2013
05.02

Poor Luigi. It took him the best part of twenty years of living in the shadow of his more successful, fatter sibling Mario to finally get his own game, 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion, then not much else. Save for an educational game in 1991 (in which he didn’t even get a unique sprite, just a red-green palette swap) and even a title credit in the warmly-received Mario & Luigi series that appeared through the rest of the decade, the lack of solo continuity made it feel like there wasn’t even a ghost of a chance of him breaking out into a character in his own right. That first Hoover-wielding adventure, however, set a precedent as a Gamecube launch title, showing what the little purple box had to offer in terms of new gameplay and aesthetics. It’s fitting then that, despite waiting another twelve years for it, his second outing, Luigi’s Mansion 2 – known as Dark Moon stateside – has been kept for the 3DS, the raison d’être of which is its graphics and new levels of immersive play.

In the beginning, the premise of the story is a bit thin. Last time, there was a semblance of familial warmth and otherworldly mystery when Luigi won a mansion in a competition he didn’t enter and had to rescue Mario from within its catacombs. This time, paranormal investigator Professor E. Gadd just wants someone to do the hard part of his research and so teleports an unwitting, unwilling Luigi – quietly sat at home, watching television and probably contemplating how to kill his brother and make it look like suicide – into his secret base of operations. The main objective is to restore the Dark Moon, which has been shattered by King Boo, consequently turning the professor’s spectral servants against him. He then equips him with a Poltergust 5000 (a vacuum for catching ghosts) and sends him into the night, like some sort of rent-a-Bill Murray.

Any doubts soon evaporate when you take your first steps into Gloomy Manor, though, and the world springs to life with a clap of thunder, downpour of rain, moaning of wind and cawing of ravens. The visuals are pristine, and the progression through each world is captivating to behold, whether it’s a battle set against the backdrop of the starry night sky or snowflakes flurrying across and almost out of the screen. It’s even a joy just to make our hero face you with his torch, the light of which accentuates the delicately crafted textures and hues of his world as it shines out into ours. The initial stages largely resemble the old haunts of the first game, but soon you’re exploring abandoned factories, overgrown greenhouses, frozen mines and all manner of kitschy horror settings that broaden the scope of adventuring beyond an old, haunted house. It’s also sonically successful, with plenty of auditory allusions to the predecessor and a new main theme that resiliently reshapes itself to creep-ify the various stages.

Where the locales succeed, however, the ghosts themselves fall short of the mark. They don’t quite possess the mannerisms and charms of their original counterparts. Who could forget Melody Pianissima, the beautiful pianist who would attack if you incorrectly guessed which retro Mario theme she was playing? Or Shivers, the bumbling old butler who would freak out and tear through the mansion, screaming like a banshee when you lit his candles? It was their personalities that brought comic relief and lived up to Nintendo’s high standard of characterisation, and filling the portrait gallery with the whole Fortean family was hugely satisfying. Most of the Mansion 2 spectres are globular blobs; spiteful, nondescript little bastards lacking enough character or dialogue to invoke anything but frustrated Schadenfreude as you cram them into a Dyson. The charms do come in other ways though – Luigi’s childishness and clumsiness make for some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, whether it’s triggering a revolving wall by sitting on a toilet or gleefully waving to himself after putting his arm through a Portal-like teleporter. While his trademark cowardice might put him in an unfortunate contrast with bold, brave Mazza, we’ve seen plenty of raccoon-tailed, head-stomping combat on the 3DS already, and seeing the craven Weegee fall on his arse in terror at the slightest bump in the night makes the ending all the happier when he triumphs over his tormentors. It’s this continual difference in the family that makes him an endearing – if underplayed – character with his own merit.

Tagging along: Luigi, undervalued, in Super Mario World on the SNES.

Tagging along: Luigi, undervalued, in Super Mario World on the SNES.

Aside from the sensory experience, the puzzle-solving also enjoys a palpable upgrade in complexity. Some are straightforward, while others have the clue-free, would-probably-only-solve-this-by-accident dead-endedness of a Zelda title (quite apt, as it was recently revealed to be partly inspired by A Link to the Past). The action, however, is often hampered by E. Gadd’s incessant phone calls (well, DS calls) throughout. No sooner have you completed a simple task that has laid your next move out on a plate than he’s on the line patronising you with instructions like Captain Obvious. With gameplay now separated into step-by-step missions, it’s easier to pick up and play on a whim, but it can often feel like you’re being led by the hand instead of often being left to explore for yourself à la the original. This routine ghost-busting is prone to giving way to frustration when you need to begin the whole thing again thanks to a formidable foe. Thankfully the controls are suitably slick; there’s more actions Luigi can perform now, but the accessibility remains fluid enough to make the Strobulb stun ghosts, interact with your environments via touch or Poltergust, or reveal invisible secrets with the fun new Dark-Light Device. Gone are the elemental powers from the first Mansion, but having to utilise your surroundings to overcome the corporeal obstacles is a welcome change of pace.

Several themed worlds make up the game.

Several themed worlds make up the game.

There’s also yet another presence in the house with the addition of multiplayer, with the option to take part locally or online. Co-operation sees you either hunting ghosts or racing against the clock to make it to the top of Thrill Tower, with enough gold and goodies hidden throughout the ascent to make players question their loyalty when the dust of battle settles. It isn’t quite the finest group game to grace the 3DS – the eventual tedium of watered-down gameplay makes one yearn for solo exploring again – but its inclusion is a credit to developing the series.

And so we begin what Nintendo have dubbed The Year of Luigi (Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and New Super Luigi U are both expected later this summer) in an admirable fashion. It may have taken too long, but it’s good to have the lean, green, ghoul-killing machine trembling on his own two feet again, further establishing his unique legacy while bringing new elements to the canon. Just like a ghost, the Luigi’s Mansion series has a lot of soul that has lived on till now.

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