Despite all of the credit it deserves, the original Luigi's Mansion was a very basic experience, which alienated gamers who were left wanting more. Nintendo fans decried everything from the simplicity, to the lack of replay value, to the lack of variety in the game's mechanics.
Thankfully, Dark Moon expands upon the tried-and-true, fun formula of the original and in just about every way transcends it.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
Developer: Next Level Games
Release: March 24, 2013
The peaceful Evershade Valley is in turmoil after the Dark Moon, a magical artifact that keeps ghosts docile, is shattered. Whether he wants to or not, it's up to reluctant hero Luigi to suit up and help the eccentric Professor E. Gadd to set things right. This time around, there are five mansions to explore to the original's one, as you gather up pieces of the moon and bust as many ghosts as you can find.
Like the first game, the general feel of Dark Moon reminds me of a lighthearted classic Resident Evil. Dark Moon tasks you with roaming around various spooky locales in a mission-based format and kind of lets you have at them, with tons of optional nooks, crannies, and items at your disposal. While it isn't exactly an open-world in any sense like the GameCube classic, the game's extremely varied mansions manage to keep things interesting and make you feel like they're bigger than they really are.
Luigi will have to capture specters the old-fashioned way -- by sucking them up in his trusty Poltergust 5000 vacuum thingamajig. But this time, it's simply not enough to shine a light in a ghost's face to stun them. Ghosts have to be prepped for vacuuming with the new stroboscope -- which is basically a flashlight/strobe-light combo attachment -- before you can "wrangle" them in. If you've played the Luigi's Mansion minigame in Nintendo Land, you're familiar with the basic process minus the vacuuming.
Instead of the "Game Boy Horror" assistance device from the original, Luigi sports a Nintendo DS communicator, with serves as both a walkie-talkie and a map for the bottom of your 3DS. Thankfully, Dark Moon makes great use of the 3DS' second screen and it feels like a natural fit.
Once you've finally set foot in your first mansion, things may feel a bit overly simplistic. You'll search drawers, chests, and other objects for ghosts, then bust them. But once you get the dark light (an alternate flashlight that can highlight hidden dark matter objects -- think Ocarina of Time's Lens of Truth), puzzles start to open up a bit, as you switch between interacting with objects, looking at every square inch of a room, vacuuming, lighting, and dark lighting. Later levels will have more action-oriented sequences seamlessly incorporated into the stage.
The game's missions are fairly varied, in that sometimes you'll be hunting different enemy types (like spiders), solving puzzles, and fighting boss characters. There's a solid variety of ghosts to catch, all of which force you to utilize one of the many tricks you have up your sleeve. Some ghosts have protective sunglasses that have to be sucked up, some swing swords and can only be hit after they're vulnerable, and others have to be exposed by the dark light before capture.
The tone of the game is mostly lighthearted and adorable. If you have any shred of humanity, you won't be able to hold in your chuckles as you play Dark Moon. Simply put, the game is charming, and showcases Luigi's likeability to an amazing degree. Next Level Games and Nintendo channel their inner slapstick as Luigi is constantly tossed and thrown around like a rag doll, but all the while, you're rooting for him.
Visually, Dark Moon looks crisp and colorful on the 3DS, with the ghosts being a particular high point. The 3D is subtle and not overpowering, and augments the game quite a bit, especially when you're close to walls and can see the translucent effects. If I had one complaint, it would be that the menus feel decidedly cheap and "non-Nintendo" in presentation, which can be jarring when juxtaposed to the brilliant graphics.
If you're into extras, there's an item vault, a bestiary compendium, and a heap of collectibles to find across the five mansions. Although you can complete the game in around five to ten hours, you'll spend considerably more time going for a full 100% completion rate. Of course, that might still not be enough for some people. Thankfully, there's a lot more on offer here.
Once you progress through the story a bit, you'll unlock the game's fairly robust multiplayer component, dubbed "The ScareScaper." There's options for local, download (which allows you to beam a condensed version of the game to a friend who doesn't have it), and online play. For the purposes of this review, I was able to test out both the download and online modes, and I'm happy to report that they're fully featured, and worth playing again and again.
All four gametypes are pretty standard -- Hunter (catch all the ghosts), Rush (find the exit before time runs out), Polterpup (hide and seek with enemy ghost dogs), and Surprise (randomizes one gametype per floor). But despite how simple they sound on paper, they offer a ton of replay value.
The really cool thing about ScareScraper is that you don't even need other players to try it -- you can go solo if you want. For every type of player from casual to hardcore, there are three difficulty levels, which range from "doable solo" to "um, you really should bring four people."
What this means is Dark Moon's multiplayer is entirely tailored to your liking. Whether or not you want to do a quick Normal five-floor Hunter playthrough for a bus trip, or a buckle down for a 25-floor (or endless) Expert run with three other experienced ghost hunters is entirely up to you. The more people you bring, the more varied the level will be.
Curses, randomly generated elements, and other hazards keep things interesting and fun, helping to ensure that you have a different experience every time. You can also earn cash in multiplayer to apply towards your main game, and earn competitive MVP awards for bragging rights during each round. The action is fluid, and never drops its framerate in any noticeable manner even with multiple players in the same room.
One of my favorite subtle elements in multiplayer is the ability to ping anywhere on the map with a quick tap. Even with a lack of voice chat, I was able to tell my partners exactly where to go with a fast real-time finger tap while fighting off some ghosts. It takes advantage of the 3DS hardware in a great way without resorting to forced, hamfisted design.
In many ways, Dark Moon's ScareScraper is one of the best multiplayer modes I've ever played. There's so much variety to it, and the formula of combining the cooperative nature with competitive, playful elements is genius. My wife and I couldn't stop playing, and every time I had friends over who owned a 3DS, I beamed a download play version to their portables for a quick few rounds.
If Dark Moon was just a single-player experience, it would have been a fleeting, yet enjoyable adventure. But with the addition of an infectious multiplayer element that can't be replicated anywhere else, it makes Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon even better than its predecessor, and one of the clear-cut best games on the 3DS.
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