Review: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

This game must be possessed

Nintendo has proclaimed 2013 to be "The Year of Luigi": a long overdue celebration of Mario's underdog brother. There are already a few Luigi-themed (or at least partially related) releases to come later in the year, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Japanese games giant had a few more projects tucked up its sleeve. It's a good time to be a fan of the man in green.

And what better way to kick off the festivities than with a sequel to Luigi's most important gaming adventure to date? Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon may be a 3DS title, but it has clearly been developed to offer an entertaining action-adventure experience to mirror that of original GameCube classic. The end result is a worthy and authentic follow-up, and one of the finest titles we've seen yet on the system.

It’s impressive just how much effort has been put into Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon's presentation. This is undoubtedly one of the best-looking games on the system — if not the very best. The environments are crammed full of detail, the physics are spot on and the lighting effects outclass anything else seen on 3DS thus far; of particular note are the character models, which not only look silky smooth, but are also superbly animated.

This is all further boosted by the game's exceptional storytelling. The plot is undeniably simple: Luigi has been drafted in yet again by the peculiar Professor E. Gadd to rid various mansions and creepy locations of ghosts and ghouls. Yet, it's the frequent dialogue between Gadd and Luigi that really brings the game to life; it's superbly written and there are some genuinely funny moments that all age groups will enjoy. Luigi's character is portrayed flawlessly and, ironically, he's a much stronger lead here than Mario has ever been. That's because he’s far more emotive, no doubt due to the fact that he’s constantly terrified throughout the game, and forever suffering at the hands of his own clumsiness. Nevertheless, he's a hero in the non-traditional sense and you can't help but want to root for him.

This game's biggest achievement, however, is it’s single-player experience, which is exceptionally well-structured. Each of the game's ghoulish locations is neatly divided up into manageable stages that typically take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. But don't worry, this doesn't mean that everything is done on a small scale; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Essentially, you start with exploring a certain area within the first stage, and as you progress everything begins to open up at a gradual and manageable pace. As a result, it's very difficult to get lost because everything is familiar to you by the time you reach the boss fight at the end. The map on the bottom screen also does a great job of pointing you in the right direction and giving you clear objectives; you never feel overwhelmed, and this allows you to focus on the finer details.

Having more than one location to explore is a big plus, and it goes a long way towards keeping the experience fresh throughout. Each area presents new challenges — many of which require you to think outside of the box — and you're constantly given varied objectives to complete. This is further complemented by the game's combat sections, which are surprisingly challenging at times. Busting ghosts sounds simple enough: stun them with your Strobulb and then give them a good hoovering. However, some of the pesky ghouls come armed with an array of weapons and defences (such as sunglasses), while others are just incredibly tough. The boss ghost battles are inventive, often requiring you to resort to logic in order to win the day; in this regard, it's a great blast from start to finish and there's never a dull moment.

It's important to note that when you first pick it up, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a bit fiddly in the controls department, and you may miss having a second stick at times. In fact, it's somewhat curious that the Circle Pad Pro isn't supported when you take into account that the GameCube original was the first Nintendo game to feature a dual analogue setup. Fortunately, the alternate control scheme implemented by Nintendo is ideal, with the X and B buttons being used to aim up and down. In combat though, things can get a bit cumbersome. Once you start to use your Poltergust 5000 or charge your Strobulb, your directional movement becomes extremely limited. You can't turn left or right while doing these things, meaning that you need to make sure you're facing the right way before you press anything. It's fair to say that this really doesn't get in the way of the gameplay though, and you simply need to approach the combat side of things in a slightly different way to the original; it’s still ultimately playable and, in a way, makes the game more challenging and fun as a result.

For those that prefer it, there's the option of gyro controls for aiming up and down, although this will cause you to lose the sweet spot if playing in 3D. Annoyingly, motion control is shoehorned into a few minor parts of the game; when walking across ceiling beams, for example, you have to tilt the system to keep your balance. It's a bit confusing because this isn't made very clear when you first come across it. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and they don't impact on your overall enjoyment of the game too much.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon will feel very familiar to those that played the original, but there are still plenty of new ideas. For example, this time around, Luigi has a tool called the Dark-Light device, a special rainbow-coloured beam that reveals hidden doors, objects and even Boos (which you need to find in order to fully complete the game). It's used throughout the entire game, and it's nice how it puts much more emphasis on thoroughly exploring your surroundings.

In fact, exploration is a key element of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Each location is stuffed full of cash, gems and other collectibles, and only the most eagle-eyed player will spot everything; finding every last coin is by no means mandatory, and you can stroll through the game at a relatively quick pace should you wish. However, those that invest more time into this aspect of the game will likely find the experience much more rewarding.

This is because the game uses an upgrade system. Throughout, Luigi is presented with cash targets, where upon achieving them unlocks a handy upgrade. These bolster your equipment, the most vital being the Poltergust 5000 upgrades that greatly enhance its power. While you can technically complete the game without these upgrades, the system is just another nice inclusion that really motivates you to explore everything.

The game's Thrill Tower multiplayer mode is a pleasant surprise. It certainly isn't perfect, but it's a nice distraction with a surprising amount of depth in places. There are three game modes to choose from: Hunter, Polterpup and Rush, all of which can be enjoyed with up to four players in the game's online, local and download play modes (although the latter has some limitations). In Hunter it's a race against the clock to clear a floor of ghosts, and it gets more and more challenging as you progress. Players really need to work cooperatively if they want to succeed, as the time limit is strict and you have to find rooms in order for them to appear on your map.

Polterpup is inspired by some of the single-player stages, and it requires players to use their Dark-Light devices to track down pesky ghost dogs that are hiding inside furniture and objects on each floor. This mode works better in local play, as teamwork is key, and the game's preset phrases for communicating with other players are awfully limited. Finally, Rush mode lives up to its name, as the goal here is to find a hatch (containing a chest) before the timer runs out. The time allocated for this is remarkably short, and it's certainly a lot tougher with a smaller number of players; this last mode is a nice diversion, but it probably won't hold your interest for as long as the others, if only because the experience doesn't really evolve into anything more challenging as you climb the tower.

It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into each mode, and on the whole the multiplayer element doesn't feel like it has just been tacked on. With that being said, it isn't as fleshed out as it could have been. For example, it's a bit baffling that the single-player upgrade system wasn't also brought across or in some way linked — upgrades are present, but only last temporarily, and bonus items are randomly assigned in between floors (provided players find four red coins upon completing the floor). Therefore, it's unlikely that this mode will hold your interest for long, and a wider progression system and leaderboards would have certainly helped to extend its replay value.

Conclusion

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is nothing less than an absolute triumph for Nintendo. Everything about it from its glorious visuals right through to its in-depth, incredibly fun gameplay just oozes high quality. It almost begs the question why this game wasn’t developed for Wii U; it's a home console quality experience and proof that on its day the 3DS can deliver above and beyond its competitors. The multiplayer mode is slightly disappointing, if only because it could have been much more, and the control setup is a tad awkward in places. Nevertheless, don't let these minor niggles stop you from enjoying everything else that Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon has to offer; namely its superb single-player adventure. It's one of the best games yet for 3DS, and evidence that 2013 is very much the "Year of Luigi".