Game: Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon
Developer: Next Level Games
Available on: Nintendo 3DS only
Luigi is a bit like David Bowie, really. Lanky, unpredictable, looks good with feathered hair. Therefore it’s unsurprising, given the clear cosmic connection the two share, that both are releasing long-overdue comebacks this very month. March 2013. The month of The Odd Ones.
It’s taken twelve years for Luigi’s perfectly-formed Gamecube launch game to find a sequel. Twelve. People moan when we don’t get a new GTA for five years, and yet Luigi’s delightful ghost-hoovering ways have been missing for over a decade.
And a lot happens in a decade. Luigi’s Mansion was Resident Evil by way of Pixar, but with Capcom’s horror series looking more like Die Hard these days it raises the question of how time may have affected the green plumber. Well while there are clear caveats to his new handheld home – such as the mission-by-mission structure – Luigi’s Mansion 2 is largely the excellent return that you’d expect from David Bowie’s polygonal brother.
STORY: Luigi’s Mansion 2 opens with the oft-forgotten tuft-haired genius Professor E. Gadd studying and working alongside some friendly spectres on projects of questionable sanity. It doesn’t take five seconds for things to go wrong, mind, as the ‘Dark Moon’ is viciously shattered by an evil force, an act that causes all of the ghosts in Evershade Valley to turn from Casper to Beetlejuice in a matter of seconds. The Prof. quickly escapes to his bunker and wastes no time in abducting his old supernatural exterminator, Luigi, through his TV before forcing him to clean up Evershade and recover the shards of the Dark Moon.
It’s unfortunate, then, that this is about as complex as Luigi’s Mansion 2’s plot gets. It may seem odd to ask for more narrative in what is, admittedly, a Mario game, but the cast and environments are so sodden with character and life that you’ll think the game should be doing something a little more engaging than just “Oh, bugger, ghosts!”
GRAPHICS: Luigi’s Mansion 2 is an animation masterclass. Ignore the high quality, Incredibles-esque angular designs. Ignore the impressive lighting and shadow effects. Ignore the good-enough-to-eat plump 3D character designs. Even ignore the perfect 3D effect of the mansion’s rooms, full of flapping fabric and clutter. Put all of those accolades in the bread bin and just look at the puppetry on show: exquisite.
Luigi is a quivering wreck that the designers frequently cast as the accident prone Tom to the ghost’s wily Jerry, purely for our amusement. For example, Luigi enters levels via the Pixel Shifter – a pixel based transportation system – and is often re-constructed in mid-air, crashing to the floor after the familiar Loony Toons-style “uh-oh” period. Enter a dark room and Luigi will hunch up, legs shaking faster than a hummingbird and with every step feeling laboured and tense. Exit a dark room without clearing it of supernatural inhabitants and Mr. Green will snatch a sigh, resting against the door to pull himself together.
Coming from the same studio as the equally characterful Punch Out Wii this outstanding quality of animation is hardly a surprise, but it’s impossible to ignore just how far it goes in keeping the game so incredibly endearing. Everyone and everything in Luigi’s Mansion 2 looks alive.
SOUND: Luigi’s Mansion 2’s theme is one of those pieces of music. Absolutely delightful to listen to while playing, but one that has a natural tenacity to resurface in your mind everywhere. At the bus stop. Making a coffee. Trying to sleep. It’s always there at the back of your mind and, unlike those moments when you remember that cacophony Taylor Swift is barking this week, you can’t help but smile every time it creeps from your lips. Composers Chad York, Darren Radtke and Mike Peacock are to be applauded.
It’s at the back of Luigi’s mind too, with Charles Martinet delivering a vocal performance that is every bit as characterful as Luigi’s animation. Yelps, gasps and moans are par for the course but Luigi’s tentative humming along to his own theme is so full of character that you can’t help but grin, even if his singing voice isn’t quite a match for Mr. Bowie’s.
