2001 introduced gamers to the wonderful world of Luigi’s Mansion, a game which deviated from the traditional Mario scene and featured the younger, greener Luigi in the starring role. Twelve years later, Dark Moon has arrived, and introduces players to the Evershade Valley, where the wonderfully spry Professor E. Gadd has relocated in order to study ghosts in a closer environment. But when the Dark Moon is shattered and the playful ghosts start destroying the professor’s work, it’s up to Luigi to get them back under control. Equipped with a handy new Poltergust and his signature brave face — or lack thereof — the other brother sets foot into five nearby mansions to restore the Dark Moon and tame the harum-scarum specters.
In Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, players are given three vital tools to make their way through the various obstacles and oddities found within the Evershade Valley. The central element to Luigi’s Mansion is the Poltergust, a vacuum cleaner used for grabbing the ghoulies and raking in cash. In Dark Moon, Luigi must use the latest in E. Gadd’s line of hoovers to capture ghosts and solve many puzzles found throughout the game’s mansions. Dark Moon then introduces two new features, the first and lesser of which is a new flashlight which you must charge up and unleash in order to open certain doors, stun ghosts before capturing them, and even turn small animals into bits of cash. The second and more pivotal new tool introduced in Dark Moon is called the Dark-Light Device, which is used to uncover hidden objects throughout the game. Many of these hidden objects are necessary to progress in the game, while others may contain obscene amounts of treasure.
One of the most immediately discernible strong suits of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is how far the creative team at Next Level Games has gone to characterize Luigi as more than just “The green Mario.” Building upon Luigi’s cartoonish humor already established by Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and its successors, Dark Moon is the pinnacle of Luigi’s existence as the bumbling, cartoony hero who captures the hearts of million and somehow manages to save the day in the process.
Between his clumsy run, his frightened voice, and his lingering fear of everything he find himself so reluctantly doing, Dark Moon endears the players to its hero far more than most games can tout, and shows that Luigi is not just a recolor of his more famous brother, but the antithesis of Mario in every way. The wacky antics and goofy predicaments Luigi is constantly getting into in the cutscenes and even normal gameplay always feels like you’re watching a classic Mickey cartoon. To top it all off, Luigi’s voice is simply adorable, be it his humming along to the theme music, his call for help when a player presses down on the D-Pad, or any time he gleefully exclaims, “I do it,” — which I pray becomes his new catch phrase.
The joys of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, however, dig much deeper than this. The boss fights are creative and exciting. The beautiful music, though not as eerie as the original main theme, will stick in your brain as long as you live. The deviously-hidden gems and optional emphasis on treasure hunting will keep you exploring the mansions for days. Hunting the new types of ghosts offers a simple yet satisfying blend of action and puzzle-solving. The game’s puzzles are addicting to the adults without being too difficult for the youngsters to understand. Every core element that Dark Moon has to offer is masterfully executed and will have you wishing you had more time to play.
On top of the wonderful single-player experience, Nintendo and Next Level Games went the extra mile to provide players with a fun and challenging multiplayer mode called the ScareScraper, in which four players team up to fight ghosts and clear as many floors of the haunted tower as possible before time runs out. Red Coins, warps, and powerups galore, the ScareScraper is not only an exciting diversion from the main game, but one of the best multiplayer experiences in a predominantly single-player game that Nintendo has ever created. If climbing to the top through ghost hunting isn’t quite your cup of tea, you can chase down little Polterpups or work with your teammates to find the finish as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the ScareScraper does not offer a treasure hunting competition between players, which would have been a favorable addition, but the ScareScraper offers enough to keep players very entertained. What’s more is that this multiplayer mode not only supports local wireless and Download Play, but also offers multiplayer via Wi-Fi, should you want to play with others across the globe.
The one drawback to the ScareScraper is the fact that its difficulty was designed for four players. In other words, if you’re sitting at home with just one friend, or if you’re playing online and one person leaves, it becomes increasingly challenging to finish the game. I’m sure by the inevitable launch of Luigi’s Mansion 3, Nintendo will improve the ScareScraper in this respect and many more, but nonetheless, the multiplayer mode in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is one that you will actually enjoy playing.
