Despite being the glimmering jewel of the GameCube’s launch, Luigi’s Mansion has enjoyed relatively few sequels for such a beloved Mario spin-off. The 3DS had a pop with a well-liked sequel, and the original got a second chance on the same system with a remake. Now it’s time for a true home console follow-up with Luigi’s Mansion 3, but can it stand up to the original in all its glorious originality?
The game starts off as you might expect – Luigi’s been sent an unsolicited invitation to come and stay as a VIP guest in a luxury hotel, and if that sounds familiar, well, how else are you supposed to set up this kind of game? He’s not alone though, as Mario, Princess Peach and a small gaggle of Toads are also along for the ride, and when they arrive, everything seems peachy (sorry) to the sextet of participants. To us players however, the red flags are all over the place. None of the staff seem to be normal, for starters; they’re all wearing creepy masks and their lack of feet makes them look like they've walked in from Fire Emblem: Awakening or something. It’s almost as if (and please at least try to act shocked) the whole hotel is haunted and populated by ghosts, which is just as well or this would be a very boring game.
And lo, it comes to light that there are some shady events transpiring, namely that the hotel’s owner (as well as the ever-welcome King Boo) has lured our supporting cast so they can be trapped in paintings against their will. Our old friend E Gadd has also befallen this fate, and so it’s up to Luigi to scour the many floors of the hotel, free his friends, suck up ghosts, and accumulate the ungodly amount of loose cash lying around the place because someone’s got to make a profit.
The Poltergust 3000 is so last year, the Poltergust 5000 is totally ‘whatever’, and the Poltergust 4000 was a Kart that isn’t practical in confined spaces, so this time around Luigi’s wielding the Poltergust G-00, which, just like the new iPhone, is able to produce an exact replica of Luigi made entirely out of nondescript jelly (OK, we might be wrong about the new iPhone bit). That’s not all it can do though; Luigi is now able to fire suction shots which attach to certain objects like a plunger, emit a dark light to reveal hidden objects a la Luigi’s Mansion 2, and even slam ghosts about the place like they’re made of wet tissue paper.
But the main event in this new arsenal is the cheeky chappy we alluded to earlier known as 'Gooigi'. Not only does ‘he’ raise numerous ethical questions about the enslavement of sentient gelatinous artificial life forms, but also has all the abilities of Luigi to boot, as well as the means to pass through grating and other spaces that are too small even for the slightly less portly of the two plumber brothers. Gooigi's molecular makeup does come at a cost though, as although he appears even more powerful than Luigi on the face of it, he does share the same weakness as Sonic the Hedgehog and the aliens from Signs: water. Get him even marginally moist and he’ll melt away into a useless pile of slop before slurping himself back up into the Poltergust.
You use Gooigi either when Luigi simply can’t traverse an obstacle, or in a few instances where two bodies are required to make progress, such as a door that needs raising and holding open through a mechanism that you simply can’t reach and get through the door at the same time. At first, the situations that demand the gooey cousin seem a bit too obvious, giving the impression that they've been shoehorned in; a gimmick to grab people’s attention that doesn't necessarily fit the gameplay, especially as only one of the -igis can be controlled at any one time. As the game goes on, however, you'll be surprised and pleased at the clever ways the two can work together to overcome obstacles and this sense of building wonderment is something that rings true for the gameplay as a whole.
To begin with, you may be a little bored if you’re a Luigi’s Mansion master; the game is of a slower pace, and the solutions to most of the mandatory puzzles probably won’t tax you much at all. Get further into the game, though, and things start to take a pleasing turn for the better; simple puzzles are still present, but they’re often presented in a way that forces you to think twice, and sometimes even second guess yourself. We even found puzzles that seemed completely impossible at first glance, only for the solution to be so achingly simple that we felt properly embarrassed even though we were in our own homes, and with the curtains drawn. In terms of the mainline gameplay, the solutions are generally relatively simple but often clever in their execution. If you want a bit more brunt however, you can find it with the hidden gems.
Each floor of the hotel has six gems hidden somewhere, and although you’ll probably stumble across one, two, maybe three in your first run through a floor, the rest are often extremely well hidden. Sometimes you’ll even be shown the gem which is only just out of reach, and there were instances where we went mad trying to figure out how to get our grubby, white-gloved mitts on them, but the sense of accomplishment for finally being able to snag that one last gem that’s been eluding you is pretty difficult to top. It’s all optional as well, so if you’re not keen on that higher level of difficulty, you can just pass them all by without so much as a by-your-leave.
