Everyone knows that when paranormal baddies want to spoil the living's fun, you call the Ghostbusters, but when they're unavailable who do you get? Well, according to Nintendo, you call Mario's younger brother Luigi. Back in 2001, Nintendo released a unique gaming experience on the Gamecube called Luigi's Mansion. Though it is often erroneously considered the first time Luigi starred in his own adventure (that title goes to Mario is Missing), Luigi's Mansion was the first time the player-two character really set himself apart from his legendary brother. Despite its initial release proving lackluster, the game became an underground hit over the years. Now, about ten years later, when Nintendo announced 2013 as 'The Year of Luigi', they released a sequel to the Italian plumber's first substantial outing, and the fans couldn't have been more thrilled. In comes Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, but the question is, should we be playing a game that deals with floating spirits?
The game opens in a dark corner of the Mushroom Kingdom called Evershade Valley. Despite what its name suggests, it's actually quite a peaceful place. A beautiful moon of pure amethyst shines overhead, and the ghosts around here are Casper's kind of crowd: friendly, happy, generally having a good time. Professor E. Gadd, the paranormal expert from the first game, works in his laboratory at Gloomy Manor with his ghostly assistants. That is until a vengeful King Boo uses his crown's magic gem to shatter the shimmering moon to pieces. The shards fall all over the valley, and purple fog sets in. Without the moon, Evershade's residents go berserk, and E. Gadd is forced to flee. Where's Luigi in all this? He's home, snoozing in his easy chair. His nap gets interrupted when E. Gadd uses his Pixelator to teleport Luigi straight into his safety bunker. After all, he figures if Luigi could stop the ghosts once, he can do it again. So now it's up to the green scaredy-cat to find and repair the dark moon and restore peace to Evershade.
The game divides itself into distinct missions. Each mission has you perform tasks such as catching a specific ghost, getting a key, saving a Toad, or chasing a pesky polterpup that enjoys stealing your stuff. At the end of each level, the game ranks you based on how much time you spent, how many ghosts you caught, how much damage you took, and how much stuff you collected. Professor E. Gadd will guide you along by using the Dual Scream, which turns out to be a DS turned into a cellphone. It did annoy me a little how often E. Gadd would call in, but that only lasted for the first few missions. Now this style of gameplay has an equal share of pros and cons. The positive side is that there's always something new to discover and do and you can re-experience plot points as often as you want. The bad side is that when it's this scripted, it limits where you can go, and whenever you're trying to find that one specific collectible you're missing, it's frustrating when it depends so much on which mission you choose.
When it comes to gameplay, Dark Moon takes a lot after its predecessor. E. Gadd upgrades your run-of-the-mill flashlight into a strobe light, but your real best friend is the new and improved Poltergust 5000, which actually is a maxed out vacuum cleaner. To catch the floating troublemakers, you charge your strobe light by holding 'A' then release to pulse a flash strong enough to stun the ghosts in place. Holding down 'R' will then start the Poltergust, but these ghosts won't give up easy. Each ghost has a number counter that shows how much strength they've got. To wear them down, you have to point your circle pad in the opposite direction they're fleeing until that number hits zero. This will also fill the Poltergust's power meter. If it fills up, you can push 'A' to get a surge of power that takes out a decent chunk from the ghost's strength. You will get dragged around, and sometimes it's essential to dodge other paranormal baddies by hitting 'B'. I love the way these controls were designed because it really feels like you're in Luigi's shoes. You can almost feel the strain of reeling those happy haunts in, and it is incredibly satisfying to see those meanie-greenies finally spiral down your nozzle.
There are troublesome spiders, mice, bats, etc. to keep an eye on, but the ghosts are the real attraction. For a video game, these phantoms aren't that expansive a cast. You have your basic Greenies, Slammers, Sneakers, and a few other types but not much else. However, for what they lack in diversity, they more than make up for in cleverness. Sure, you may be facing the same low-level minions a lot, but they adapt to their surroundings such as using a kitchen pot lid to shield themselves from your blinky bulb and swinging around a rolling pin. It is a lot of fun to see these ghosts in new situations, and this forces you to come up with new ways to trick your enemies, keeping the game mechanics from getting stale. Some of the bosses, the first one in particular, requires you to outsmart them too, and for me this truly makes them both inventive and memorable. Less is truly more here.
But catching ghosts is only half the fun on this adventure. The game centers itself on puzzle solving if nothing else, and Gloomy Manor is a secret passage wonderland, chock full of money and other collectible goodies.You can peek through windows and use the built-in gyroscope to spy around, and that same gyroscope is used to help balance Luigi whenever he has to cross crevices on narrow walkways. Just be certain you're not playing while riding a vehicle. The flashlight is helpful in opening vaults, activating gizmos, and (after an upgrade) revealing invisible objects. Plus, the Poltergust's ability to suck things in or blow things out is useful in so many ways that I can't list them all. In short, being clever with what you have and what's nearby are essential to progressing through the mansion.
