Deep in the dimly lit bowels of Japanese arcades lurks a surprisingly wonderful new first person shooter (sucker?) with an unlikely arcade hero.
It's not surprising that Luigi is running the show this time around. After all he's saved Mario from the notorious King Boo on two separate occasions at this point. The surprise comes in the fact that Nintendo decided to bring Luigi into the arcades in a light-gun-powered ghost-snaring FPS.
In November of last year beta cabinets of the Luigi's Mansion Arcade - though it's simply called Luigi Mansion Arcade, as per the Japanese naming convention - started showing up in random gaming locations across Japan. No one knew much about the new title, except that it had been crafted by the fine folks at both Nintendo and Capcom for a completely fresh arcade experience. It wasn't just a port of a pre-existing game.
I'll admit that after its initial reveal during the holidays it completely fell off my radar. While I've been a huge fan of the first two Luigi's Mansion entries, an arcade version just didn't sound like it would be very appealing to me. And when would I ever be in Japan?
Turns out this summer is when.
My wife and I jetted off on a two-week visit to the video game motherland at the start of July, and we set off to find some of Japan's well-known arcade hotspots. Luigi's Mansion was one of the first cabinets I saw as I we rode the elevator up to the third floor of the giant Round One building in northern Kyoto. I was rather excited, as the game had slipped my mind when I was compiling a list of arcade exclusives to test during my visit.
There are plenty of titles that never see the light of day outside the Land of the Rising Sun, and a good chunk of them are arcade builds. Sometimes they're too unique to the world of Japan and sometimes they're just not worth the time and effort, considering the lack of legitimate arcades elsewhere in the world. I doubt we'll ever see Luigi's Mansion Arcade in the West, but here's hoping.
The first thing that you'll notice about the Luigi's Mansion Arcade cabinet is that it's enormous. It has to be, to fit two adult humans with enough room to flail around with vacuums. That's right, the game has real Poltergust 5000 models waiting inside for you to handle. It's definitely one of the best and most solidly built arcade peripherals I've ever had the pleasure of handling. But more on that later.
Each vacuum handle is equipped with two main buttons, the top for charging your flashlight blast and the bottom for sucking up misbehaving specters. There's also a special button located apart from the controller that you can hit to throw a stun bomb. My wife and I called it the "everything is going wrong" button, because we would only mash it if the amount of ghosts on screen got to a catastrophic level.
Not knowing any Japanese, I can't begin to tell you any of the on-screen prompts that were being given, but once you dropped 100 yen in the machine it gave you the choice of starting a new adventure or running through a tutorial with Professor E. Gadd. The controls in Luigi's Mansion Arcade are far from complicated, but I decided to let E. Gadd give me an overview.
Lining up with the previous two Luigi's Mansion titles, Arcade has a similar setup, just from a different perspective. Players use flashlight blasts to stun ghosts and destroy small enemies and use their vacuum to collect coins/objects nearby and suck in paranormal baddies. Being an on-the-rails FPS, the designers working on Arcade have definitely downplayed the puzzle aspects and focused more on ghost busting.
Playing through the tutorial made one thing apparent - the vacuum controller was the star of the show. It was phenomenal. Absolutely the best light gun I've ever used in my long gaming career (sorry Super Scope). The real reason it shines so brightly is the attention to detail that is used when performing the key Luigi's Mansion actions. When you charge your flashlight you can feel the controller's vibrations building up with the charge and die out with the flash. When you grab a ghost in your vacuum stream you feel the pull when he switches directions or break free. The best part for me was the coins. When you suck them in a little mechanism inside the controller pounds the inside, making you feel the heft of an actual giant gold coin rushing into your vacuum. It's extremely immersive for such a silly game.
As I mentioned above, the game takes a much more linear route, due to the player's lack of character control beyond aiming. This means that the game has to give you options as to which room you would like to investigate next. After all, you're going through an enormous mansion, not some dinky apartment. Sometimes you have no choice and sometimes you have to clear both rooms before moving on, though more often than not you simply skip one and move forward towards the games final rooms.
The multiplayer aspect of the title is also a strong point. Dark Moon had some fantastic multiplayer action and it's nice to see Nintendo give the arcade version the option for a second player. I was a bit worried we would be clanking our vacuums together, but due to the very precise calibrations of the controllers it was never an issue. I was impressed with the very slight learning curve as well. My wife had never played a Luigi's Mansion game before, but she picked up the controls instantly and out-played me on a few occasions.
After a few rounds of multiplayer and a go in the single player campaign I finally had the bright idea to record my wife playing for a bit. She takes over from me in the middle of the game and doesn't get far, but it's a good example of how the game works in the grand scheme of things.
Sadly we never made it to the end to defeat that rascal King Boo. I sincerely hope the game is at least tested in foreign markets, as I think it would be a hit in a place such as Dave and Buster's (who are going to be giving Pokken Tournament a trial run). I'd also like to point out that the arcade set up would work perfectly with a Wii Remote and sensor bar. They could even tailor the rumbles to match up with the incoming coins and ghosts just like in cabinet. I'd certainly buy it if it came to the Wii U.
Luigi's Mansion Arcade will go down as the most enjoyable and surprising games I got my hands on while in Japan, and that's no easy feat. If you ever find yourself in the Land of the Rising Sun I highly recommend you seek it out.