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Review – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

2001’s Luigi’s Mansion allowed Luigi to finally take the spotlight away from his older, more successful brother. The Gamecube launch title, while charming, was unfortunately lacking, ultimately too simple, easy, and short to be anything memorable, or frankly worth a spin. Now, a dozen years later, Luigi finally gets another crack at the spot light with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon.

Professor E. Gadd is back again as this time his spectral assistants have turned naughty on him. Why? Because the Dark Moon has vanished from the sky over Evershade Valley, obviously. So naturally, he brings in our reluctant hero Luigi to suck up some ghosts and figure out exactly where that Dark Moon went. The opening stretch is long in the tooth like many modern day Nintendo games. You’ll probably be navigating through a copious amount of text dialogue even with the setup being so basic. Powering through this long-winded opening does get you to what is mostly an admirable job on Next Level Games part though. They have taken the base formula of the original, and fleshed it out into an even more robust adventure game.

The defining aspect of this game is its atmosphere. Dark Moon is a game overflowing with charm and personality. The ghosts of Dark Moon are funny, playful, borderline vindictive and interesting in ways most Nintendo enemies (Mario Bros. enemies specifically) simply aren’t. Dark Moon even has a character that might belong in the discussion of cutest Nintendo creation in the Polterpup, a playful ghost dog who routinely shows up to play fetch with Luigi. Simply put, he’s cute as hell. The mansions themselves are highlights of their own. Gone is the lone mansion of the original and in its place are five aesthetically varied mansions, all of which have a Scooby-Doo-esque brand of comically spooky atmosphere going for them.

Luigi is even more endearing with his rather cowardly, but ultimately humorous ways. The way he curls up every time he’s zapped into the next mission is funny. If you let your game stay idle for too long, he hums along with the background music, and watching some of the physical comedy that Luigi goes through in the cut-scenes is a delight of its own.

The aesthetics aren’t the only things that got fleshed out this time, however. The gameplay structure is completely different from the original. Aside from more mansions, Dark Moon is a mission based game. Each mission has its own set of objectives to complete, usually requiring Luigi to hunt down a key, check a room, or escort some Toads. Each mansion ends on a possessor boss fight in which ghosts possess a larger, more menacing object, such as a giant spider.

Many of these missions are genuinely fun and part of that is due to your interactions with the environments. You can pull curtains, shake some tables, mess with ledges and so on. There is also a device that lets you find hidden objects. Some puzzles will ask you to move an item from one room to the next. Though some of these can get silly or obtuse with specifics, there are a fair amount of intricate and clever puzzles that should satisfying. Most of them however are very basic, and by the numbers after a while.

In combat, Dark Moon works similar to the original. You have a charge flash for your flashlight, and you suck up ghosts with the right shoulder button. Ghosts are varied enough to keep you on your toes. The by-the-numbers green ghosts eventually switch up their tactics by putting on sunglasses, or even picking up a sword and shield. Other ghosts can be spongier; there are also prankster types. By the midway point, these ghosts will be super charged, which really just makes all the ghosts have more health, and one extra trick up their sleeve.

Most of the time the combat feels solid. Even though this is a 3D adventure game built around one analog stick (or circle pad since this is the 3DS), a fair amount of the encounters are built with the idea that your movements are restricted in mind. However, for all the fleshing out and improving, Dark Moon has done, there are some noteworthy failures along the way, the most offensive of which are unfortunately tied to the mission designs.

In the early going, the game is a flighty affair that is still far too easy at times. While the original game was too short, this game feels padded out. Each mansion has at least one or two missions that simply feel like work or are there to artificially prolong the adventure. Escorting Toads from one point to the next is rarely done in a clever way. Ghosts only interact with Toads in a meaningful way that changes the gameplay a handful of times. Most of the time, these missions feel like any other moment in the game except now you’re escorting a character who is deathly afraid of water, or something silly like that.

