It may not be grabbing the headlines at the moment, but a notable anniversary has just passed: September 14th was the 10th anniversary of the release of Luigi’s Mansion in Japan. With the sequel due to arrive on 3DS in 2012, Downloads Editor Corbie Dillard and writer Jacob Crites have taken up the challenge of exploring Luigi’s ghosts of past and future.
The ghosts of Luigi’s past – Jacob Crites
Games don't get better or worse with age. We age; gamers age. When you hear someone say that a game, or a facet of a game has 'aged poorly,' like the camera system in Super Mario 64 for example, what that person really means is that their expectations, tolerances and tastes have changed. The same goes for when people say that a game has ‘aged well’. Games aren't wine. Our cartridges and discs don't slowly tweak and refine their gameplay mechanics to perfection as they collect dust on the shelf.
So the next time you hear somebody say “Man, I didn't care for Luigi's Mansion when it came out but it's sure gotten better with age!” you can politely tell them that they're an idiot. Luigi's Mansion has always been an awesome game. But when it first came out, its reception was lukewarm at best, and practically nobody was begging for a sequel. So what changed? What turned what many saw as a lacklustre launch title into a beloved cult-classic with a dedicated fan-base?
We changed. Our expectations changed; and the reason why most people's expectations were unmet when the game initially launched is quite simple: it was a Nintendo launch title that didn't have the words Super Mario in the title. Luigi's Mansion wasn't a Mario game. In fact, it was almost the antithesis to a Mario game: where Mario games are fast, bright and colourful, Luigi's Mansion was slow, dark and ambient. While Mario swiftly and confidently leaps through the air with highly-tuned precision, Luigi shuffled around nervously and clumsily, not to mention he couldn't even jump thanks to the huge vacuum cleaner strapped to his back. Mario and Luigi may be brothers, but gameplay-wise, Luigi's Mansion's closest relative was The Legend of Zelda, and that's really only because the game has you collecting a lot of keys. The truth is that Mansion didn't play like anything that had come before.
In some regards that's to be expected, given that it was a launch title of a brand-new console. Luigi's Mansion is often written off as a tech demo, and that's not entirely untrue - it was, in fact, a demonstration of what the GameCube and its respective controller were capable of. But what separates Mansion from the usual tech-demo-itis is that it tied together all of these technological showcases in a cohesive and often charming, heart-warming way. Luigi's flashlight wasn't just a step forward in lighting effects - it was integral to the gameplay experience, and made exploration a blast. The Poltergust 3000 wasn't just a great way to show off an impressive physics engine or the benefits of pressure-sensitive triggers and duel-analogue control - it was a fun and imaginative way to interact with the game world. Seeing Luigi get flattened like a piece of paper by a door, or seeing his fear-stricken face stretch to hilarious proportions when confronted with a ghost wasn't just an example of the impressive character animations the GameCube could render - it was, to quote our review, a means of transforming Luigi from “Mario's bland pallet-swap into a hilarious and lovable individual with a distinct personality.”
The incredible attention to detail and amount of interactivity available in a fairly confined space is still impressive, even if the tech behind it no longer is. Being able to interact with every tablecloth, cup and cupboard with the vacuum cleaner encourages thorough exploration of this unique world, and the creepy, ill-lit and claustrophobic art-direction makes the Mansion amongst the most unique locations in Nintendo's already-impressive catalogue. Simply put, seeing such an unabashedly cartoonish character reacting to such an unabashedly disturbing environment is still hilarious and compelling.
The reason why so many now look back on this game with such admiration is because they now go into it with the pre-existing consensus that it’s ‘not-so-great’. Luigi's Mansion no longer has to kick off a generation of console gaming; it merely has to entertain us. Not to mention, we're in a time now where genuinely inspired, creative gameplay is more widely sought-after and appreciated. The last generation of consoles, especially the early years when Luigi's Mansion first launched, was more about refinement than anything else. Better graphics, a more versatile controller and more impressive technology were grabbing attention. However, other than the implementation of dual-analogue controls for first person shooters and some rudimentary online gameplay, truly groundbreaking innovation was limited, and not always financially successful. It seemed that gamers didn't want Super Mario Sunshine. They wanted Super Mario 64 with next-generation graphics. By the same token plenty of gamers didn't want Luigi's Mansion. They wanted...well, Super Mario 64 with next-generation graphics. The recent Retro Renaissance brought on by games like Mega Man 9 and Cave Story has taught gamers to look back on older games with a keener eye. Luigi's Mansion can now be appreciated, perhaps not as ground-breaking, but simply as an incredibly charming and genuinely unique game.