Oh wait. Did I say mansion? I should say mansions. Or haunted locales more precisely. That's right. In a creative departure from the first game, Dark Moon offers five of these tricky funhouses. You heard me. There are five settings to sink your curious teeth into, and with so many environments to scratch your investigative itch, it's a good thing they look so excellent on the 3DS. Each location has a theme and flair all to its own and its share of surprises to discover. The developers really took advantage of this game's setup. You'll search an abandoned factory, ancient ruins, a snow covered cabin, and everything else that has been used in popular thriller flicks. While these places don't have the most detailed surfaces I've seen, the simplistic approach keeps things clean and doesn't clutter up the sheer amount of character on display. Snow, rain, and the lens flare from Luigi's flashlight further bring these places to life and work very well with the 3D effect too, but there were a couple of brief moments when the lighting wasn't working right. Still, it was nothing worth crying about.
The musical score also played a part in making each mansion unique. By switching out various instruments and how they're arranged, the music is brilliantly tailored to fit each environment. Several of the tunes are just as catchy as the series' main theme. Even Luigi hums along while he's tiptoeing around each corner. My only complaint is that I would have liked to hear entirely new soundtracks for each mansion rather than rebooted versions of the same tune, but that didn't ruin anything for me. As for voice work, Professor E. Gadd speaks in a very strange gibberish. I can see some people getting annoyed with it, but I found it oddly amusing. Luigi, however, stole the show in this department. What few words he does say are delivered so well in that shaky voice of his it's impossible not to smile.
As for bonuses, the hidden prizes I mentioned earlier include precious gems and special ghosts called boos. Catching all the boos and finding all the gems rewards you with unlockables, but they are not easy to find. Even after playing Dark Moon for a year, I still couldn't find all the gems. Adding to your cash stash also serves a purpose by upgrading your equipment, but I was disappointed that there were only three or four upgrades to get, all of which I acquired pretty early in the game. As a result, the only reason I kept collecting more moola was out of compulsion. (What can I say? I'm a greedy little completionist.)
There is a multiplayer mode called the Scarescraper that lets you and three friends hunt ghosts cooperatively, race against a clock, or chase after elusive polterpups. Each success sees you and your friends travel higher up the building which could have from five to twenty-five floors. My little sister and I had plenty of fun playing together. However, the game doesn't explain your stats very well. Between each run, they compare your scores and use little picture symbols to label the numbers, but without anything to tell us exactly what these symbols mean, we were left guessing who did better or worse at what. The only thing truly clear was who ended up first and who landed second.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a fun filled Scooby-Doo style romp rather than a chilling thrill ride. Not to say there aren't any thrills; it just has a much stronger lean towards the lighthearted. There are plenty of clowns in this haunted circus from quirky ghosts to E. Gadd's commentary, but Luigi himself is no doubt the main source of this charm. The way he overreacts to the strange stuff he comes across keeps you chuckling all the way. Admittedly, part of that hilarity does come from the slapstick our hero ends up in, but it's nothing zanier than Looney Tunes. He's also a great role model for bravery, showcasing that you can be scared stiff yet still do what's right.
However, Dark Moon does have its *ahem* darker moments. An assortment of ghosts jumpscare you now and then, and some smaller kids may find a few parts pretty intimidating. King Boo's redesign with the sunken, purple eyes offset by black shading makes him look far more sinister, and his sudden appearances don't help either. (He even made me jump on two occasions.) I also should mention that the first boss you face may not go over well with arachnophobes. Sure it's cartoony and colorful looking, but it still has eight legs, an abdomen, and bunches of its little "mini-mes." Moaning mummies, who turn out to be disguised ghosts, burst out of coffins, and at one point you do walk through an overgrown cemetery. Like I said: though it's cartoonish, little ones may get scared at certain points.
Now, some may be taken aback by the mere idea of wrangling ghosts to begin with, but in the phantoms' defense, they kind of remind me of the Minions from Despicable Me. They uphold a child friendly presence even while making mischief. There is also no mention of how they may have died nor does this game make any concrete statements about life after death. They're sort of like your basic koopa troopas. They are simply here to exist. No ouija boards. No seances. No backstories. They're just here. Regardless, there is no denying that a magic blasting crown and moon are present even if it is more fantasy flavored than occult, and you are in fact chasing ghosts.
I guess Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon carries the same qualm Halloween does for Christians. There is no easy answer. Personally, because of this game's humorous approach, I find it hard to take any of the ghostly stuff seriously. It's just a silly game I enjoy whenever the holiday comes around or when I need a laugh. (Plus, I think the ending is really heartwarming and cute.) However, if any of this encroaches your conscience about playing, then don't. It's not worth stressing over and defeats the game's purpose, but if you want a mostly family friendly Halloween themed game without all the guts galore, you can't find a better game than this. Unique, funny, and bursting with character, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has lots of brainy tricks and plenty of treats.