It’s hard to believe it has almost been 13 years since the release of Luigi’s Mansion alongside the Gamecube. My second game for the console was Luigi’s Mansion and it was love at first sight. I was immediately taken away with how gorgeous it was and how much fun I had. It really was the beginning of the end of that “innocent” age of gaming for me personally, but enough of that nostalgia business for now.
Luigi’s Mansion may not be the deepest game out there, nor the most complicated or challenging, but it was endearing (and most importantly fun) enough to make me replay the game constantly to this day. Nintendo has been kind enough to finally deliver a sequel to fully explore exactly what this franchise could offer. The result is another phenomenal game in the increasingly stellar lineup of 3DS games.
The story takes place in an area known as Evershade Valley. Professor E. Gadd lives in his lab amongst the valley’s ghosts to conduct his paranormal studies. In the sky overlooking the area rests the titular Dark Moon, where a shadowy figure shatters into pieces. With the Dark Moon broken, all the ghosts turn evil and mischievous, causing the Professor to go into hiding and calls Luigi to help once more.
The setup is typical video game fare but it becomes full of intrigue and mystery both from in-game scenarios and dialogue briefing between missions. The biggest difference in structure between Dark Moon and the first game is that it’s broken into missions across five mansions rather then one big mansion to explore at once. Each mission will have one main objective such as finding a main item, rescuing a toad and hunting down major ghosts. While it may sound like it could interfere with the game’s flow, it rarely makes a difference. Very few missions actually “lock” you out of prior rooms so for the most part the entire mansion is open to explore with some areas blocked until you find a key or item.
Between each mission Professor E. Gadd will inform you of what the ghosts are doing or what each mansion use to be. In game however, the ghosts feel more real than the first game’s batch as they interact with each other, act more organized and try to thwart Luigi rather then act like a bunch of random ghouls. In the latter half of the game the ghosts run the story through their movements and emotions; a good example of good story telling with no words (although the Professor will tell you what is happening as well). It adds depth to a story that could have been completely bare bones and forgettable.
Luigi’s main form of attack is the Poltergust 5000 to suck up the ghosts. The flashlight also returns and has a few noticeable changes. Ghosts are not stunned by just shining the light on them anymore, instead the new “Stroboscope” attachment must be used. Simply hold the “A” button to charge up and unleash a wall of light to stun any enemy in the general direction. Another new toy to play with is the “Dark Light”, in which hidden items that are invisible with turn visible again. While the game only uses these three items, and the ability to blow outwards with the vacuum, I was amazed with just how in-depth and complicated the puzzles could be. The game does a great job of exploring the main uses of these abilities and does away with my biggest issue of the first game. Luigi’s Mansion was a simple game that only made me stuck at a few instances, but Dark Moon made me scratch my head countless times.
The core controls of Luigi’s Mansion remains intact, but thankfully is tweaked to fit the 3DS’s control scheme. My biggest worry going into Dark Moon was that the lack of a second analogue stick would have crippled the entire experience but thankfully it is not an issue. The analogue nub controls Luigi’s movement while the gyroscope or “X” and “B” buttons takes care of the flashlight and vacuum. Pressing “X” will make Luigi look upward, and while the “R” button is held his vacuum will be equipped. When it is selected, the gyroscope offers a more precise method of aiming than the face buttons but does so at the expense of the 3D. Thankfully, the game is aware of the control limitation and is designed with this knowledge in mind. The game does not demand pixel perfect aiming and as long as you’re aiming toward the general direction of the enemies it will count as a successful hit.
The biggest issue I had with this setup though is when Luigi is using the vacuum or the stroboscope, Luigi can’t turn around; instead only strafe from side to side. Initially I found this quite annoying but as the game progressed I got use to it and it never became an issue again. It is easy to let go or the vacuum, turn around manually and equip it again. By games end you’ll be trained to do this rapidly. While there is no substitute for a second analogue stick, the developers were smart enough to design the game in a way where it is not required.
The combat is also very similar to the previous entry in the series, but like other components it has been tweaked to fit more in line with the hardware. When sucking up a ghost their heart points will decrease slowly, and when it reaches zero they will be captured. To avoid being tedious, holding the analogue nub in the opposite direction in which the ghost is moving will cause a gauge to fill up, and once filled pressing the “A” button will send a more powerful burst to deal more damage. Up to three ghosts can be sucked up at once, and trying to balance them can be tough. Fighting one ghost at a time is easy so naturally the game will send multiple types to keep you on your toes. Some ghosts will wear sunglasses that need to be removed, some will hide in furniture, and others will only appear behind you. The variety is great and the game is constantly adding variables to prevent stagnation.
