About ten years ago, I borrowed the original Luigi's Mansion from a friend to see what a game starring my favorite of the Mario Bros. was all about. I'll put it this way: it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my gaming history up to that point. I swear, I investigated every square inch of that mansion and still couldn't figure out what to do next. You know that trick you use to get out of a maze where you make all right turns? I did that… and I still ended up vowing to never play it again. Fast forward to the present day and the surprise 3DS sequel, though similar to its predecessor in many ways, was one that I had been cautiously optimistic about. Turns out, there's no reason for caution here; Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is the fresh air I was hoping it to be.
Like the first game, Luigi must investigate a haunted mansion to absorb a variety of ghosts with the Poltergust 5000, a high-tech ghost hunting device that also happens to be a vacuum cleaner. Whereas the first game was about rescuing Mario, this time around Luigi's quest revolves around clearing multiple mansions, each with a unique theme, to retrieve fragments of the Dark Moon, an object that, when incomplete, makes the ghosts of Evershade Valley turn hostile. It's a cartoony plot complimented by cartoony animations and dialogue that is frequently charming and even funny. In-game, it's just a shame the 3D doesn't seem to contribute much in determining how close or far something is.
Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who remembers the first one. The core of Dark Moon remains using your flashlight to stun ghosts and sucking them up with your Poltergust, although your flashlight can now be charged up for a more widespread effect. A second flashlight, the Dark Light, can be used to reveal hidden objects and pathways. This time around, there's a bigger focus on solving puzzles and, using these three tools, developer Next Level Games has come up with plenty of scenarios to keep the game fresh and your mind thinking. I'll say this: defeating the first boss in a Rube Goldberg-like fashion is one of my personal highlights for Dark Moon. My lowlight: tilt controls that take me out of the 3D sweet spot. Thankfully, the circle pad serves the same function almost every time and they're only forced when Luigi has to maintain his balance on something. In these cases, keeping the 3DS in the sweet spot usually gets the job done anyway.
Some of the puzzles are fairly easy and can be solved simply by interacting with the environment until something happens. Others fall under that category of "rack-your-brain-for-half-an-hour-and-see-obvious-solution," but as frustrating as they can be, they're ultimately satisfying because you figured them out on your own. There could've been plenty more of these if Professor E. Gadd had a shred of trust in you. He's not 100% useless like Fi from Skyward Sword, but so many times, the game clearly communicates what you need to do next, only to have E. Gadd verbally reiterate your objective. Some ghosts just ran off with gears that I need to operate a machine? Cool. I'll just hunt them down and retrieve the gea- [cue E. Gadd here to tell you the exact thing you just deduced]. If this weren't still happening to me roughly 75% of the way through the game, I may not have complained about it.
Additionally, you may find golden bones hidden in a vase or a dresser somewhere in each mansion. These act as Continues, should your life ever be drained completely. Dark Moon isn't so difficult that you should find yourself relying on these very often, but you probably would be were it not for the abundance of hearts. Not counting one particular boss who was beyond frustrating, I've died only twice.
However many more times I Game Over before the end, I'll have plenty of reason to jump back into each of the mansions. Have I fully upgraded my Poltergust? Have I found all the bonus games? Where are those collectible gems I'm missing? How did I miss that ghost for my Vault collection? Where's that last Boo I didn't find in the second mansion and what's the bonus level I unlock when I get them all? Answering these questions is made super easy with each mansion being divided up into easily-replayable chapters, a boss fight, and the previously-mentioned bonus level.
If you're not into the 100% completion gig, multiplayer is an alternative way to get some more mileage out of Dark Moon. You and three other Luigis (seriously, why couldn't it be all four plumbers?) scour the ScareScraper one floor at a time to clear out all the ghosts, find the exit before time runs out, hunt down ghost dogs, or have the objective vary per level. Upon completion of whichever mission you're on, four red coins are scattered throughout the floor and if you all gather them before time runs out, a Roulette wheel is spun to grant a random powerup to a random player. If one didn't fall to you, you can still rummage through the next floor to find one for yourself, so long as you don't find a controls-reversing curse instead. It's weird, but I would almost compare it to an arcade beat ‘em up, just with combat that involves vacuums and flashlights.
I think my biggest problem with the multiplayer is that there's just not much of a good reason to do the optional fishing about for powerups since you're practically guaranteed not to be rewarded for it. Ninety-percent of the time, you'll find a big ol' sack of nothing hiding in that invisible pot, so the primary objective is almost always the only objective you should be concerned with. It ranks you at the end of each round, so why not have fountains of money come pouring out of that safe like it does in single player? Don't hear me say that it isn't fun; it's thoroughly enjoyable, but it could pull off the Nintendo-style competitive co-op thing better than it actually does. If it weren't for the fact that I'm using a digital download to review this game, I'm not sure that I'd find myself swapping out Mario Kart 7 for Dark Moon for my multiplayer fix in the long term.
The gaming climate isn't quite the same now as it was when the first Luigi's Mansion was released. If anything, this works in the game's favor as concepts like hunting ghosts with your friends using vacuum cleaners is even less likely to be realized by anybody except Nintendo. I'm not even on the last mansion yet and I've already put somewhere around 10 hours into the game and intend to put in more to finish it up and go back to multiplayer since the game should be available to everyone a couple days after this review is posted. Share the game with your friends, too; for some reason, the Download Play feature grants the entire multiplayer experience to other 3DS owners, online play and all. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to get a lantern through a portal to melt a block of ice containing the key I need to unlock a door that will lead me to the ghost holding on to a piece of a pinwheel that will open up the way to the boss. Or something like that.
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