Developers: Next Level Games
The original Luigi's Mansion was a glorious surprise in many ways. Here was a far more human, identifiable hero than his heavier-set brother. Luigi was a fearful creature, but endearingly so. He was charmingly goofy, cheekily avaricious, and delightfully clumsy. He's always been a fantastic foil for his more famous sibling, but in his own game he finally had a chance to shine, and shine he did.
But if Luigi's Mansion suffered perhaps from the swiftness of its stay, a pitfall of having a console's launch on one's shoulders, Dark Moon is a chance for the green brother to have a proper shot at the bigtime.
Next Level, who have previously been something of a second fiddle studio (though the Mario Strikers series has been excellent), are revitalised under Nintendo's direct tutelage. It feels like vintage Ninty, and much of that begins with the animations, particularly for Luigi himself. Every frame is perfectly wrought, with every little idiosyncrasy and habit - the pantomimic tip-toeing down corridors, Luigi's ungainly run, his worried glances and titter-inducing pratfalls - perfectly captured. Charles Martinet is, of course, on hand to give Luigi a voice, and he does so perfectly, delivering a masterclass in bumbling noises, nervous exclamations, and off-key humming of the game's themes at times.
The 3DS hasn't been pushed to the limit perhaps in terms of sheer visuals, but it's clear that Next Level have optimised the tools at their disposal to make every scene drip with character. The 3D is used to great effect, giving you the impression that you're peering in on a decoupage construct of sorts or, at its best, a series of haunted dollhouses.
The setting is suitably ridiculous, although it's a bit of shame that Luigi's not clearing unwanted undead mischief-makers out of his own house any more. The tranquillity of Evershade Valley is shattere after King Boo smashes up the Dark Moon - a MacGuffin that used to keep all of the ghosts in the area in check and slumberous. Following the undead breakout, Luigi is summoned by Professor E. Gadd to strap on his trusty vacuum cleaner once more - the Poltergust 5000 - and set things right. Five ghost-infested mansions, broken down into bitesized missions as a further nod towards the portable platform, present themselves this time around, and Luigi must make his way through all of them, collecting up shards off the Dark Moon and busting any ghosts he finds.
It's pleasing to see just how expansive a game this is. There are so many nooks and crannies, plenty of items to be found, and little side rooms to explore. Many of these are completely optional, but you'll want to ferret out as much as possible. For fans of the original, particularly if you were unhappy with that game's short-running time, there's much to praise here. The locations aren't confined to houses either, with Luigi exploring a wonderfully bonkers, dilapidated clock factory, and an enormous tree stuffed with extras from a Sondheim musical.
The setpieces and staged gags come thick and fast, with plenty of environmental puzzle solving to be done in a game that challenges you to use what few items you have to investigate every corner and crevice that you can. Luigi doesn't have a huge range of items at his disposal, but Next Level manages to create a rich and varied tapestry of gameplay. Few hiding places or basic puzzles are repeated, which makes the 15-hour running time almost permanently engrossing. There are cliches aplenty here, but Next Level manage to deploy them in interesting ways, and a good chunk of the joy you'll get from this game comes from the discovery of interaction.
Capturing ghosts involves a little more than simply turning on the vacuum cleaner, mind. The spectral fiends need to be stunned with a torch first - Luigi comes armed with a new "stroboscope" that has a couple of settings to provide for a range of ethereal foes - and then wrangled in, usually by holding 'back' and 'A'. Naturally, the ghosts themselves aren't too happy about being reeled in like non-corporeal fish, and some of their resistant animations are highly chuckle-worthy. The combat curve is hardly steep, though; instead the challenge comes from bagging loot and swift, decisive action that results in a triple-starred ranking at the end of a level. Then there are the boss battles, too: expertly crafted puzzles in themselves that force you to use everything at your disposal and manipulate the environment around to serve your purpose.
You do need to be slightly vigilant on later levels, mind. There are a few occasions where a little slip up might lead Luigi to kick the bucket prematurely, and dong so will send you right back to the very start of the mission, no matter how far through you are. That means you'll only ever lose up to around half an hour of progress, but on the other hand - half an hour. Not ideal. With the game presenting such an emphasis on discovery and exploration, it's galling to have to trudge through a level you've already combed for a second chance at a boss you took your eye off for a moment.
Dark Moon does come with a multiplayer component, but in all honesty it's not hugely attractive. Much of this is down to the simple fact that the finely-crafted environments of the singleplayer game are replaced by randomly generated locales based on singleplayer settings. You're tasked with climbing up a challenge tower with up to three of your chums, and clearing out every ghost you find, or racing to find the exit., or tracking down hidden ghouls. However, the time limits on each level can be a little restrictive, and more often than not, we found ourselves splitting up to get everything done before the timer ran down, which isn't exactly a cohesive co-operative experience. Once again, online play is hamstrung (oh, Nintendo), there's a chance Dark Moon might get some airtime on the Streetpass circuit, but there are far better games out there for local multiplayer on the 3DS. Sadly several contain 'Mario' in the title, just to rub salt into the forgotten brother's wounds.
But you're not going to buy this game for the multiplayer. You'll buy it for the easygoing charm that exudes from every frame of Luigi's adventure. You'll buy it for the enormous smile that it'll put on your face by sheer force of simply, attractive gameplay executed in terrific fashion. You'll buy it because even though it's been developed by Next Level Games, it's vintage Nintendo through and through.
- Simple combat combines excellently with some intricate puzzles
- Cracking bosses
- Fantastic presentation
- Brimming with warmth and character and personality
- Lots of replayability
- Multiplayer is fairly bland
- Aiming can suffer a little as the result of no second stick
- Level restarts are annoying
The Short Version: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon sees the green sibling joining his brother in the lofty heights of puzzle-platforming excellence, though this is no Mario colour reskin. Instead Next Level have created a game made from Luigi's quivering, cartoonish, paranoid DNA, producing a game so stuffed with charm and character that it could make Scrooge beam.