I may be the exception to the norm when I say I prefer Luigi to Mario. If given the choice I’ll pick the green over the red, the lanky over the stout, and the underrated over the show-off. To me Mario is full of himself. Talented he may be, but he knows it, and that’s not an attractive quality in anyone. So when it was announced that Luigi would once again be starring in his own ghost-busting adventure, I was overjoyed. It was time once again for the younger brother to take his turn in the spotlight.
Little has changed in his decade away, too. So little in fact that the setup for Luigi’s Mansion 2 tries to carry directly on from the GameCube original: simply put, Professor E. Gadd is again experiencing paranormal issues and abruptly teleports Luigi into his lab to help. As plot contrivances go it’s not subtle, and it sets the standard for a rather perfunctory tale. Citing a mysterious crystal only known as the Dark Moon, the usually friendly ghosts are now running amok. Having amassed a sizable property portfolio since you last met, the professor insists on sending you in to each of his mansions in turn to rid them of the squatting ghosts and to unravel the crystal’s secrets.
However the story presents itself, the upside is that there are now multiple haunted houses to explore. Though Luigi may have tentatively explored just one originally, now he can tiptoe through old clock factories, icy retreats and flourishing greenhouses. The separation allows far more exploration of the different themes and at points our hero will be slipping up a snow-covered drive or examining a botanical garden surrounding a swimming pool, all showing off the graphical muscle of the diminutive handheld. Though it’s not just the special rooms that get all the attention, as each comparatively mundane area is filled with incidental items. The inclusion of dressers topped with knickknacks and workbenches covered in tools presents each room as being as important as the last, and ties together a mansion’s feel.
All the time we’re admiring the surroundings my favourite plumber bumbles about, giving the distinct impression he’d rather be anywhere but there. Given that you’ll be staring at him for great periods of time, Nintendo have rightly spent a great deal of care and attention on his animation and he’s full of surprises and exudes as much character as his surroundings. From nervous glances when first entering a room to chattering to the professor on DS, or even humming his own theme tune, he takes full advantage of his turn in the limelight. Nowhere is this more obvious than when he’s taken unawares by secret passages. On more than one occasion the poor fellow takes a moment out to sit on a plush chair or lean on against an innocent wall only to trigger a rotating door that sends him crashing to somewhere new.
Be it treasure or hidden passages, most of the rooms hide a secret and the majority are unearthed by your trusty Poltergust 5000 (vacuum cleaner) and stroboscope (torch). It’s amazing what you can do with a Dyson strapped to your back as canvases are sucked from frames and curtains are ripped from their runners; no material is apparently safe from your nozzle. Conversely to that destruction, your torch can reveal items that were otherwise hidden, patching pipework and repairing bridges.
The controls are simple enough but the lack of a second analogue stick means that paying attention to anything above or below your normal arc is a tad awkward. Holding down X will cause Luigi to tilt back, which may sound simple enough but marry that with pressing A to shine your light and the right trigger to vacuum and you have the makings of cramp. Whilst serviceable, it’s awkward and frequent enough that it desperately cries out for a right stick to replace the buttons.
Not everything you discover when sucking and blowing your way around the houses is treasure, however, and many times you’ll disturb the ghostly residents who don’t react kindly to your intrusion. Though not quite as varied in size and shape as in the Gamecube outing, what they lack in diversity they make up for with props. Often you can spy them through holes in the wall having pillow fights or caught painting portraits of one another, and when cornered they’ll be surprisingly resourceful. Some may don sunglasses to protect themselves from your stunning torch or carry makeshift shields to resist the Poltergust. All have their little patterns that you can break through relatively easy, and once you do it’s just a case of grabbing on, hoovering, and then pulling in the opposite direction until you’ve worn them down enough to be reeled in. Imagine a paranormal Sega Bass Fishing.
Despite their best efforts none prove particularly challenging, though it’s easy enough to fall if outnumbered and cornered as the tight rooms mean it can be hard to dodge successive attacks. When you do, the first of the chinks in its haunted armour begins to show. Luigi’s Mansion has a very old school approach to death and it’ll dump you right back at the beginning of the level. For a game that is relatively casual for the most part this seems like an extreme punishment as levels average at between 20 and 30 minutes long.
The level structure as a whole sits uneasily as for a portable game, such relatively lengthy slices – with no mid-level save – seems odd. A far better option would have been a more open and flexible mansion. As it is each level resets the respective mansions to a specific set of locked doors and primed monster closets, but I feel it would have been a far more enjoyable game if the whole mansion was available to explore from the off and E. Gadd just directed you about from afar. Currently the continued return to his lab for some mindless wittering simply breaks the flow of your ghost-busting. Especially early on the staccato nature of your missions almost undermines the strengths of the game, with the strong draws of the exploration and glorious originality in each room dampened by the repeat visits and restrictive objectives.
The balance is that this regimented structure is perfectly suited to the online mode. An enjoyable affair where four players head off about a set a rooms to rid them of ghosts before heading to the exit. It’s surprisingly easy to play given Nintendo’s track record with online, though sadly lacks the voice chat required for proper coordination.
For a game that I have waited a decade for, it leaves me with mixed feelings. Though overall the game is a light-hearted, enjoyable, and charming affair that keeps the spirit of the original alive, it has moved backwards in other areas. Namely the open mansion being replaced by levels, and the uniquely themed ghosts giving way to a series of generic spectres with novelty hats.
That may be the weight of my expectations speaking, yet what is evident is the charm and character that both Luigi and the environments bring to every aspect of Dark Moon. More so than any other character in the Mario series, Luigi in this setting is given a chance to display his distinct personality. The continual vacuuming of abandoned cupboards and dusty corners may grow a little repetitive by the end, but to see what is in the next room and how Luigi will bumble through it will always bring a smile to your face.