Luckily for Luigi, the only major fault found in Dark Moon that goes unanswered is that the Dark-Light Device, while used to reveal hidden objects throughout the game, seems like a missed opportunity to make visible objects disappear and uncover even more mysteries hidden throughout the mansions. Just about every other complaint to be found with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, however, stems from decisions whose positive effects neutralize their negative ones.
Though the key theme around which Luigi’s Mansion revolves remains constant between the original and its sequel, Dark Moon introduces dozens of changes that leave it feeling entirely separate and possibly even incomparable to GameCube classic. Beyond the greater focus on puzzles and the introduction of the Dark-Light Device, the single most noticeable new gameplay aspect is that Dark Moon revolves entirely around goal-based missions, rather than open exploration. Whether sending you on a quest to repair the clock tower, guide Toad safely back to E. Gadd’s bunker, or even send you on a wild mutt chase, the introduction of missions brings both good and bad.
On the one hand, mission-based gameplay makes Dark Moon incredibly easy to pick up and play, which is perfect for a handheld experience. Because each quest takes approximately twenty to thirty minutes, it’s also very easy to work game time into an otherwise busy day. The focus on treasure hunting and low play time also challenges players to casually beat records for individual missions rather than an entire six-hour game, which is again a terrific decision for a handheld experience. Because of this, Dark Moon has strong replay value and makes its presence known long after the final boss for the more persistent players.
On the other hand, mission-based gameplay detracts from the feeling of the individual worlds as part of a larger whole that made the original so immersive. Additionally, mission-based gameplay emphasizes the disparity between each of the game’s five mansions — and to a lesser extent, between the goals themselves, which can also greatly detract from the pleasure of exploring a mansion at your own pace. Right at the peak of excitement, Luigi will get a useless and disrupting call from Professor E. Gadd either to mention a new mission, or worse, take you all the way back to the lab right when you want to keep going. Though this effect is easy to get used to and accept, it is jarring for the first hour or two of gameplay and ultimately acts as a detriment to the game’s immersive locales.
That said, mission-based gameplay offers both positive and negative, and despite some shortcomings, I believe it was the right decision to make when bringing Luigi’s Mansion to a handheld device. So long as whatever sequel may find itself back on Nintendo’s home consoles returns to the open-exploration style of the original — hopefully completed by a dark, eerie field to connect neighboring haunts — then mission-based gameplay is neither inherently a boon nor a bane to the Luigi’s Mansion series, but rather a different offering for different types of players.
It’s also important for older fans to understand that the game is much lighter in tone than the original. Whereas Luigi’s Mansion had ghosts and even bosses lurking at every turn, and even when you’d completed a room it turned out you still weren’t truly safe, Dark Moon is very much about completing tasks and forgetting about the dangers you have already faced. There are far fewer ghosts ready to appear as soon as you turn your back, and right down to the aesthetic appearance of the game, the colors are lighter and the shapes less extravagantly frightening. Because of the missions-based gameplay, less intimidating music, and this more mellow feeling of suspense, Luigi’s Mansion is quickly turned from a lighthearted horror game to a cartoon ghost hunt. In many ways, this is an absolute delight, but it’s also important to note that Dark Moon isn’t quite as spine-chilling as some players of the original title might hope.
The Verdict: Frighteningly Good!
Though it draws inspiration from 2001’s GameCube classic, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon does everything in its power to differentiate itself from its predecessor in as many exciting ways as possible. Being so different, judging Dark Moon based on the precedents set by the original Luigi’s Mansion would be a disservice, and thus we can better appreciate everything that Nintendo and Next Level Games have done to make Dark Moon a fantastic game in its own right. With lovable cartoony characters, easy-to-understand yet immersive gameplay, and core concepts that keep you coming back for more, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon joins the ranks of Kid Icarus: Uprising and Fire Emblem: Awakening as one of the best 3DS games around.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Fantastic characterization; impressive multiplayer; and collectibles that keep you coming back for more
Missed opportunities for deeper puzzles and a better sense of immersion