In addition to normal enemies, each mansion has their own boss fight. These are definite high points to the adventure and serve as memorable tests. Some focus solely on combat, but by far the best are the ones that test your puzzle solving abilities along with combat. I won’t spoil any but I will say my favorite has to do with avoiding minor enemies while altering the environment in a way to make the boss vulnerable. The boss fights that are just reliant on combat are also fun and intense, but feel like not much thought went into them.
As mentioned earlier, Dark Moon uses a mission structure and it does work for the most part with some minor annoyances. Any mission can be selected again for a replay to collect hidden gems or Boos (each level has a hidden Boo) and while most missions can be completed in a few minutes if you know exactly what to do, you simply can’t quit it and keep all the collectibles There are also no save points in the level or even check points, so upon death you have to start the mission all over again. It can be annoying at times, especially after completely a difficult section, but I never felt like the game needed checkpoints or felt unfair.
The final component to Dark Moon is the multiplayer mode. I thought it was going to be tacked on but I was surprised at how fun it is. There are four modes and three ways to play. Online uses lobbies in which you can join up to 3 other players, and local is separated into download play with others who don’t own the game and local play with others who do. The modes are Hunter, Rush, Pulterpup and Surprise. Hunter has you defeating all the ghosts before time runs out; Rush is reaching the exit as fast as possible, Pulterpup has you finding the ghost dog on each floor; and Surprise is a different objective each floor. Each mode is simple in its execution, but offers fun and re-playability with multiple difficulty settings and the option to select how many floors to complete. What could have been a throw away feature actually works well and offers a ton of fun. My experience online was mixed, as it took a while to be accepted into a lobby (common issues such as “server is full” or “communications has ended”) but once in a game there was no lag or connection issues.
Dark Moon took me 16 hours to complete, but I admit I spent my time exploring every nook and cranny for collectibles and replayed missions before moving onto the final boss. What that said, you’re still looking at a solid 10-12 hours, depending on how fast you solve the puzzles and how much time you take to explore. Top that off with the fun multiplayer and you got yourself a title that can keep you busy for a long time to come.
The cherry on the cake is the amazing presentation. The game looks stellar and the sound design demands a pair of headphones. Dark Moon features the best lighting effects I ever seen on a handheld and whenever there was thunder and lightening my jaw hit the floor. The picture looks crisp and personality oozes everywhere. Luigi has a ton of animations that gives him a sense of character and really fleshes him out. Ghosts are simple in design, but again have a ton of animations that make them feel more real compared to the ghosts on the Gamecube.
The music is catchy (I caught myself humming the main theme in the shower for a week straight) and adds to the overall atmosphere. In fact, that’s what this game excels at: atmosphere. Even though it is a family friendly game, there were many times that sent shivers down my spine and made Evershade Valley a real place, even though it is a cartoon. If you take out Luigi and the Toad characters out it would not seem to be apart of the Mushroom Kingdom at all; having its own sense of identity and further making Luigi’s Mansion it’s own franchise.
The 3D effect is also gorgeous and I had it on all the time. The sense of depth to each area was incredible and for fear or repeating myself, made the mansions feel more life-like.There are some moments throughout the adventure that blew my mind, such as running around outside with a heavy snow fall. It doesn’t use the 3D in interesting ways like Super Mario 3D Land, instead using a more immersive feel. I personally don’t always use the 3D in most games, but Luigi’s Mansion really benefits in terms of atmosphere with its amazing sense of depth.
Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon is easily my favorite game on the system. The 16 hours it took me to complete it just melted away. Dark Moon knows exactly what it wants to be and delivers a more fulfilling experience than the Gamecube cult classic. The issues present in the game can be countered by a solution that game already gives you (i.e. Multiple ways to control aiming), or are a result of personal taste in how each individual prefers their game to play out (hence the “low score”). That said, no game is for everyone, so with that in mind, Dark Moon deserves every bit of praise I can muster. Let’s just hope the next sequel doesn’t take another decade.
- On the opposite side of the spectrum are the people who loved the first game. Dark Moon offers more variety in its puzzles and combat, has more personality and a fun multiplayer mode. For those who loved Luigi's first solo outing, this is a no-brainer. 3DS owners looking for a puzzling experience that feels rewarding should also look no further.
- The only complaints towards this game are personal issues dependent on the player. If you don't enjoy back tracking to find solutions to puzzles, or dislike a game that does not have checkpoints, then you probably won't get much enjoyment out of Dark Moon. Similarly, if you did not enjoy the first game then this one most likely won't change your mind.