Friday, April 26, 2013

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS) Review

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is darn close (if it isn't already) to becoming yet another Nintendo million-seller. In Japan the game has been dominating the sales charts, and in the U.S. it was on the NPD Top 10 for March, alongside such games as BioShock: Infinite and God of War: Ascension. Does it belong to be on a list with those titles? Let's find out with this review.

Bustin' Makes Luigi Feel Good


It was once unheard of to not see a Mario title release with a new Nintendo hardware launch. Now, we're basically accustomed to that with the Wii and Nintendo 3DS. Still, it was a shame that a traditional Mario title was nowhere to be found at the GameCube's launch in 2001. Instead, Nintendo opted to give Mario's then-often overlooked thinner brother Luigi some time in the spotlight. The game was Luigi's Mansion, something incredibly atypical as not just a Mario spin-off, but as a game in general. Sucking up ghosts was the name of the game (well, actually the name of the game was Luigi's Mansion, but you know what I mean), and the title received cult classic status among fans. More than a decade later and part of the Year of Luigi promotion, Luigi has returned to his ghost-busting ways with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. The game was developed by Next Level Games, whose past successes with Nintendo include Mario Strikers: Charged and Punch-Out!!, both for Wii. Dark Moon is not only an excellent Nintendo 3DS exclusive, but it's also a superior game to its predecessor.

Evershade Valley is where Professor E. Gadd has been investigating ghosts. While the Dark Moon proudly shines in the night sky, the ghosts behave themselves well. However, when King Boo somehow returns from his painting imprisonment, he shatters the Dark Moon into six pieces which are strewn through the valley. The ghosts turn from kind, gentle, and rambunctious to wild, sinister, and unruly. With no one else to turn to, Professor E. Gadd summons a relaxing Luigi and tasks him with restoring the six pieces of the Dark Moon to bring back order to Evershade Valley.

Careful, Luigi. You don't want to end up
IN one of those graves!
This time around Luigi's isn't just exploring one large mansion. No, instead he'll be visiting a total of five unique mansions, each with their own theme, challenges, and obstacles. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon forgoes the gameplay structure that its GameCube predecessor had gone. In this sequel, each mansion has its own set of missions with their own set of objectives to accomplish. Many missions will have you traversing through familiar rooms, areas, and past "haunts", but for the most part, you and Luigi will be venturing through uncharted territory with each mission.

Luigi should have brought a parka or something.
The different types of missions is pretty great, and this offers a nice sense of variety. One mission you'll be searching the rooms of Gloomy Manor to retrieve several gears that the resident ghosts have stolen. Another mission you will be following footprints of a doggone ghost dog who has swallowed a key that Luigi needs to progress further in the Haunted Towers mansion.

A Toad in need is a Toad indeed.
While the structure of the series has changed, the standard gameplay relatively remains the same. Luigi enters rooms and solves puzzles through using his various tools such as the Poltergust 5000, strobelight, and Dark Light device, a device which illuminates invisible-to-the-naked-eye objects. Just to give you a taste of what you can expect in Dark Moon, one puzzle requires Luigi to vacuum a bucket. The suction holds the bucket in place while Luigi can walk over to a fountain or other source of falling water and fill it up. Then he can saunter over to a sprout and splash water on it to make it grow. As puzzles are solved, usually the reward is a key to open a locked door somewhere within the mansion (the bottom screen is an invaluable tool to display map and objective information).

Luigi takes clearing the table to 
a whole 'nother level.
Other than keys, there is a bounty of treasure to be found in each mansion. Coins, dollar bills, and gold bars are hidden in clever places for Luigi to uncover. Perhaps you can suck up that poster on the wall to reveal a secret alcove where lots of treasure is held, or use the L button to have Luigi's Poltergust spray air, making a rug roll up, revealing even more coin-age. Outside of monetary treasure, there are a series of gems hidden in each mansion. These require some ingenuity to figure out how to find them, much more actually obtain them. In addition to gems as something optional to acquire, you can also find a hidden Boo, a longtime Mario series baddie, in each non-boss mission.