GAMEPLAY: Luigi’s Mansion 2’s core gameplay switches between two beats constantly. Beat one is the obvious: ghost hunting. Spot a spectre in the game and it’s your job to hoover-up the see-through menace. To do this you need to stun the spook with a strobe blast from your torch, and then reel it in by using your vacuum and wrenching the circle pad away from the fleeing phantom. It’s like fishing, if fish got their mates to nibble your ear every time you tried to catch them.
This is a big change from the ‘Cube original’s twin-stick control scheme, but if anything the dedication required from directing and launching torch blasts adds a valuable element of commitment and oomph to the combat that, comparatively, the original game lacked.
Beat two, then, is exploration and puzzle solving. The game often tells you where you need to be, but not how, and puzzling your way around the mansion’s interconnecting rooms is a frequent and often rewarding joy. Everytime you shake a dresser, spin a ceiling fan or pull up a carpet you might find something useful; you might unearth an explosion of cash, find hidden gems (of which each Mansion hides 13), or you could just disturb a spider mid-sleep. You’ll disturb many an unsuspecting animal; Luigi is the walking, humming rodent apocalypse.
However, as amusing as it is to prod and poke everything, this is arguably where one of the game’s criticisms rears its head. Or doesn’t, as is more the case. Early in the game you obtain the Dark Light device, a torch with the ability to reveal invisible objects and items. While the environments do hint to these objects, it’s all too easy to overlook this simplest of solutions. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be searching high and low for a puzzle’s answer when all I needed to do was reveal the invisible something with a flash of the dark light. It’s just a little annoying that a large component of the game descends into a pretty exercise in spot the difference. The levels in each mansion also have a habit of recycling objective ideas, but due to unique puzzles and environments it’s hard to seriously critique the game on this point.
These issues are fortunately short-lived. Overcome a few initial bouts of eye-rolling and you’ll soon discover compelling niches in the gameplay. Start aiming for top rank in each level and you’ll quickly understand that there’s more to combat than hastily swallowing every spook. Applying your skills and know-how of a stage in a perfect, precise, high-scoring run transforms the game from enjoyable character piece to endlessly re-playable arcade time attack. Discovering this is the perfect antidote after overcoming the game’s minor caveats.
MULTIPLAYER: Luigi’s Mansion 2 offers players the Thrill Tower (or Scarescraper if you’re American), a floor based co-op challenge with three modes that can be played both locally and online with up to four Luigi’s at a time. Three modes give a unique spin on the room-searching and ghost-hoovering, and three difficulties help keep things tricky for everyone.
The real challenge comes from the harsh nature of the mode. You can attempt to conquer 5, 10, or 25 floors in a run, with your best time for each recorded, along with which mode and which difficulty you completed it in. Fail at any point, however, and it’s back to the beginning with you. A 25 floor attempt is no minor task, with one run easily pushing an hour or more, meaning that this mode will take a lot to beat.
LONGEVITY: The first Luigi’s Mansion was berated for its length. Three hours and done? Pssh. Even playing it on hard and then once more to get a top score didn’t push the clock much beyond two digits. Lugi’s Mansion 2 will take 9-10 hours for your first play, with secret collection possibly doubling that, and the chase for top ranks pushing play time higher still.
Thrill Tower co-op also adds hours to the playtime, and beating all its challenges may just be an impossible dream… Luigi’s Mansion 2 appears to be a game that has taken its predecessors key complaint to heart, and in absolutely the best possible way.
VERDICT: It took Luigi twelve years to pick up the hoover again, and the biggest question is why it took so long. An adventure bursting with character, Luigi’s Mansion 2 may not be sanded and polished to perfection like his brother’s best but Luigi does his own thing, at his own pace, and delivers an adventure that doesn’t so much stack up against Mario’s best as stand proud as its own thing.
Admittedly, it’s not without issues, but they’re the sort of problems that are overcome and pushed aside rather than the sort that take root and continue to affect your enjoyment. Infectious, constantly entertaining, and just beautifully itself, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a unique gem of a game. A substantial gem of a game. A welcome gem of a game. Everyone with a 3DS owes it to themselves to pick up the hoover and torch and spend some long overdue time with Luigi. Terrified, skittish, adorable Luigi.