Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for Nintendo 3DS

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Sequels can take many forms. Some, like Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger, stick particularly close to what worked the first time, opting to recreate the same experience with but a few tweaks and additions. Others, such as Paper Mario: Sticker Star, are happy to essentially throw out most (or in some cases, even all) of what worked so well before and try to create a wholly new experience.

Then there are those games which fall somewhere in the middle: They hew close to the original title, keeping what made the original so beloved in the first place, while simultaneously managing to push forward, applying those same fundamentals to new elements and evolutions which manage to feel fresh while maintaining a comforting sense of familiarity. This is where Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon not only fits, but thanks to the developers at Canada’s own Next Level Games (Punch-Out!!, Mario Strikers Charged), is able to thrive.

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Unlike the original Luigi’s Mansion, Luigi isn’t trying to find his brother in a haunted house. This time, Professor E. Gadd is doing research in the Evershade Valley when suddenly, the benign ghosts which live there go into a chaotic and mischievous frenzy. This is the result of the jewel-like Dark Moon which hangs over the valley being shattered, its pieces scattering across the landscape.

Remembering how well they worked together back in the original game– and for lack of a better option, perhaps– Gadd summons Luigi to assist in restoring the Dark Moon, whether he wants to or not (spoiler: he’d rather not). In a nice nod to continuity, Gadd reaches Luigi at the smallest mansion available when you complete the original game.

With one piece of the Dark Moon already in their possession, it’s up to Luigi to go to four different haunted mansions across the valley and retrieve the remaining pieces.

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Fortunately, just like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, Gadd hasn’t been idle in regards to the advancement of ghost-capturing equipment. Whereas the GameCube iteration featured Luigi wielding the Poltergust 3000, this time he’ll be using the Poltergust 5000, a newer, more modular version of the vacuum-styled apparatus that is capable of utilizing numerous new upgrades and features. (For those wondering, the 4000 was one of the karts Luigi drove in Mario Kart DS.)

Unfortunately for Luigi, Gadd’s foresight extends only so far. As a result, it’s up to him to find the Poltergust and is various attachments within the haunted halls of the first mansion, where Gadd was performing his research before fleeing to his special bunker.

When fully assembled, the Poltergust 5000 utilizes not only the vacuum sucking and blowing features from before, but the flashlight is built right in. This is soon augmented with a special Strobulb mechanism which is not only necessary for stunning ghosts this time around (previously, you had to turn out the light and then surprise them with it), but also for activating special sensors throughout the mansions, allowing you to proceed.

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Additionally, a special Dark Light attachment will allow Luigi to shine its special rainbow-colored rays in suspicious areas, revealing spirit balls that have concealed various items, doorways, and paintings. Finally, there’s the Power Surge. As Luigi is sucking up ghosts, a meter fills, and at certain intervals, a tap of the “A” button will zap the ghost in a taser-like fashion, knocking off a good chunk of its hit points.

The more ghosts you suck up at once, the more money you get. And the more money you get, the more you can upgrade the Power Surge and Dark Light functions, helping to make the handling of ghosts a bit easier. The only downside here is that seeking out money and treasures is a large part of the fun of exploration in the game, but the only practical use for the money is in upgrading the Poltergust, which doesn’t take terribly long– particularly if you’re thorough. As a result, your inclination to explore might be reduced after maxing everything out.

Though Luigi has more tools to make use of, and one less analog stick to use them with, the control scheme in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon still does the trick nicely for the most part. If there is any particular flaw to point out, it’s the reliance on gyroscope controls in some parts, such as when Luigi needs to balance his way across a beam of wood. Heaven help you if your hands aren’t steady, or worse, if you’re actually treating this as a portable game and are attempting to cross while riding in a bumpy car, bus, or train– you might as well just put the game away and do something else at that point.

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Poltergust upgrades and gyroscopic controls (and excellent 3D visuals, of course) aside, the biggest change to Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is its mission-based system of progression. In the original game, you basically wandered around a large mansion openly, looking for money, ghosts, and how to progress to find more.

In Dark Moon, you’ll make several visits to each mansion with a new objective in mind each time. For instance, your first objective in the first mansion is to find the Poltergust and the Strobulb. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be zapped back to E. Gadd’s bunker to tally up your score and see about getting upgrades. After that, you’ll take on another mission to find some missing gears from a piece of machinery needed to progress; you’ll find them, return so Gadd can put them together, and so forth.

Each time you return, you’ll get to explore a bit more of the mansion, and things will change, too. Ghosts will be in different areas, as will treasure, encouraging you to explore thoroughly each time you return. In some ways, it’s like entering a remixed version of the mansion each time you visit.

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And though there are four mansions instead of one (each with different themes based on their locale, such as a clockwork mansion or the Haunted Towers in the forest), they still feel substantially large. On that same note, missions get progressively longer as you proceed through each; depending on how well you do at finding your way through and tackling the ghosts within, you could spend as much as half an hour or more on a single mission.

To put it simply, the game is quite vast, quite fun, and to be honest, quite difficult at times. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon seems to subscribe to the recent (and not entirely unwelcome) trend of not holding players’ hands every step of the way and allowing them to figure things out for themselves, which definitely heightens the sense of achievement when you figure out what needs to be done.

This includes not only exploring, but also fighting bosses, who can employ an almost Rube Goldberg machine-like way of fighting them, with each blow requiring a different form of delivery from the last. Fighting and exploring can be rather obtuse at times as a result, making each new discovery that much more rewarding.

Fortunately, the times I was stumped were relatively infrequent, sometimes with the answer right in front of me– suffice to say, your mileage may vary.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.