To me, the original Luigi’s Mansion was an excellent premise that could be something amazing if only the developers had taken a few extra steps (which likely were not made in order to make the launch date of the GCN). Lucky for me, as well as other Luigi fans, Miyamoto felt a need to revisit Luigi’s inner ghost-hunter on the 3DS with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, as he thought such ghost-hunting escapades were particularly well suited for three-dimensional gaming. And I must say this: his intuition was definitely right. This is most certainly a game that you will want to play with the 3D slider all the way up.
The first thing that anyone can notice while playing Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is how well the mischievous apparitions pop from the screen, adding a great sense of atmosphere, while the wonderful score completes the perfect sense of ambiance. Indeed, above all else that can be said of Dark Moon, it represents one of the best examples of Nintendo’s mastery in production. All at once, the game presents one of the quirkiest and eeriest environments, that is somehow cute and wholly Nintendo at the same time. This is quite an impressive feat, even for Nintendo, as the game takes the extra step to provide greater variety in offering 5 mansions to explore. I won’t speak much on specifics for spoiler’s sake, but even though the game first introduces you with a rather classic mansion, expect some frigid and steam-punk like surprises along your journey!
Yet, although the mansion settings are indeed engaging, it is Luigi who is truly the star. Luigi’s fearful, yet clumsily heroic personality has never been better portrayed. Just as in the original Luigi’s Mansion, Mario’s other half hesitantly “accepts” each mission in fright, as Dr. E. Gadd (who make’s his return) gleefully cackles as Luigi is beamed away from his lab. Inside the estates themselves, Luigi hums along with the music, dances when he succeeds, and gets into all sorts of trouble while searching for ghosts and gold (from getting splashed in the face by a fountain, to falling on his butt after sucking up some toilet paper, and more).
Yes, if you are at all a Luigi fan, than all you need to know is that this game is for you! But, so far all that has been said has been about the game’s personality and ambience, so what about gameplay and story? The story here is really only there to make sense of the game’s premise of hunting ghosts once more: Dr. E. Gadd’s friendly ghost workers have gone crazy since an artifact known as the Dark Moon has been broken and are now running amuck in the mansions across Evershade Valley. Due to his excellence in combating specters for him in the past, Dr. E. Gadd calls upon Luigi once again to retrieve the Dark Moon, determine who is behind the problem, and restore peace to Evershade Valley.
To me, the story is somewhat a throw-away for most games like this because it is the gameplay (and in this case, the ambience) that truly shines. Thankfully, the gameplay in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon does not disappoint, as it has been significantly improved over the original. As with the Gamecube title, the gameplay generally involves puzzle solving, treasure collecting, and exploration, with a good amount of ghost hunting mixed in. Although the puzzles are more involved (thanks to the new dark-light device, which reveals items hidden in the spectral realm), it is the combat that has seen the most improvement. This time around, Luigi has to manually flash each ghost with his flash-light (which can be charged for a longer stun) by using the A button prior to sucking up the ghastly ghouls. Moreover, as you progress in the game you will unlock upgrades to his vacuum which will allow for some burst-damage by enabling a strong suction for a brief moment after the vacuum has been sufficiently charged. These changes make each “kill” feel satisfying and fun, no matter how many enemies you capture – and there are plenty of enemy ghosts. In fact, although it first appears like there are relatively few varieties of foes, the same archetypes will come back donning different equipment, or even dressed as mummies, which provide additional challenges and flare. Additionally, Nintendo thought enough to include hidden missions that primarily involve timed combat rushes, and even a cooperative (online and local) battle tower (which in my opinion is merely a short distraction that I did not play long, though some may find this a longer time-killer).
Now, although by now I may have painted this game as being one of Nintendo’s greatest pieces for the year (which it may very well be), I did have a number of gripes with the game. For one thing, you might have noticed that I so far have said little about the aspects of exploration and treasure hunting, which were key to the original title. In transferring Luigi’s Mansion from a console to a handheld, Nintendo apparently felt the need to adjust the pace of the game to a mission layout so that the game could be enjoyed in smaller tidbits. That is, rather than being able to explore each mansion on your own as you please, each site is given a number of missions (usually 5 regular, 1 boss, and 1 secret) in which you are given a specific goal, after which is completed you are unwillingly (and without warning) sent back to E. Gadd’s bunker. Moreover, not all parts of a mansion are accessible in any one mission, and some missions can be quite frustrating to play through again (especially those involving a spectral dog). I can understand why smaller portions of enjoyment would be desired on a handheld versus a console, but I do not think that a mission design is particularly suited to Luigi’s mansion (not to mention that some missions can lost as long as 20-30 minutes!). I would have much rather seen an option to explore each mansion as you please, and have either an option to save at all times or at least a savepoint (rather, save room) system.
Finally, I must close my review by mentioning a bit about the treasure hunting. As with the first game, each mansion is filled with coins, gold bars, and gems alike. Gems are given a particularly prominent role, as you are treated to a gleeful animation each time Luigi comes across one of these well-hidden prizes. However, beside the flash-light, dark-light, and vacuum upgrades which these will help you acquire (which you will do far before you finish the second mansion) there is really no incentive to collecting money. Collecting all gems in a level will reward you with a golden Luigi statue in E. Gadd’s vault, but the gold and coins literally serve no purpose once your upgrades are acquired, unlike in the first game where the amount of money you earned throughout the game was at least rewarded with a different mansion image at the end of the credits. All in all, I felt that hurt the game’s level of replayability, but thankfully hunting for hidden boos (which unlocks secret missions) and the new three-star ranking system for each mission help make up for this lost opportunity.
The year 2013 will sure go down in Nintendo history as marking the Year of Luigi, starting with the wonderful Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. In the end, the 12 to 15 hours that the main story will last you are cute, incredibly fun, and allow Luigi’s personality to thoroughly shine. However, the game is inevitably held back from its awkward mission design and lack of meaningful incentives (or even purpose) for hunting treasure. Many will put the game down after one play-through, but for those who are inclined the new mission rating system and online Scarescraper mode will provide further enjoyment to be had. However, if you at all a Luigi fan, I strongly urge you to get this now to enjoy his personality alone.