Luigi’s mansion released in 2001 for the GameCube, and according to Wikipedia was the most successful GameCube launch title, with generally good reviews. It was a fun game that involved using a modified vacuum cleaner to suck up ghosts and it had several creative additions to the Mario world that persist even today in several different Mario games. It’s a game I am very fond of, even to this day, and it’s one that people hoped to see a sequel of at some point. This did eventually happen, with a 3DS title that was a direct sequel coming out in 2013.
Now, I didn’t go into Dark Moon wanting to hate it-I went in pretty excited! But As I went through mansion after mansion, the mission structure, the weaker level design due to multiple shallow mansions, the conceits and gameplay elements….I just began to find it bland. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a game that has done pretty well sales wise and is one that has gotten even better reviews in some arenas than even the original. However I find this to be something I cannot agree with, and here I’m going to do a review of sorts for both to point out the flaw’s I’ve found in Dark Moon and explain why its predecessor is far superior in my eyes.
Level layout and set-up
Luigi’s Mansion takes place in one large mansion-as you play and find new things, you slowly unlock the rest of the mansion and meet its unique denizens. A lot of special ghosts have designed rooms specifically for themselves to enjoy and it fits with their personalities leading to odd rooms and an odd layout for the mansion-about what you’d expect for a mansion ghosts crafted themselves. The set-up is pretty clever-Luigi and Mario are led to believe that they’ve won a contest for a mansion, and being the naïve sods they are, they take the bait hook line and sinker. This leads to Mario being caught by the ghosts, and forces the cowardly Luigi to venture through a terrifying mansion to save him. It’s a great set up that gives Luigi time to shine, and introduces Professor E. Gadd-a silly character who’s been pretty endearing in Nintendo games and who adds a fun spark to the proceedings.
Dark Moon has a different set that’s not bad either-Professor E. Gadd needs Luigi’s help after a mysterious artifact in the sky that pacifies ghosts and makes them friendly is shattered-making them aggressive and mean spirited. While not quite as clever as the first games set-up, that’s on the fact that a sequel by its nature can’t be. The subversion has already happened-no matter how good a sequel was going to be, that subversion has already been done. Still I do like the idea, even if I find it makes E. Gadd act a bit like a jerk in some ways-it gives a reason for Luigi to have to get involved and it shows a bit of a bond between the two that E. Gadd would go to him first. From there you have to go to multiple mansions, retrieve the parts of the Dark Moon and fix it before the ghosts spread out and cause more chaos elsewhere. However, the game makes the mistake of treading ground that has been covered and lazily uses King Boo again/has Mario kidnapped again. The charm that was ever present in the original feels like its missing here, and while there is some charm to be found in this game it just can’t compete with the original.
Now, Luigi’s Mansion took place in one mansion-meaning that the mansion became familiar and had new angles added as you unlocked new paths and found new rooms, deepening the experience and allowing some exploration. It also had things that modified how you had to get around or special events that forced you to deal with more dangerous conditions. Before a room was cleared, Luigi would be able to see his breath, the room would be actually be dark, and ghosts would drop in and disappear before appearing right before striking-keeping you on your toes. Ghosts also disappeared if you failed to snap them up, meaning they could reappear and cause trouble if you were trying to deal with other ghosts, and forcing some skillful use of the Poltergust3000/flashlight.
In Dark moon there are multiple mansions, with a few different missions in each one. This means that the mansion feels less like it’s getting unraveled and because of the shorter form nature of the game each mansion is pretty shallow. They feel less deliberately designed, laid out, and lack special ghosts that have made their own rooms to fit their personalities. Rooms are so bright even in the darkness that I would sometimes have a hard time telling if the room was dark or not, because you can see everything anyways. The experience in each mansion is shallow and as the game goes on and the same thing happens over and over it becomes predictable and boring.
The mansions lack the personality of the original one, and the depth of uncovering new areas or pathways, or dealing with special modifiers. Ghosts are also in the room all the time-meaning that if a ghost evades you, it’s still in the room and the unpredictability of it is lost. Luigi’s Mansion felt like a game that put effort into a spooky atmosphere-Dark Moon feels far more neutered and lighter, making its impact and charm be far less than the original.
Enemy and boss design
One of my major issues with Dark Moon is the poor enemy and boss design, and how repetitive it can get. Dark Moon has 3 types of ghost that are your primary bread and butter, and all of them look somewhat cutesy-which contrasts with the ghost design in Luigi’s mansion where the ghosts were generally ugly because of course they were, they’re evil ghosts. You also have some sub-ghosts that appear a couple of times-a fat ghost that pukes, a brain ghost, a dog ghost and boos. However, the unique ghosts are not nearly as often found as the normal type and said normal ghosts get spammed so much and so often you get tired of them quickly. Luigi’s mansion has a bevy of different ghosts with some having different colors to denote a slightly different variety and strength that its willing to throw at you during any encounter, and it will throw far more of them at you-because of the controls I suspect, which we’ll get into momentarily. The variety was better, the visual design was more interesting and the unique things that popped up were more interesting than in Dark Moon.
