Mario is king, no doubt ‒ but not in this game. In Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Mario's brother Luigi is the star. And while he might not have the strength and speed of Mario, he sure managed to convince these reviewers that he's really got what it takes.
The 3D aspect, the atmosphere, the puzzles, the multiplayer; everyone found something to like. Let's have a look at what has been said.
Dark Moon's greatest asset is its atmosphere. The game perfectly captures the sort of genteel spookiness typified by Disneyland's Haunted Mansion attraction. The five mansions you explore are the sorts of shadowy places children (and young-at-heart adults) can venture into and conquer, feeling all the braver for it, not the sorts that are going to cause any nightmares. Creaky old suits of armor covered in cobwebs line stately hallways. Flashes of lightning cast huge shadows on the walls. Contraptions that look like the work of mad scientists clutter old laboratories. Luigi may be afraid to discover what's behind each new door, but you'll be eager to uncover each mansion's mysteries.
There's not much in the way of new mechanics, but what's there is helpful enough. In the original Luigi's Mansion, ghosts broke free of your vacuum's hold pretty easily. In Dark Moon, once they're in your funnel, you've pretty much got 'em — assuming there aren't any other ghosts around to get in your way. Which, there almost certainly will be — Dark Moon tosses ghouls your way liberally. Strategically corralling, flashing and vacuuming them all at once is satisfying, but if your aim is off, you're going to be in hot water.
What was really impressive to me‒and I'm as shocked as anyone by this‒is how Dark Moon uses the 3D capabilities of the system to its benefit. Look, I think 3D in most 3DS games is about as necessary as the continued existence of Waluigi, but in Dark Moon, the 3D mixed with the game's diorama-style camera presentation gives every environment a sense of depth that makes exploration a great deal more fun. It's a sincerely terrific use of 3D in a time when anything 3D looks pretty much passé and annoying, so I'll understand if you're skeptical. If you do plan to play Dark Moon, just do me the one favor of at least trying the 3D for a few minutes. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The single-player isn’t the only thing that really caught my eye; one of the more pleasant surprises here is the multiplayer. This option offers four different modes that can feature up to four friends in the ScareScraper, a haunted building where the game’s host can determine where the team of ghost-busting, multicolored Luigis can start at before racing to collect as many pesky poltergeists as possible. I wonder if part of my enjoyment was that it wasn’t just a rip-off of the Luigi’s Mansion minigame from Nintendo Land and instead its own unique feature, though. Nonetheless, if you can’t get enough of the single-player action and want more of a challenge, this is a solid place to look.
The tone of the game is mostly lighthearted and adorable. If you have any shred of humanity, you won't be able to hold in your chuckles as you play Dark Moon. Simply put, the game is charming, and showcases Luigi's likeability to an amazing degree. Next Level Games and Nintendo channel their inner slapstick as Luigi is constantly tossed and thrown around like a rag doll, but all the while, you're rooting for him.
While the missions are divided into bite-sized pieces, the locations themselves feel substantial, cohesive and sumptuously detailed. You start in a modest mansion, draped in cobwebs and guarded by twitchy suits of armour, but the game finds a neat groove of escalation. It’d be remiss to spoil the mansions‒exploration is king, remember‒but they each harbour their own theme and become larger and more intricate as you progress. Everything rattles and shakes under a gust from your vacuum cleaner, often guarding secrets; gems to collect, Boos to hunt. In a sense, the mansions recall the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, with environmental manipulation and sheer adventurous discovery marking Luigi’s Mansion as a far grander game than its modest predecessor and hero might suggest.
Nintendo has deemed 2013 the "Year of Luigi." And while Luigi's Mansion may not have felt like a game that needed a sequel, Dark Moon exists, and it has something to prove: Luigi can carry a game all by himself. I'm not convinced the series needed to go for more, more, more, (bigger! better! faster!) but I'm sold on Luigi himself. In fact, I want to see more of Luigi than I do his famous brother. Even if Luigi is kind of a goof.
Top image courtesy of Gergő Vas.