It’s been over a decade but it looks like Luigi is finally going to get back into a starring role in his own game once again, this time in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, the sequel to his last solo adventure on the Gamecube. Luigi has Next Level Games (best known for the Mario Strikers and Punch-Out!! titles) to thank for his newest adventure as he returns to showcase his ghost-busting skills, regardless if he is scared himself.
It may have been over a decade since we last saw Professor E. Gadd, but in the time since the previous Luigi’s Mansion, he’s been continuing his research on the local ghosts in Evershade Valley, even with some assistance of the friendly Greenies. All is well until one day King Boo returns to Evershade Valley and shatters the floating Dark Moon crystal that looms in the sky. This turns into a big problem for Professor E. Gadd, and subsequently Luigi as well since he’ll have to deal with the problem, because it turns out the Dark Moon apparently had a calming effect on all the ghosts that reside in the valley. Since King Boo returned and shattered the Dark Moon, the residing ghosts are now aggressive towards anyone that enters their mansions.
E. Gadd is now trapped in his secret underground bunker due to the hostile ghosts roaming the areas and he knows just who to call to help save the day and return things back to normal. Luigi is having a normal night at home watching TV when suddenly E. Gadd appears on the television asking for his help. Well, asking is not exactly the word as he teleports Luigi through the TV against his will using his Pixelator. Luigi agrees to help restore the Dark Moon and make things right in Evershade Valley, and he is going to have to find the shattered pieces to fix the problem.
Luigi’s go-to weapon to battle the hostile ghosts is once again his Poltergust vacuum that can suck up spirits that get in his way, though the old 3000 model from his original outing has now been upgraded to the newer 5000 model, with many more gadgets to help him along the way. Simply shining his flashlight at ghosts is no longer sufficient enough to stun them this time around; Luigi will now have to use his Strobulb to stun the apparitions, which acts almost like a flash bang. Simply pressing the button will activate the Strobulb, but Luigi can also charge it for a longer time if he wants a brighter and larger area to flash, hopefully stunning any hidden ghosts.
Eventually Luigi will get a new flashlight upgrade called the Dark Light Device. This shines a rainbow-looking light that will uncover invisible objects, secrets, and even hidden Boo’s. Luigi’s old Game Boy Horror has also got an upgrade since the last time he went on his ghost adventure, as he now has access to an original DS aptly named the Dual Scream, which allows him to communicate with E. Gadd as he is knee deep in ghosts in each mansion. Luigi has also learned how to dodge and jump to avoid additional ghosts and projectiles while he’s trying to capture and suck in a ghost. You’ll need to master this skill in the later mansions and especially when playing online.
If you’ve played the original Luigi’s Mansion, the gameplay in Dark Moon will feel familiar, as it’s the same premise. You’ll explore through five mansions (more than the original game) and capture ghosts with your specialized vacuum along the way on your search for the Dark Moon pieces. Your Poltergust 5000 also has other uses aside from sucking up ghosts, as you’ll be using it to not only suck in tablecloths, curtains, rugs, and more, but it also has a reverse mode that allows you to blow air which you’ll need to use for spinning fans, shooting objects (and Toads), and even using it to make Luigi fly in the air with a balloon.
Luigi fights against a few simple ghosts in the beginning, but by the time you get a few mansions in you’ll be battling against almost a dozen different types, all of which need their own strategy to overcome. Greenie’s are the simplest and easiest ghosts to capture but even they eventually find ways evade capture as they will wear sunglasses or armor to prevent being flashed and then sucked in by our hero. Once you flash a ghost properly, their health is displayed and you must vacuum them in, thus reducing their health until it reaches zero. They will put up a fight though and you must try and reel them back against their will, much like how you do fishing, as the larger ghosts will pull you and drag you, usually into objects that can hurt Luigi as well.
I was surprised with how many objects in the mansions could be manipulated. Sure some objects will just shake and wiggle when you vacuum near them, but you’ll learn to suck up every curtain, rug, wallpaper, and more when you see them as they more often than not contain hidden gems, treasures, money, and golden keys that allow you to progress further in your current objective. The cash and gems will net you a bigger score and will also go towards upgrading your Poltergust 5000. You’re given a specific upgrade each time you gather enough money to level up your vacuum, so unfortunately there’s no customization in that regard. If you manage to find any of the extra hidden golden dog bones you’ll be granted with an extra life should Luigi’s health drop to zero (A Polterpup will revive you and take the bone in return). The odd thing though is that they only work in the missions that they are found in and don’t carry over to the next one.