Additionally in Luigi’s mansion there are “portrait ghosts” scattered about, and serving as the bosses. These ghosts can be found in certain rooms that they’ve designed for themselves, ala a dad ghost in a library, clockwork soldier ghosts in a clockwork room and a ghost that likes showers….in a shower. These are more people like with some exceptions, making them a bit eerier and giving them some personality as well. Bosses generally transport you to an odd space that fits with their personality and set up, and allow no chance for escape. Some of them are even built up, and when you finally meet them they’re a big deal-as well as all of them being very distinct from each other.
In Dark Moon, there are no portrait ghosts and there is nothing to replace them. This saps out so much atmosphere and robs the game of another element from the original that helped make the original so good. Boos feel like they have less personality when they bother to show up, with their silly names in the original, and the bosses are poorly designed. Each one is just the same type of ghost with a different style of horn, and they possess things to serve as their vessel for a boss fight. Each fight lacks all personality as the ghosts have no build up, and don’t talk at all except for a later one-sapping the bosses of individuality and intrigue. I guess I can’t compare the final boss, since I lost the energy to beat a boss in Dark Moon that is a rip off of one from the original but done worse, but overall the boss design is lacking and another misstep.
Now we move onto controls, perhaps one of the bigger issues one could take with Dark Moon. Luigi’s Mansion combat worked well-you had two sticks available and could use it to properly aim at higher up threats, wrangle multiple ghosts and toggle your flashlight to catch the ghost. This requires timing and if you mess it up the ghost disappears and will reappear at a different spot in the room-which adds tension if you have to deal with other ghosts. Portrait ghosts will also throw mushrooms that will make you smaller and vulnerable to attack making combat trickier as you avoid them-heck there are even some normal ghosts that will throw things like banana peels to interfere with your capture.
Dark Moon controls differently-it uses the stick for movement and the gyro for aiming and it doesn’t work nearly as ideally. The flashlight system is gone, replaced with a flash that stuns ghosts-and should you miss out on catching them when stunned, they will turn invisible…and float away to a different part of the room making them easier to manage. The flashlight not toggling actually kind of bothers me-the ghosts are supposed to not like lights and so the flashlight proper should work fine but I admit this is a nitpick. This removes a bit of the skill required and the lower enemy amount, lower variety and such makes me believe several concessions had to be made to get combat to work on the 3DS. If I felt like this was done to work with the only control scheme that worked it would be something I could live with-but I feel like using the 4 letter keys as a pseudo analog stick and the direction for the button functions might have been a better compromise. Playing the original reminded me of how enjoyable it can be to control-especially compared to the subpar 3DS set up.
The sound design in Luigi’s mansion is great-the ghosts sound good, Luigi humming or whistling to keep himself calm is great, and the music design is just on point. The soundtrack is really enjoyable, the way it gets more oppressive as you go into dark rooms is brilliant and the sounds in dark rooms are great. The sound design on getting objects, things falling, hidden things appearing, things being shaken…it all just works.
Dark Moons music doesn’t work quite as well, but it’s charming in its own way and there’s some good tracks to be had. The sound design doesn’t feel as well implemented though, and I feel it’s a bit weaker but overall it’s still functional and I admit it’s a matter of personal preference.
Overall, Luigi’s Mansion-as stated above-was probably lightning in a bottle. It was a game that just worked far better than anyone might have expected it to, didn’t overstay its welcome and was oozing with charm. With its great design both visual and sound wise, the way it came out of nowhere and did something pretty new and different it was a game that has remained in people’s minds for a while. And to be fair perhaps it was something that could not have ever worked again-but people were open to it and it wasn’t a bad idea for Nintendo to try for it. Luigi’s Mansion is a great game that still holds up to this day-and if you haven’t tried it I highly recommend going out of your way to play it.
Dark Moon on the other hand is not a bad game, but it’s a mediocre one. The game has its own charms but it gets stretched out and eventually it’s not enough to mask the mediocrity underneath. The game feels less like a sequel and more like a game trotted out to capitalize on a beloved gem of a game and show off the 3DS’s unique features. So many missteps were made in its creation that it gets to the point where I wonder if the people who made it had any idea what made the original so charming and loved. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the game, and I’ve just given up on it near the end-maybe I will try to wrap it up but the prospect of playing it again fills me with meh.
The personality, the atmosphere, the visual design is just not present here and I hate that I feel this way-but I can’t help the way I feel. The controls are poor, the experience is shallow and split up to make it more digestible for handheld play and the team leads on the original are not the leads here-perhaps this game was destined to just be ok with those factors running against it. Overall I don’t hate it, but I do hate that it probably means we won’t see Luigi’s Mansion in the style of the game that started it all again-and I wish we had gotten better than just mediocre. You can probably skip this game, and go give the original another play through or two-that’s my plan.