I can’t imagine Luigi has a swell time exploring the haunted houses of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. But this game has me personally possessed with delight!
Released in 2013, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (aka Luigi’s Mansion 2) is the sequel to the 2001 original. Contagious presentation and addictive ghostbusting gameplay ensure that Dark Moon is injected with spooky Nintendo charm.
A few frustrating design choices hold Dark Moon back from standing alongside the 3DS’s absolute best games. Still, this goofy spinoff series continues to show why we need to treat Mario’s younger brother with more respect. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon proves that green can indeed be gold.
Who ya gonna call? Luigi!
Much of the personality that radiates from Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon comes from its titular protagonist. Luigi might appear to be one of the more unlikely, and unwilling, heroes in Nintendo’s hall of mascots. But Professor E. Gadd knows exactly who to call up after the Dark Moon is shattered and the peaceful ghosts of Evershade Valley begin to cause havoc.
Luigi’s nervous shifty glances and anxious humming to the theme music are small endearing character details. They made me both sympathize and laugh at his many misfortunes. Everything from his hurried running animation to his terrified expressions brought a smile to my face. And, they ensure that this game filled with ghouls and ghosts never takes itself too seriously.
Dark Moon’s impressive visuals continues that attention to detail. The compact art style brings each of the five mansions to life. There is a cartoony aesthetic that leans heavily into Halloween and haunted house iconography. The mansions themselves stand out through interesting themes. Furthermore, the same level of effort is given to the individual rooms. Dusty basements feel appropriately creepy and isolating. Meanwhile, libraries look as though they could belong in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Dark Moon’s implementation of the 3D slider adds some nice depth to the game’s look. So, if you are the kind of player who likes to activate that feature, then the game has you well covered.
However, I did grow slightly fatigued with the ghost designs. Their simplicity is iconic, but it does feel repetitive after a while. Meanwhile, the spooky soundtrack, while certainly hummable, can either fade into the background or become slightly grating after a long play session.
Gameplay, or the vacuum cleaner is mightier than the sword
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon builds upon the foundations of the first game. Luigi, equipped with his handy flashlight and Pultergust 5000, has to clean up the five mansions from their ghost infestations in the hope of piecing together the Dark Moon once again. Developer Next Level Games taps into a truly addictive formula. It involves exploring these mansions while sucking up any stray ghosts. There are also various objectives that need to be completed. These range from clearing away cobwebs to defeating a particularly powerful Boo.
Excavating secrets that were tucked away within Dark Moon’s highly interactive levels became my obsession. In fact, probing each room for money or the well-hidden Gemstones took up a good chunk of my time. Still, I found the drive of exploration to be the primary motive for making my way through the game. The evolving abilities of the equipment continued to open up new approaches to uncover potential goodies.
The actual act of ghostbusting remains a frantic dance of stunning and sucking up the uncooperative undead. And, the creative ways that the different ghost types require certain approaches to defeating them means that this act never becomes stale.
I was worried that the controls might suffer from not having a second analog stick. However, the developers smartly work around this limitation with dedicated buttons to aim up and down. So, things never become unmanageable when the situation gets hairy.
Finally, the ScareScraper mode allows for cooperative multiplayer and makes for a fun, albeit shallow, diversion from the main campaign. The different mini-games include a gauntlet-like ghost-hunting mode and a mission to track down the adorable canine ghost Polterpup.
My biggest grievance with Dark Moon is the way it is structured. Instead of having the option to explore the entirety of each mansion in a single visit, the game interrupts your progress by segmenting the levels into the smaller objectives I mentioned earlier. These segments only allow entrance to a pre-set portion of the mansion. Worse still, Luigi always ends these segments by being teleported back to the Professor’s Laboratory.
I understand that this structure is to encourage bite-sized play sessions appropriate for handheld gaming. However, they destroy the flow of the game and feel like a disservice to the intelligently-designed levels.
Furthermore, E. Gadd’s constant communication with Luigi always took me out of the atmosphere of the moment. It just feels like more padding for a game that suffers from frustrating pacing by design.
Although the third installment of this franchise is coming out soon for the Nintendo Switch, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is still well worth going back to, whether it’s your first time or you’re a returning player trying to dig up all those Gemstones.
Even though I found the structure of the gameplay to be frustrating, once I was in the mansions, I couldn’t put the game down and had to reach for the 3DS charger on more than one occasion. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon provides an addictive experience as Nintendo’s most unlikely hero.