With the release of the Nintendo Gamecube, many had anticipated a follow-up to the system seller for the Nintendo 64 – Super Mario 64. What they got was Luigi’s Mansion, a spooky action game where Mario’s often side-lined brother got the spotlight for the first (official) time. Despite not being the classic Mario we expected, Luigi’s first foray into ghost-busting was a bit of a welcome departure, offering plenty of atmosphere and action in the face of its rather short run-time. Over ten years later, in what Nintendo have dubbed “The Year of Luigi”; the moustached green hat plumber dons the Poltergust and a flashlight once more in Luigi’s Mansion 2. Is this an inspired sequel for one of Nintendo’s forgotten gems, or should it be left in the attic gathering dust?
Normally, the ghosts of Evershade Green are light-hearted if mischievous little scamps that just want to play, but when the source that is calming these spirits is broken by a mysterious Boo-shaped figure they start running riot, wrecking Professor E.Gadd’s laboratory and forcing him out of his mansion. Resorting to summoning the green plumber using his Pixelshifter, he tells Luigi that he must reunite the pieces of the Dark Moon in order to restore balance to the region. Typically of Nintendo’s biggest franchise, the narrative is light-hearted in nature in spite of its gloomy setting; but it’s the sense of character that shines through. Luigi’s cowardly nature is endearing, especially when he is spooked by almost every ghost he encounters, or hums along to the musical score; while Professor E.Gadd is delightfully mad with his briefings.
Luigi’s Mansion 2 opts for a more episodic style, with normal levels within each stage that culminates in a boss battle. This transition from an open world featuring just one spooky mansion, into a more linear experience featuring more than one haunted location might seem unsettling at first, but the style suits handheld gameplay as each one can last anywhere between a few minutes and half-an-hour – depending on whether or not a puzzle stumps you or not. Regularly, a spanner is thrown into the works, either by the narrative itself or a devious puzzle. Generally though, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is just that little bit too easy.The variety and discovery more than make up for it, keeping you playing after the credits roll, but it rarely puts up much of a fight.
With the transition between the refined Gamecube controls to a fewer button interface such as the 3DS, it is initially jarring to get used to some of the key differences. The first game allowed you to independently control the Poltergust 3000 and torch using the right stick, which of course is not possible on the 3DS by itself. The solution is to map pointing the newly updated Poltergust 5000 (with torch add-on) up and down to lettered buttons or the gyro, neither of which feel natural when playing. The lack of Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad Pro compatibility is incredibly disappointing, since this seems like a natural fit, but at least the rest of the controls work well with touch-screen limited to answering calls from Professor E.Gadd.
The Poltergust 5000 has many different uses that return from previous games. Pulling up coins, objects, and ghosts; and creating gusts to blow away at things around you is as enjoyable as ever. However, with every upgrade come new functions, with the most intriguing of these being the Dark-Light device. You will quickly discover that objects can be hidden from plain sight, making part of your job to uncover these hidden secrets. Once you’ve sucked up all the spirit orbs, the object will be revealed for you to interact with, containing a variety of different trinkets or ghosts. It adds a new dimension to proceedings that is novel and well within the theme, especially with the culprits being the ever troublesome Boos that act as a collectible item for each stage. Interactions with the environment have also been expanded upon, as Luigi can use fire to burn webs and turn the Poltergust 5000 into a floating device with balloons. He will also find Toads in certain levels to help with his current task, making the gameplay quite varied from mission to mission, while accumulated gold allows for upgrades to your abilities.
Ghosts come in many different flavours this time around, with varying abilities and health. In order to be able to capture them this time around, you need to blind them using your strobe light before wrestling around with the Poltergust 5000. Colours generally depict what kind of ghost you’ll be up against. Green ones are weak if resourceful, while the red ones (or Slammers) tend to resort to brute force. Variety prevents these encounters from ever becoming sluggish; especially with the bosses, such as the Big Spider, that offer distinctly different challenges. While the controls are not perfect due to the hardware limitations, they’re easy enough to handle wrangling in these frantic spectres.
Oddly, there was a decision to include multiplayer into the mix with the Thrill Tower. Consisting of three modes that can be played either via LAN, WiFi, or Download Play; these modes pit you alongside up to four other players to complete that mode’s objective within a strict time limit. Rush simply asks you to find the hatch to the next level, with collected clocks adding to the time allotted; Hunter tasks you with capturing all the ghosts in the level; while the Polterpup mode requires you to track down and capture the constantly moving Polterpups. At the time of review, nobody could be found playing online on the Worldwide settings, but the option to play solo was present and appreciated, meaning that those who just want to tackle the five, ten, or 25 floors can do so. It does show that even single player formats like Luigi’s Mansion can be translated well to a multiplayer format, but only time will tell to see if the Thrill Tower has a consistent player-base.
Perhaps an incentive for this, together with the replaying of levels in the main quest, comes in the form of E.Gadd’s Vault. Here you can deposit captured ghosts, Boos, and gems hidden within each act. Fairly standard collectibles until you consider that Thrill Tower ghosts are stored separately and feature unique spectres from the main quest. They paint a fine line between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards within multiplayer, in which players will either take something away from collecting another ghost to put in the vault, or from the encounter with the ghost itself. This wide-reaching mechanic is part of what might make the Thrill Tower successful as a multiplayer format, which is nice to see. Completing stages with as much gold and least amount of damage rewards you with rankings that round off the collectibles.
Gloomy atmosphere often makes games seem scarier than they truly are. Luigi’s Mansion 2 excels in this to a level that sinks you in effortlessly. The lighting, coupled with things that go bump in the night often creates tension that a well-paced horror scene uses to captivate its audience. The game isn’t genuinely terrifying though, as each of the ghosts has a whimsical design that oozes charisma in their many guises. Some are playful, cackling at your misfortune, while others grunt and growl to make them look tougher. Sure it is child friendly to the core, but there are genuine moments of suspense that definitely make this a gateway to survival horror tropes, with music that changes slightly with your location and drastically when danger is nearby.
Luigi’s Mansion 2 seems to surpass the cult classic that was the Gamecube launch title, despite its limitations in the hardware department. It is hugely disappointing to not see the refined controls from the Gamecube version see a conversion to the Circle Pad Pro add-on; but aside from a few niggles, the solutions to the fewer button configuration do an ample job of maintaining control. The structure is certainly linear, but it does so to make the game a longer and more satisfying adventure, while maintaining the immersion and secrets the first game did so well. Multiplayer may or may not take off in popularity, but the various unique incentives provide a hook rarely seen in core Nintendo games. The year of Luigi then is off to a strong start, with one of the best looking gameplay experiences found on the 3DS to date, even if it is a tad too easy. Maybe the younger brother of Mario should spend some more time in the limelight.