Luigi's Mansion was a fine launch title, but it hardly set the world on fire when it arrived heralding Nintendo's purple box of next-gen wonders back in 2001/2001. Set in a haunted house, the game saw gaming's perennial underdog rescuing his portly brother from a nest of ghosts, armed with a vacuum cleaner called the 'Poltergust 3000' and a comms device called the 'Game Boy Horror'. Critics praised the graphics, the design, the puzzles and the trademark Nintendo humour, but it was a cripplingly short experience and took under eight hours to finish. It sold well but, at the end of the day, proved largely forgettable.
Until last month.
The announcement that Luigi's Mansion 2 would be coming to the 3DS was met with arguably the biggest cheer of Nintendo's portable set as every industry member sat there suddenly remembered that the emerald twin had a game too. You could attribute some of this to the fact that the dirth of games of the 3DS meant quite honestly we'd probably have cheered for Shaq Fu if it had made an appearance (no we wouldn't - Ed.), but equally it's the little game that could - improving in stature with time and age. If Mario Sunshine has come to represent a symbol of Nintendo's tendency towards self-indulgence in the Gamecube years in some quarters, Luigi's effort continues to stand as an example of nostalgic, sweet, funny (if somewhat truncated) brilliance.
Which brings us to 2011 and the 3DS, the interesting irony being that Luigi's Mansion was a series always destined for 3D.
The Nintendo GameCube system actually had 3D-compatible circuitry built in, it had the potential for such functions. If you fit it with a certain accessory, it could display 3D images. [...] The liquid crystal for it was still expensive. Simply put, Nintendo GameCube could display 3D images if you attached a special LCD, but that special liquid crystal was really expensive back then. We couldn’t have done it without selling it for a price far above that of the Nintendo GameCube system itself! We already had a game for it, though - Luigi’s Mansion , simultaneously released with Nintendo GameCube - we had a functional version of that in 3D. [...] Even without special glasses, the 3D looked pretty good. But we considered how much the liquid crystal would cost, and it was just too expensive. We figured the market just wasn’t there for it. - Satoru Iwata
The market's there now, and Luigi's Mansion 2 might be the best looking game on the system yet. The visuals are brilliant, the game's cartoonish art style offering up a surprising amount of detail, with some excellent use of lighting and shadow. I stopped exploring at one point, in a room littered with bric-a-brac, just to spent several minutes repeatedly charging up the torchlight's strobe effect for a dazzling burst of flickering light, and turning the mansion into Luigi's personal disco.
The level design is such that Luigi's tiptoed ventures into each room pop out like individual boxes in comic strips. Add the stereoscopic 3D into the mix and the tableaux are transformed into little sets, the fixed camera that turns slightly as Luigi makes his way across the floorboards allows for the 3D effect to completely enhance and rarely intrude upon the experience. Far more than just a mere gimmick, the levels have all been designed to take full advantage of the depth of perception offered by 3D, and the results are impressive indeed.
The 15-20 minute demo we were privy to was pretty much business as usual. Luigi gets handed an upgraded Poltergust 5000 by the nutty Professor E. Gadd and packed off to another haunted mansion as he's digitised by one surveillance camera before being spat out of another in the spooky house's gardens. Sucking up ghosts is the order of the day, which seems a little clunky at first because there's no C-stick this time around. Thankfully, the fixed camera position means that it's all rather straightforward and that actually, after half a minute of familiarisation, it feels very comfortable and natural indeed.
The Poltergust 5000 is good for a number of things. You can suck up collectables such as coins and notes, not to mention use the power of the Poltergust to remove heavy blankets hiding ghosts or treasure chests containing loot and, more importantly, keys. The mansion begins as an intriguing collection of locked rooms, exploration encouraged by giving you a choice of what to open first and which extra paths to take.
Catching ghosts is largely similar to before. Ghosts are elusive little buggers and require stunning with the strobe to capture, although the lack of the C-stick means that now you latch onto the blighters with 'A', pulling back to try and reel the hooked ghost in. Not that the ghost particularly wants to be caught, and they'll start thrashing about the place, tugging you around the room. In many ways it's highly reminiscent of a certain fishing game in another favourite Nintendo 3D reboot, only you have to try and keep Luigi from bashing into things as he's being dragged around and prevent him from hurting himself too much. Each ghost has a little HP number over their head indicating how long it'll take to stuff them into your hoover that slowly decreases once hooked, but you can speed up the process with button prompts at the right time too.
The demo ended with a boss battle against a ghost with a vastly oversized brain as Luigi stumbled his way into an abandoned study, compelte with stacks of books strewn across the floor. The pesky undead fiend zipped between the stacks, chucking works of fiction at our moustached hero, and we had to look for movement and strange tells to uncover the ghost's location before bombaring him with light and snaring him with the Poltergust 5000.
Miyamoto suggested that this sequel would be concentrating far more on the nailing the puzzling aspects, though we didn't see a lot of that at all to be honest. There was some variety in terms of our ghoulish adversaries, with some making use of kitchen utensils to try and block Luigi's torch, other red ghosts being far more aggressive and volatile, but not much by way of puzzle solving. Still, impressions are certainly positive. The short length of the Gamecube original went some way to actually making sure that the cemtral gameplay never became stale and, if I'm honest, I can see the same being said of this portable sequel. But if Canadian developers Next Level Games can nail the puzzle aspects as comfortably as they've dealt with the combat, the atmosphere, visual and audio design, this'll be a glimmering little emerald in the 3DS' crown.