Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

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Luigi’s Mansion was a unique and memorable game, yet those words apply to many titles within the GameCube’s library. So many of the console’s games felt special and, despite all its qualities, Luigi’s Mansion, with its short campaign, did not have much staying power. Until 12 years later when Nintendo suddenly revived the game for its Nintendo 3DS. Luigi’s solo adventures are far from over!

The dark side of the moon

Following the adventures of the last game, Luigi has retired while the professor now works in a valley filled with spooky mansions. However, the valley is protected by The Dark Moon, which keeps the ghosts passive and friendly. King Boo won’t stand for this and shatters the moon into many pieces, forcing E. Gadd to flee as the ghosts become frenzied.

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Luigi is then quickly called up to help, even though it’s been a while since he last saw action. E. Gadd will remain in the hide-out to do research while Luigi must venture to each of the mansions in the valley to retrieve a piece of the Dark Moon. It’s an okay story for the game, but it feels a lot less personal than in the original. The first game saw Luigi overcome his fears to save his dear brother, whereas here he is just sorting out a ghost-related mess for the professor.

The story is more episodically told with each mansion having five missions and a boss-fight at the end. A mission typically takes about 20 minutes, which I find a bit annoying. Luigi’s Mansion also had separate acts, but had significantly more uninterrupted gameplay. Dark Moon keeps taking you out of the game to give you the smallest of plot updates and then send you back in. You are never permitted to lose yourself in the experience of playing the game.

Story score: 4/10

E. Gadd is a questionable inventor

The noble profession of ghostbusting has been changed around a bit in this entry. You can now always have the flashlight on, but with the press of a button it’ll flash extra bright and stun the ghosts. You then use the Poltergust to suck the ghosts in, rapidly draining their HP while they try to drag you away. You still steer in the opposite direction to resist it, but you also build up a strong pull that’ll take a chunk of health away. However, the elemental effects for the Poltergust have been removed entirely, which is a bit peculiar.

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Hunting the ghosts works well from a mechanical viewpoint, yet feels bad from a gameplay perspective. The original game had a permanence to it, as each room had ghosts in it that would stay gone when cleared out. You slowly made the mansion safe again, nicely reflected by the lights turning back on. Ghost encounters are more sporadic in Dark Moon and it’s annoying that you often have to view little scripted scenes before you get to deal with them. When you then go to the next level of that mansion, the ghosts will just be back again.

The ghosts are also slightly harder to deal with due to their new AI behavior. Some of them demand good timing to stun them and others will aggressively retaliate. You also got lots of spiders, mice, and bats that can swoop in to score a cheap hit that also releases any ghosts you happened to be battling. The game also still suffers from the previous entry’s problems in regards to orienting Luigi, with the Gyroscope controls often making it hard to aim the flashlight or Poltergust. This was especially annoying when rare gold ghosts and critters appeared and I’d stand around awkwardly trying to steer the flashlight. The 3DS gyroscope works well in most games, but the isometric perspective does it no favors in Dark Moon.

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The missions also demand some puzzle-solving to progress through the rooms. Usually, this means finding the right object to suck in or a small puzzle, like in the second mansion where you often need to fill buckets with water to make flowers grow. The game also has a second flashlight which shows items that have been made invisible by Boos. Revealing these typically gives you some money, but can also be part of these puzzles. This is especially cheeky when a Boo used its invisibility powers on a door.

However, gone are the interesting puzzle fights with the portrait ghosts. You only fight regular ghosts now and even the boss-fights all use the same foe with some variation thrown in. It’s a real letdown because the portrait ghosts used to be the best part of the game. Sure, the story had you fight King Boo, but on the way there you had dozens of interesting ghosts to capture with little mini-stories and interesting fights. Dark Moon really doesn’t bring anything to the table to replace these.

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It’s a game that is fun in short bursts. It has more content than its predecessor and will last you some hours, so it’s best played in little bits whenever you have half an hour to kill. The more bite-sized gameplay does mean that missions feel lackluster and you may find yourself tiring of dealing with the same ghosts over and over again, even if they do regularly introduce new species.

Gameplay score: 5/10

Perilous real estate

Graphics have naturally improved going from the GameCube to the 3DS. Dark Moon looks spiffing with each mansion having a good atmosphere and elements that set it apart. For example, the first mansion is a straightforward house with fancy decor and living armors, whereas the second consists of two separate towers and utilizes water and plants a lot. The game is still light on horror and actually less scary than the first game, which could be unsettlingly surreal from time to time.

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Audio is also improved, mostly by reducing the amount of annoying gibberish and giving Luigi more lines. He is still such an endearing protagonist and the game has more cutscenes and scripted moments to let his character shine more. Music is also still strong and features a lot of remixes of the theme song alongside some new tracks. It’s not a fantastic soundtrack, but certainly enjoyable.

It has to be said, however, that Dark Moon‘s smaller mansions don’t hold a candle to the estate from the first game in terms of atmosphere and visuals. The quality of the graphics has improved, but there was something satisfying about slowly exploring all the rooms of this massive house, which can’t be matched by the relatively tiny levels featured in this game.

Presentation score: 7/10

Luigi does not work for free

As you explore the mansions, you are once again allowed to pilfer them for all their riches. Money can still be found by discovering secrets or just checking every drawer, vase, and cupboard. This money then goes into improving the Poltergust and flashlight, which is certainly useful, but it does take away some of the surprise. You are never left wondering what you might unlock next and especially the flashlight upgrades didn’t really add much.

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You can also find various hidden gems that add even more money and each mission has a Boo hiding somewhere. Collecting all the Boos will unlock a bonus mission for each mansion, but I went out of my way to unlock some and it’s underwhelming. One bonus mission just gave me a timer and tasked me to clear a few rooms as fast as possible, which didn’t even unlock any kind of reward for the effort.

Extras score: 3/10

Verdict

I had fun playing through Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, but despite the improved controls, visuals, and audio, it feels like there was less ambition going into it. Breaking up the mansion into several smaller ones and breaking those up into brief 20-minute missions makes for pacing that is very stop-and-start. You can never really get into a good flow with Dark Moon. The removal of the portrait ghosts is also a major strike against the game and leaves the boss-fights especially feeling underwhelming.

48/100

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