All of this would be for nothing if the puzzles weren’t fun, however, and as you’ve probably guessed already from the overall tone of this review, they’re great fun. Couple these brain teasers with bouts of scuffling with undead ghoulies and you’ll be having yourself a jolly old jaunt through this gigantic beast of a building. But that’s not what Luigi’s Mansion is most remembered for, is it? Who remembers how many pink ghosts were in the dining hall or where to find the most pearls? No, what we and everyone else on the planet remembers are the Portrait Ghosts, and their triumphant return in the form of Boss Ghosts is where the gameplay shines the most fiercely.
A medieval knight, a prehistoric caveman, a literal pirate shark – the boss ghosts are, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole game. We don’t want to give anything away here, but suffice to say it’s amazing just how many creative and ingenious boss fights are possible using little more than a vacuum cleaner. Each contest is memorable, dramatic, and even decently challenging, and completing them will grant you a new button for the elevator that’ll allow you to make your way to the next floor. Every boss is brimming with personality, and leaves you desperate to see what the next area has in store for you.
Each area is completely distinct from the others thematically, ranging from a shopping centre to a gym complete with pool, a museum of natural history to a film studio; the variety is seriously rich throughout. What did leave us a tiny bit disappointed is the fact that all of these floors are not only distinct in terms of their aesthetic but also in terms of their layout. Each floor in Luigi's Mansion 3 can only be accessed from the elevator, meaning the interconnectivity of the original game and suspicious dead ends are all gone, leaving only the essentially linear progression of floors in its place. It’s only a small gripe, and one that probably won’t bother most people playing given the sheer scale of the building and the gorgeous themed areas, all of which are immensely beautiful and charming. Speaking of which, we should probably talk about that as well.
The entire game from head to toe is absolutely dripping with charm and polish. The animations are so good that not only would they not look out of place in an animated feature film, they frankly put similar-looking games on the Switch to shame. Luigi’s face displays a range of emotions we wouldn’t have assumed would be practical to put in a game, but there they are; from the mild bemusement and satisfaction of another floor’s elevator button gracefully screwing itself in place, to the upwards look of timid horror at a colossal carnivorous plant (which might we add isn’t even in a cutscene, it can just happen mid-gameplay), the facial movement is an absolute masterclass.
As for the visuals when things aren’t moving, well you’ve probably seen the screenshots and trailers and all that good stuff, so let us just say that those don’t do Luigi's Mansion 3 justice. At all. The lighting, the textures, the lighting, the models, the lighting... it’s easily one of the best looking games on the Switch to date, if not the best. There’s this one moment when Luigi’s torch casts light over a sand dune in one of the later levels that made us stop and just wonder how on Earth they got this to look as good as it does on a console that’s essentially a glorified mobile phone from two-and-a-half years ago. We know gameplay’s the most important part of any game, but boy oh boy did this game make us think twice about that stance.
What’s more, Luigi's Mansion 3 runs extremely well at a very solid 30fps, with only very slight drops when there's a lot of action on-screen at once. The environments are also littered with individual objects such as books, pizza boxes, jars, bottles, urns and other rubbish, and they all act separately within the physics engine, so to see such stable performance is fantastic – especially with the anti-aliasing and 1080p resolution (thanks, Digital Foundry) taken into account.
Multiplayer is also employed in various ways; you can enjoy a handful of Mario Party-like minigames on one console with up to seven other players in ScreamPark, delve into a randomly-generated mini-mansion with up to seven others online or locally (provided you have enough consoles and copies of the game) in ScareScraper, or even play the whole game with a friend, loved-one, or sworn enemy in co-op mode. The latter has player one controlling Luigi and player two Gooigi, which results in a largely symmetrical experience, although the person at the helm of OG Luigi is definitely more in control of things overall.
Whilst ScreamPark is a fun little aside (Cannon Barrage is our personal favourite), the main multiplayer meat is in ScareScraper. You have to play cooperatively with friends to overcome various tasks in either a five or ten-floor hotel. This usually ends up being catching ghosts or escorting Toads to safety, and even though we used that dirty word, escorting Toads is actually a lot of fun. We can't imagine you’ll have much difficulty finding games online with other random players at launch, but we wouldn’t expect it to maintain any real long-lasting audience.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is not only a graphical powerhouse and showcase for Next Level Games’ unrivalled mastery of video game animation, it’s also an immense helping of spooky fun as well. The amount of care and consideration poured into every facet of the game is abundantly clear, and it all results in one of the most enjoyable and attractive Switch titles of the year. It's also the undisputed high point of a franchise which – following this sterling release – will hopefully get even more love and attention from Nintendo fandom, and the gaming community as a whole.