Preview: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

We ain't afraid of no ghost!

There’s no denying that the 3DS was somewhat overshadowed by the Wii U during the holiday period and that it didn't quite have the packed software line-up it had enjoyed back in late 2011. Aside from Paper Mario: Sticker Star there wasn't a great deal for us to sink our teeth into, and things were made worse when the much anticipated Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was delayed until the New Year.

Thankfully 3DS owners can feel excited again because everyone’s favourite dungaree-wearing underdog will finally return in his own adventure this March. Luigi is back after more than 10 years out of the spotlight, and his new game—much like his trusty Poltergust 5000—looks set to suck you in with more spook-tacular gameplay. What’s more, it comes with a brand new multiplayer mode for you and your chums to enjoy.

We were recently invited down to Nintendo UK’s HQ to experience some of the game’s single-player mode and see for ourselves what ghoulishly good fun is in store for us when it releases in a couple of months.

Those who have played the first Luigi’s Mansion will be happy to know that Nintendo hasn’t deviated too much from the tried-and-tested gameplay formula which made that game an instant classic. Luigi has once again been enlisted by the curious Professor E. Gadd to clean up a series of ghost-infested mansions, and, as expected, he’s feeling just a tad apprehensive about it all.

The most striking thing about Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is just how much effort has gone into the overall presentation. Visually speaking, it’s stunning and one of the best-looking games we've seen on the 3DS so far. Each environment is incredibly detailed and utilises advanced lighting effects to create a great sense of atmosphere. It’s feels as if you’re playing the GameCube original, but on portable device and in full 3D. Of particular note are the physics; pots wobble precariously and curtains flail frantically every time you switch on your ghost-busting device.

However, the real achievement is found in the astonishing amount of character that Nintendo has managed to instil into the game. It’s stuffed full of comedic moments and isn't afraid to poke fun at itself. Luigi can take a peek into rooms through convenient holes in the wall, and this usually results in seeing a funny interaction between a cheeky bunch of ghosts on the other side. It’s incredibly endearing and we’re relieved that Nintendo hasn't moved too far away from what made the original so charming.

Stages are cleverly divided up into neat little sub-sections. During our playthrough, we got to experience some of the first mansion and it’s interesting how the game gradually eases you into your surroundings. In the first stage, we were confined to only a few rooms, but as we progressed, we were comfortably given a wider - yet manageable - area of operation. The stages build upon each other without making things so expansive that you end up feeling lost.

This is just as well, because the puzzles in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon can be surprisingly tricky. Without dishing out any spoilertastic information on the tasks themselves, it’s worth mentioning that this is a game where great attention to detail is imperative.

If you were worried about how the game would control without a second stick, you can put those fears to rest. Controlling Luigi feels incredibly natural with the 3DS circle pad, and the X and B buttons allow you to look up and down, acting as an effective substitute for the original’s second stick setup.

In combat though, things can get a bit tricky. Catching a ghost requires you to stun it with your Strobulb before you hoover it up. When doing this, your directional movement is extremely limited, meaning that with some ghosts you have to anticipate where they’re going to appear if you want any chance of catching them. It’s not something to truly worry about though; it’s still very playable and all the more challenging for it. In fact, we can’t help but think that this game is going to be surprisingly difficult in parts.

At the end of each stage, your overall performance is determined by how well you did in certain categories. For example: how many ghosts you sucked up, how long it took you to complete the stage and how much treasure you found along the way.

With regards to the latter, finding every last coin in a single stage isn't an easy task. In a way, you have to approach Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon a bit like a point-and-click game, meticulously checking all the objects and furniture in the room, while also keeping on the lookout for secret areas. If you’re a completionist, then this game will most definitely appeal to you, as there’s an awful lot to explore and find here.

Whether you’re a Luigi’s Mansion veteran or completely new to the series, it’s fair to say that there’s something for everyone in this new title. While we've yet to fully experience the remaining mansions or the multiplayer mode, if the small section that we have played is anything to go by then we’re all in for a treat when the game finally releases.

The good news is that Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon scares its way on to 3DS in North America on 24th March. An exact European release date has not yet been announced, but the game is expected to go on sale around the same time.