It’s already December and Christmas seems to be almost around the corner, but before getting all fuzzy and warm inside with the festive preparations, let’s close another chapter this year with our Halloween special. This time it’s the brother of a very famous plumber chasing ghosts who makes for a very fine game.
Nintendo’s struggling handheld console is not dead yet, as Next Level Games’ Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon aptly shows with a fair bit of creepy adventuring.
Easily scared Luigi has to investigate supernatural phenomena and get rid of the ghostly appearances.
Horror comedy worlds with character(s)
As is the case with so many cute Mario titles, storytelling is not the strongest when it comes to Nintendo’s ability to surprise the player with unexpected twists or deep characterizations of the protagonist. Still, the magic of Nintendo is that this isn’t essential in creating believable characters in a fantasy setting. Luigi doesn’t talk at all and is just as present (if not even more so) as the talkative Prof. E. Gadd who helps with his equipment and gives hints during missions. The reason for this can be found in the gestures and facial expressions which make the main character somewhat of a cowardly clown, but a very likeable one at that. The design of the worlds is also quite convincing, not only providing one mansion, but more worlds to explore with their different moods and graphical sets. They also come with their own unique problems (read: mission goals), so the player only unlocks parts of the environments in each mission, making it a more streamlined affair of where to go next.
The stars of the show are of course the ghostly encounters, and it’s here where the most fun can be had. Many scenes in which these interact are optional and can only be watched when peeping through windows or keyholes, but as these are pretty funny, it’s a joy to witness the ghosts playing ball or discussing what to do next with their full arsenal of gestures. As always, Nintendo is at its best when the body does the talking, which is especially true when taking into account that many of E. Gadd’s elaborate wisecracks outstay their welcome and aren’t that funny after a while. Some slapstick scenes of Luigi, e.g. after defeating a boss, serve for light entertainment, although it’s questionable if these are actually necessary, as it’s often enough to see him make a scared sound or look frightened during the game to make the player smile.
Who ya gonna call? Ghosthunter Luigi!
The gameplay consists of a mix of hunting ghosts with the vaccum-cleaner Poltergust 3000 and a lot of puzzle solving. The former can be fun at first by asking the player to first find the enemies who hide in the environment, blind them with the flashlight and then try to suck them into the bag, which can take more or less time for individual types of enemies, depending on the number on their heads representing their life energy. But there are many instances when those enemies outnumber Luigi and in the worst case scenario hassle him so much that getting hold of him becomes nearly impossible with all kinds of obstacles in the way and things they throw at him. As pressing a button for sucking in the ghost and moving with it as if skiing on the floors when it tries to escape means pressing the directional buttons even harder, this becomes more of a torture for the player’s wrist than actual fun.
Boss fights are excellently designed though, offer some original ideas and demand quite a lot of thinking in some cases, but they can also quickly get frustrating in others. The difficulty curve reaches an extreme high and outright unfair point at the end of the game, but it is quite challenging in other missions as well. This is mainly due to the save system. Only after completing a level is it possible to save progress. Dying means restarting the whole mission. While there is a way to escape death by collecting hidden dog bones, this is only a last resort, because it’s possible to carry just one.
Upgrade until the paranormal stops
The fighting or ghost catching technique is easy to grasp, even if a bit cumbersome to use in many hectic circumstances, but there are ways to make things easier. This is mainly done by the upgrade system. Collecting as many banknotes or finding treasure and catching multiple ghosts in a row accumulates cash which can then be used to have more sucking, flashlight and other powers, i.e. reloading is done faster and the individual tools can hold more energy. Unfortunately, upgrading the ever so small life energy is not possible. The system is also simplified by automatically upgrading the devices step by step, which is a bit annoying when one has to wait until a device is completely levelled up before the others (in some cases more helpful) are next.
Puzzling and adventuring
Puzzles fare much better than the often frustrating capturing of ghosts with quite a few original parts. These revolve around using the Poltergust 3000 to carry certain objects (sucking) and use them in the appropriate places (blowing), revealing hidden rooms by pulling at tapestries or by moving stuff. In addition, there’s a gadget which helps Luigi to detect invisible things in the environment, the so-called dark light lamp. This makes for very varied and often challenging puzzles which will give even the most hardened point-and-click adventure game fans something for their money.
Unfortunately, the most difficulty lies in the spare hints. Even if the professor sometimes tries to point Luigi in the right direction, his advice usually refers to already very obvious solutions and rarely to constructive ideas how to solve other problems. Put simply, he breaks the flow of the player too many times by stating the obvious while hiding the hints needed to avoid frustration. Running around the mansion can also get disorientating because of the many floors and a map which rarely gives enough clues where to go next. There are also some parts in which Luigi has to find a ghost dog by looking for paw prints which only become visible with the help of the dark light lamp. These segments are quite cute, but as they repeat themselves, they can also feel a bit too long. The same holds true for escort missions in which Luigi has to help Toad by carrying him or leading him in the right direction. As the AI isn’t the best, this can annoying very quickly.
Extras for completionists
As with many Nintendo titles, there are also extras, in this case capturing a Boo ghost in each mission to unlock a bonus level in each stage, and finding gems, which always involve even more but also fun puzzle solving. A multiplayer mode in which floors have to be cleared from ghosts with a certain time limit with friends or other people from the internet is also available. This is a lot of fun, complete with boss fights, and a long playtime, depending on how many floors one chooses to traverse. Unfortunately, this mode has to be unlocked first by completing a couple of missions, something which is unnecessary, but again indicative of what Nintendo does in other titles which don’t offer such a mode from the start.
Lookin’ ghostly fine
The creepy atmosphere of the mansions is in no small part due to the atmospheric sound design and lighting effects. Sudden thunder and lightning do not only let Luigi shudder but even seasoned survival horror fans skip a heartbeat. Even if the ghosts are more like Casper and less like zombies with the taste for brains, this doesn’t mean that they’re less good for a scare or two. The animations are flawless, and it often seems as if one watches a cartoon. 3D also works quite well and offers many pop-out scenes plus a sense of depth which fits perfectly. Especially the winter level with its snow flakes falling down is pleasing to the eye. Music is also decent even if a bit repetitive, but then again it stays in the background and creates a sense of tension in combination with the other sound effects, something which a bombastic soundtrack would have destroyed.
Comeback of a misunderstood superstar
Luigi’s Mansion 2 is more than just a rehash of an old Gamecube title, something the console’s game catalogue has been accused of for quite a while. It provides a lot of content and with a playtime of around 15 hours, it’s good value for money, compared to Mario platformers which are usually very short on handhelds. Unfortunately, the repetitive gameplay with re-used ideas like escort or finding-the-dog missions leave a bit of a bad taste. The same can be said about the save system. The game is difficult enough as it is, so having to restart a level after investing time in solving all the puzzles and going through tough fights is unnecessarily frustrating. Still, with great graphics, a genuinely cool 3D effect and simply fun puzzle design, it’s a nice spooky alternative to the colorful mushroom land. For those players who always thought Luigi is the more interesting character of the plumber duo will surely get an unusual take on the hero template this time.
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