 seconds to the shared clock.
The visuals in the game are clean and crisp, and styled in a way the is cute which is good if there are any children in the household that will play. Unfortunately, the 3D effect isn’t so crisp and it seemed impossible to find that “sweet spot” for a sharp and solid 3D image. Add to that the fact that you must move the 3DS to precisely aim the Poltergust, and playing with the 3D on at all feels pointless. It seems though that most 3DS owners don’t particularly care if a game is in 3D or not, so playing the game in 2D all the time feels just fine. What really makes the game stand out visually are the little touches, like the way Luigi’s flashlight flares if you point straight forward at the player, or the way Luigi pats his pockets looking for his DS when the Professor calls him.
The sound design was handled in much the same way; there are some great themes you will be humming around the house for days, but it is the tiny details that make the game sound so delightful. Playing the game with headphones on not only allows you to bypass the 3DS’s shoddy internal speakers, but it lets you hear which side of the room a ghost is in even if you can’t see it yet. As Luigi is exploring each level, there will be times when he starts humming along to the theme, and his DS plays a clever dance remix of the game’s main theme when it rings. It’s all of these little touches that will leave you with a smile on your face as you’re playing.
Luigi may have been reluctant to begin a new adventure with Professor Gadd, but once you get into the swing of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon you’ll be glad he did. The challenging environmental puzzles and fun ghost grabbing gameplay are wrapped up with some nice visuals and awesome sound work to make a package that you’ll have a hard time putting down. Add to that the value of online multiplayer and you’ve got one of the first “must-have” titles to hit the 3DS in a long time. I just wish my great great great grandmother could put down her cross stitching long enough to work through the ScareScraper with me.
Pros: This game is just pure fun, period. You would have to try REALLY hard to play it and not be completely delighted.
Cons: While it was pretty disappointing to see the blurry 3D (it’s awfully late in the 3DS’s life cycle for that), it wasn’t necessary to play the game or enjoy it fully.
Value: With the amount of time it takes to initially complete each level, plus the added replay value of improving your score and tackling the ScareScraper in multiplayer mode, $40 seems like a steal.
Verdict: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a game that will likely cause some strife in a family, because it’s so good no one is going to want to share it.