These suits of armor won't hold any prejudice
in slicing up unsuspecting plumbers!
However, solving puzzles isn't the only task that Luigi needs to complete in the game's five mansions. No, there's something called ghost-busting to do. And who you gonna call for that? Weegie, of course. With the Poltergust 5000 and a flashlight in hand, Luigi is pumped and primed to layeth the smacketh down on specters of all sizes. Most ghosts simply require you to flash them with the strobelight and then press R as they are dazed to enter a struggle to suck them up. Sucking up more than one ghost at a time is not only less difficult (you need not worry about being attacked by a straggler most of the time), but you also reap better rewards in the form of dropped loot.

Eek! Awkward...
When a ghost is dazed, the R button starts the struggle. The ghost fights for its life as it frantically scampers around the room. By holding the Circle Pad in the opposite direction the ghost is fleeing towards, the ghost's health drops and your Poltergust gauge builds. Once the A button is shown, you tap it to suck up the ghost or at least a significant percentage of their health. As you earn Poltergust upgrades, you can more easily nab those ghosts in a faster fashion.

Sometimes ghosts will hide behind objects, requiring you to figure out how to get behind them or make them drop the object they are hiding behind. There are also a myriad of ghost types: some that hide inside objects, popping out only to throw hazards at Luigi; some look like they've been using steroids all of their lives; and some spew slippery goo at Luigi to not only trip him up but damage him.

Sucking up more than one ghost simultaneously
is usually the best way of doing things.
Each mansion's final mission contains a boss of some kind. Whether it's a possessed spider (ew) or a giant suit of armor, each boss battle is essentially its own puzzle in how you go about defeating them. Some fights are better than others. For instance, the Secret Mine boss is one of the weakest, as it's focused on timing rather than thinking. While that one boss fight is disappointing, the others work really well and are mostly entertaining.

Playing through the solo mode of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon will last most players anywhere between 10-15 hours for an initial run-through. Nonetheless, finding and obtaining all of the gems, capturing every Boo, and earning a three-star rank on each mission will make the game last even longer. Perhaps my biggest quip with the single-player experience is how a lot of missions don't encourage bite-sized play. A good portion of the missions take upwards of a half-hour for a first-time player with no opportunity to save one's progress. Still, it's a small quibble with an awesome game.

What will also make Dark Moon last longer is something that Unlike the original Luigi's Mansion on GameCube lacked-- its own multiplayer mode, known as The Scarescraper (har-har). This mode unlocks after the majority of the first mansion has been completed in single-player. There are three different multiplayer match types: Hunter, Rush, and Polterpup. Hunter has you vacuuming up all specters in every room to clear the floor and move onto the next. Rush has you racing against the clock to find the exit to the floor. Along the way you can pick up little timers to extend how many seconds you have to work with. Finally, Polterpup pits the player or players against a swarm of Polterpup ghosts. You must seek them out from their hiding spots and capture them before time runs out.

Team up with friends or total strangers
in the Scarescraper!
These multiplayer modes can be played solo, with friends via local play, or online with either friends or total strangers. The lack of any kind of voice chat hurts the online experience, but by tapping a direction on the d-pad, your Luigi can send out short messages to other players such as "Hey" to essentially tell other players to come to your location.

As each room is cleared, a Red Coin Challenge occurs. Four red coins will pop up at random locations on the floor. If all four are collected within the strict time limit, then a roulette determines which player gets a bonus prize for the next floor. This can be goggles that let you see invisible objects or even an upgrade to the suction power of your Poltergust 5000. Getting more red coins means your chances of being the player to win the prize increases.

Dark Moon is a delight to look at and listen to. Like Luigi's Mansion was a technical showcase for the GameCube, Dark Moon is technical showcase for the Nintendo 3DS. The lighting is just fabulous, the character animations are fantastic with how well the move to their hilarious expressions, and the game runs at a steady frame-rate for the most part. The sound is also well done, with Charles Martinet doing a splendid job as Luigi, and music that is infectious and infinitely hum-able.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon continues the Nintendo 3DS's reign as a competent platform for games for 2013. It outclasses its predecessor in nearly every category, from design, to story, to structure, to secrets, etc. The addition of multiplayer adds even more replay value to an already packed game. Bustin' definitely doesn't just make Luigi feel good-- it makes almost everyone who will play Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon feel good too!

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]

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