What happens when you find the right game on the wrong platform?
I missed the original Luigi’s Mansion when it debuted back in 2001, and with a 3DS remake coming later this year, I decided to take a stab at the series and see what it was all about. As it so happened, my local Gamestop had one last copy of the LM sequel Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on its shelves (and at the $20 Nintendo Select price, no less!), so I grabbed it, put a vacuum on my shoulder, and ventured forth into Evershade Valley. What I found there was a compelling tale filled with detailed locales and some truly inspired puzzle design, but also a game that seemed like a poor fit for a handheld console like the Nintendo 3DS.
My specific thoughts are as follows:
- If you’ve never played a Luigi’s Mansion game, it can be hard to describe exactly what genre it falls under. At its heart, Dark Moon is a puzzle game, one that (sort of) encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of the level’s sandbox for treasure, monsters, and various items that move the story along. However, the occasional arena battles with ghosts give the game an action component, where Luigi must capture his foes (without getting knocked out himself) to progress further. The battles themselves are fairly easy (although dealing with 3+ ghosts in a pain to coordinate), but they add a bit more energy and break up the occasionally-slow pace of the puzzles.
- If you’re worried about younger players getting nightmares, don’t worry: This game is more silly than scary. There aren’t any jumpscare moments, and while ghost battles will pop up unexpectedly at times, you’re always going to see what’s coming.
- The levels themselves are well-designed and full of neat little details that distinguish each location. Even with the lack of lighting, it’s generally pretty obvious which set pieces are interactive and which ones might be hiding a stash of treasure or enemies behind it. There are times, however, when the player is able to backtrack a bit and explore areas that are a bit off the current path, and there were rarely enough rewards for doing so when it happened.
- For each level, Luigi is run though a set of missions that require you to make your way through the area to achieve some objective (find an item, beat a ghost, etc.). This is mostly where my “wrong system” comment comes into play: The missions themselves are a bit longer than you’d expect (I averaged about a half-hour per level, with more-explorable areas routinely taken 45-50 minutes), and don’t sync with the 3DS’s goal of “sneak in some gaming anywhere” in the same way that Miitopia or Fire Emblem Fates did. These kind of longer, exploratory-based games are better suited to home consoles where players can block out longer chunks of time to play, and there’s just too much in do in Dark Moon to try and cram it into smaller time windows. (Also, the smaller screens feel very constraining when you’re looking around, even on my 3DS XL.)
- I like the puzzle design better here than I do in Breath of the Wild, mostly because the control limitations keep the solution space small and the level layouts make the solutions feel intuitive. You’ve only got three tools at your disposal (normal light, Dark-Light, and the vacuum itself), so even if you’re at a complete loss as to what to do next (which I never felt like I was anyway), you can quickly explore the environment with your tools until you stumble onto the answer. There are also enough hints hidden in the background or the room design itself to signal the player’s next move (for example: Need to cross a gap? There’s probably a hidden platform that needs to be revealed).
- A minor gripe: For such a simple control scheme, (R to vacuum, A for flashlight, Y for Dark-Light) I ran into a lot of trouble when trying to use them, and was forever hitting the wrong button in the heat of battle. Most players will likely catch on quicker than I did, but it did get a little annoying when trying to execute the ‘flash-and vacuum’ ghost-capture sequence.
- The enemy designs are pretty generic and lack diversity. For the most part, you fight Slimer ten times per level, with some larger red and purple ghosts tossed in occasionally to change things up. Their attack tactics are pretty similar: Slowly approach while invisible, and then appear next to Luigi to either scare or damage him. Dispatching a ghost is mostly a matter of blasting it with your light and them sucking it in before another ghost comes along to smack you, which means you have to be aware of your immediate surroundings at all times (Splatoon 2 training comes in very handy for larger battles). Boos are here as well, but for all the in-game talk about each one having a different personality, it boils down to “you fight them all the same way, but hey, they each have a unique opening text box!” All in all, outside of the rare unique ghost battle (for example, the Three Sisters), if you’ve fought one ghost, you’ve fought ’em all.
- The boss battles are a mixed bag here, ranging from unimaginative but okay to inspired and well-executed. The first boss, for example, turned out to be a thoughtful puzzle involving webs and fire that really required the player to plot their strategy carefully (and gave them plenty of space to do so). The second boss, alas, was a generic quick-twitch encounter you’d find in any old platformer: Figure out the boss’s pattern, what for the weak point to appear, rock it with the Poltergust, repeat two more times, etc. They’re never bad, but having that first boss set a high bar early made other battles feel unremarkable in comparison.
While there’s certainly enough goodness in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon to recommend picking it up for the discounted $20 price, it feels like a game that should have been expanded onto the Wii U/Switch rather than dumped onto the 3DS. There are some definite selling points here, but it needs more enemy variety, more consistent boss encounters, and more reasons to fully explore the environments. I know the original game is coming back to the 3DS soon, but I’m wondering if digging up an original copy and breaking out my GameCube would be the more enjoyable experience.