This is where my gripe with level design comes in. As you enter a mansion E. Gadd will give you a specific objective (or multiple ones) to complete. It will start out with something simple like explore an area, find an object, or get a specific item working again. Many areas of the mansion will be blocked off to you at first and once you complete your given objective, E. Gadd will teleport you back to his lair to give you another new objective. As you’re sent back to the mansion with your new objective in hand, you’ll have to start at the entrance once again and new puzzles or areas will be available to you to explore and solve. Every time you go back new areas will be locked, or unlocked, and certain rooms you cleared previously will be repopulated with ghosts for you to capture once again. While some will enjoy getting to re-explore the mansion in new ways, it can become frustrating as you finally learn the layout of the mansion and when you get back for the next mission you have to relearn new pathways as your previous path may be blocked off this time.
While there aren’t many, I really enjoyed the boss battles that are scattered sparingly throughout Luigi’s adventure. They are more puzzle based rather than the normal ‘attack and avoid’ mechanic most games use. Especially the final showdown against King boo, as the sequence of events was really enjoyable and the battle itself was simple in planning but challenging in execution.
Even after many hours of playing, I still found the controls to be a little clunky for my liking. To have Luigi look and aim his flashlight or Poltergust up or down requires holding down a button or tilting the 3DS itself. Having to hold down another button while you’re already doing so with others gets a little cumbersome and confusing during the more hectic areas. Sure you can simply tilt the 3DS, but if you plan on playing with the 3D effect on, it’s simply not an option. While the 3D effect looks fantastic once you find the sweet spot and angle, having to constantly tilt the 3DS loses the focus. It makes me wonder why there is no Circle Pad Pro support for a game like this too.
For the first time you’ll finally be able to play with your friends locally or online in a mode called ScareScraper. It was a nice surprise to see that download play is supported for up to four players, which should make it a great multiplayer offering when you and your friends gather for a gaming night even if they don’t own Dark Moon. There’s also no region locking when playing online, as I was playing with Japanese players with out any problems at all.
When playing together online, up to four Luigi’s, all different colors, can team up in some co-op action across multiple modes and difficulties. The default (and my favorite) mode is titled Hunter Mode, which teams up to four players in a randomized mansion floor level where you need to capture all of the ghosts in order to advance to the next floor. Once you clear all of the set floors (you can set the number and difficulty) you’ll face a boss stage which is actually very challenging on the harder difficulties. Coordination will come in very handy, especially if you have designated friends to use the flashlight and others to vacuum up the stunned ghosts. The other modes offered are Rush Mode, where you need to get to the objective in a set amount of time, Polterpup Mode where you need to capture all the pesky Polterpups, and Surprise Mode which is like a mash up of all of the modes in one. While there’s no real way to chat with each other through the game, you do have preset saying bound to each of the d-pad directions, though the one you’ll be using the most is the “Help!” command when you lose all your health and want someone to revive you.
While the original game looked very dark and bleak, the backgrounds, and even ghost’s, in Dark Moon are much more vibrant and colorful. Everything seems to be brighter and well lit and the translucent effects of the ghosts are quite impressive, especially for being on a handheld. The music and sound effects completely set the tone for the areas you are in, and while the game uses text for the dialogue, it’s fun to hear the odd word or saying out of Luigi, though I wish it was all voiced. It’s a shame that it’s difficult to play with the 3D effect on simply because the game wants you to tilt the 3DS, as the button combinations can be difficult when you’re trying to frantically capture and avoid ghosts all at once.
While Dark Moon is not outright scary as it’s a Nintendo game and rated E, there are a few moments that can be a little creepy when the lights go out exploring a room, knowing you’re being stalked by ghosts in the room and can’t progress until you find them all. Dark Moon is much more puzzle based than the original Luigi’s Mansion, and while most puzzles won’t even require much thinking at all, there are a few spots that I was completely stumped and I was unable to progress until I rechecked every single room for anything I could interact with or suck up with my ghost vacuum.
Surprisingly there is a large amount of content included in Dark Moon, as I expected a short jaunt through the mansions, but it kept on going and going which isn’t a bad thing. The story alone will take you over a dozen hours but if you want to find all of the secrets, collectables, and hidden Boo’s to fight, you can easily double that, and that’s not even including the hours with multiplayer. It’s a shame that there is no Circle Pad Pro support as it would have benefited from it and would make the cumbersome controls a little easier to manage.
I didn’t really get much into the original Luigi’s Mansion so I was unsure what to expect for a handheld sequel, but I came away pleasantly surprised with the high level of visual detail, fun gameplay mechanics, amount of replayability, and inclusion of an entertaining multiplayer. Luigi’s solo adventure may be on a handheld this time around but his adventure is in no way lessened because of it; even if he is clumsy and startled easily.