(Posted to my Facebook page on March 8, 2015)
I borrowed Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon from a friend a few months ago, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to finishing it, it’s time to hand down my verdict. Does it live up to the Gamecube classic, or is this ghost story not worth telling again?
The game opens on Professor E. Gadd as he continues his research into ghostly activities, this time looking into Evershade Valley. Overlooked by the mysterious Dark Moon, the ghost there are not hostile, but are friendly and assist Gadd in his research. However, a mysterious force shatters the Dark Moon, turning the ghosts hostile. Gadd summons Luigi, equipping him with the new Poltergust 5000 to assist in reassembling the Dark Moon and bringing peace back to the valley.
One big change in the sequel is that the game no longer takes place in one large mansion, but rather in five smaller mansions. Each mansion offers fresh locals and some new challenges, but overall each mansion just feels like a bit of a reskin, and the locals as a result feel somewhat cramped compared to the enormous mansion in the first game.
Another change is that, unlike in the original, this game is structured into missions. In the original, you were free to wander the mansion as you like, and as you gained keys you’d be directed to your next room. Obviously, with it being a handheld console, the flow needs to work differently. Most people will just want to pick it up, play a mission or two, and then put it away. In that sense it succeeds, but it can feel rather jarring to be yanked out of the mansion, sometimes seemingly at random, which can make you miss a lot of treasure and collectibles. It’s a double edged sword, but the mission structure in general seems like it loses a lot of the magic of the first game.
Speaking of the treasure, in this game, treasure serves as a way to upgrade the Poltergust 5000. There are five upgrades in all, but they seem rather token. Upgrades to the Darklight to increase its duration (Moderately pointless), upgrades to the pull power of the Poltergust (Moderately useful) and a final upgrade to increase the overall power. In the first game, the money was just a way to track you overall ranking at the end of the game and it’s nice to see it has a purpose now, but the system seems rather token. They had a chance to do something really cool here, but instead, it comes off as somewhat tacked on. The gems in this game, incidentally, are just collectibles. Some feature interesting puzzles to unlock, and can be fun to find.
The controls are… I don’t want to say bad, but misguided. The original Luigi’s Mansion could feel clunky at times, but having a second stick really did help it. In Dark Moon, you’re restricted to aiming the Poltergust by tilting the 3DS physically, which can be an enormous pain to control and makes getting a good view of the screen while throwing it all over the place nearly impossible. The tilting controls also show up in a mechanic where Luigi needs to balance across a beam to get over certain pits. An interesting idea, but one which falls flat on its face due to how unforgiving the game becomes for the slightest movements. Soon, seeing these beams will just make you groan.
The ghost variation is pretty small, only having about 7 types of main ghosts with a few variations on some of them and a stronger version of each. That in itself isn’t too bad, considering that for the main ghosts, the first didn’t have much more, if any more types of ghosts. No, what really disappoints here at the boss fights. The original was all about boss fights and the puzzles associated. While some were very easy, the sheer variety in them, the atmosphere during various scenes, the personalities of each ghosts, and the tension of so many boss ghosts around, the original’s main theme were the bosses, and they were a lot of fun. Dark Moon starts off on a good foot with a very interesting boss at the end of the first mansion with an interesting puzzle to solve to complete. However, it’s all downhill from there. The next three bosses are incredibly boring and uninteresting and include, I shit you not, a TURRET SECTION. In a Luigi’s Mansion game! I have no idea who thought that would be a good idea, but they should be punched. Hard. The final mansion sports three boss fights, which range from mediocre to good, culminating with a final battle against King Boo (Don’t you dare act like this is a spoiler). An interesting fight, but one that shamelessly repeats itself three times for the sake of padding out the play time. All in all, there fights were supposed to be the meat of the game but felt like a chore, something they included because they felt they had to, not because it was the focus of the game. A huge disappointment that really knocked the game down in my opinion.
The graphics are good, each mansion looking the part and at least allowing the player to get some cool locations to fight in. The environments themselves are easy to get lost in, fun to explore and have a great deal of secrets that you can spend a great deal exploring. The exploration really is the best strength of this game, and it can really show if given a chance.
The last thing I should really mention is Luigi. Firstly, the game thought it necessary to last-minute throw in a plot about how Mario had been kidnapped by King Boo because the first game did it I guess. You see, it was necessary in the first game because it gave Luigi his motivation to push through the mansion in the first place, facing his greatest fears to rescue his brother, and that struggle made it worth playing through to the end. In Dark Moon, you don’t need that hook! Luigi is already invested to help E. Gadd and save the Valley, helping the ghosts in the process. Adding the “Save Mario” plot it pointless and feels tacked on. On the other hand, Luigi himself, being one of the most interesting Mario characters, manages to make up for it. As Yahtzee Croshaw put in his review, Luigi is just full of personality, from his nervous humming to his pride at the end of the level and everything in between. That’s really the other strength of this game, and Luigi really is a worthwhile protagonist to get behind.
In the end, I did enjoy Luigi’s Mansion. It missed the mark with the flow of the game, the boss battles and the controls, but with the exploration, interesting locals and Luigi himself, the game manages to pull itself into an enjoyable spot, and has a very cozy, deserved spot in the 3DS library. I don’t think I’d play it again, but for what it was, I did enjoy the time I spent revisiting my favorite Ghost Buster. Eat your heart out Bill Murray.
I give Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon a 3 out of 5.