The aforementioned adorable Polterpup is used in a similar manner as well. His missions comprise entirely of hunting the dog down to retrieve what he has stolen from you, usually by going from one room to the next until you finally get a chance to suck him up. Most of the time you’re just backtracking through environments you’ve already been to.

Boss fights are major let downs to this adventure. Modern day Nintendo boss fights have routinely become easy, but the adventure games like Metroid/Zelda have at least made efforts into making these fights interesting. The ones found in Dark Moon are by-the-numbers pattern-based fights. Dodge this, dodge that, flash, and suck up the ghost and some of the later ones are simply long in the tooth or just tedious.

One such fight has you going through twelve waves of enemies before you can finish the ghost off. And while these sequence can be intense, it can be just as frustrating. The game has no checkpoint system, so a death fairly late into the mission means you do the entire mission over from the beginning – cutscenes included. Usually the no checkpoint system is fine as these missions aren’t long, but there are missions that overstay their welcome, and having to do them all over again from the beginning is a frustrating punishment.

This is further exacerbated by encounters that ask too much of the gameplay mechanics. Because of the deliberate (or restricted) nature of Luigi’s combat movements, you are rarely well-equipped enough to deal with large groups of enemies. A sequence at the tail end of the game asks the player to go through a series of ghost hunts, dealing with larger groups while also having to take into account a time limit, going back and forth through the mansion as quickly as possible, and often hoping to quickly pick up some health along the way. It’s challenging, but not in a rewarding sense. When you conquer it, you’re more likely to feel you got lucky that certain encounters went a certain way so you had time to spare.

In other stretches, you have to deal with some hardware gimmicks, namely the gyroscope being used in any sequence where Luigi has to walk across tight beams. You can cheat on these by just putting your 3DS on a flat surface, raising the question why couldn’t it just be on an analog in the first place? Another moment where the gyroscope rears its ugly head is during a boss fight where you use a cannon to knock off the boss’ shell. Now you can use an analog to aim, but the screen also moves with any motion you do with the 3DS. It makes controlling that cannon a larger hassle than it has to be.

On the other hand in terms of gimmicks, Dark Moon might be the best use of 3D in a videogame on the 3DS. The presentational touches are clever and genius in their own right, and the game makes good use of it, by simply shifting the camera angle to provide some depth to a hallway with spiders slowly coming down from the ceilings, or by showing you a mirror version of the room for you to find a hidden secret. Few games use their presentation to their advantage the way Dark Moon does.

To round out the package, there is a cooperative mode called Scarescraper. It’s one tall mansion where you and 3 other players try to hunt down some ghosts, find a key, or try to tackle a Polterpup. This can lead to some surprisingly fun and frantic action as you and the other players race against the clock. It’s lacking in terms of variety, and communication options are limited, but it’s a fun diversion in its own right.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of reasons to at least try out Dark Moon. It’s a style of adventure game that is genuinely unique from anything else Nintendo makes or is making, and very few Nintendo franchises have the surplus of charm that Luigi’s adventure has. But it’s also a drawn out and still far too simplistic adventure as well. Moments that are meant to be intense highlights are usually sources of unrewarding frustration. Ultimately, Dark Moon amounts to a game that is at least worth trying out to see where the series went from the original game. It just becomes too much of a chore to ever feel like something consistent.

The Good

  • Charm in spades
  • Great animations and clever use of 3D
  • The Polterpup is cute

The Bad

  • Some missions are outright filler and padding
  • No check point can lead to tedium
  • Boss fights are forgettable
  • The gyroscope is unnecessary

Final Score – 5/10

  • Willard

    My beef with the game is how long each mission takes to complete. Takes like 15 min to a half an hour to get to the end, which is incredibly frustrating for a portable game. I always have to think before booting up the game to see if I have enough time.

    What’s worse, there is no checkpoint system, so if you die during the mission, you have to start ALL OVER again.

    Game itself is fun though, would recommend.

  • Bob

    Champ giving this a low score has encouraged me this game will be a masterpiece.