Fly Luigi to the Moon

When the GameCube launched in 2001 without an official Mario game, the Nintendo faithful were stunned. Instead, they got a title starring Mario’s brother, Luigi, and immediately many gamers got that sinking feeling that the system was getting off on the wrong foot. But those who actually gave the game a chance found a charming title that reminded us why Luigi deserves the spotlight—maybe not as often as his big bro, but at least once in a while.

The next logical conclusion, then, was that Nintendo wouldn’t launch a system with this game unless they wanted to turn it into a new series. So, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Several systems, including handhelds, came and went. And after all this waiting, Luigi’s Mansion had been relegated to nothing more than a nice one-hit wonder.

As is often the case with Nintendo, however, just when you think you’ve figured them out, they surprise you. Nearly 12 years post-launch of the original, Nintendo’s decided to give us Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, a true sequel to that GameCube launch title.

The action unfolds with Professor E. Gadd continuing his paranormal research in a land called Evershade Valley. Here, the ghosts are docile and friendly, like Casper or Slimer. But when the mystical Dark Moon, which hovers over the valley, is shattered into six pieces by Luigi’s old nemesis, King Boo, the ghosts go bonkers. E. Gadd barely escapes to a special safe house he’d constructed in case of such an emergency, and he knows there’s only one call to make.

Being the one man with any sort of ghost-busting expertise in the Mushroom Kingdom, Luigi knows he has to help E. Gadd restore peace to the valley—even if he’s absolutely terrified to do so. Armed with an upgraded Poltergust and flashlight, Luigi must travel to five different locations across the valley in the hopes of collecting the remaining pieces of the Dark Moon (one conveniently fell in E. Gadd’s lap after it broke apart) and helping the ghosts there revert to their more docile state.

The first thing you’ll notice is how pretty Dark Moon looks on the 3DS—and how well it takes advantage of the system’s one-of-a-kind aspects. The gloom and doom of a haunted valley doesn’t usually afford the most vibrant color scheme, but this just makes the bright green of Luigi’s clothes and the rainbow array of colors that represents your ghastly foes pop even more on the tiny screen. Also, the lighting effects are superb; entire rooms flash when lightning strikes, and blowing out candles with the Poltergust can completely change the ambiance of any given area. Dark Moon also takes full advantage of the system’s 3D capabilities by having several puzzles play off the depth perception created by the top screen. As for the bottom screen, a Zelda-like map and list of objectives are displayed to help keep Luigi on point through this 10 to 15-hour adventure.

Dark Moon’s level design is also head and shoulders above its predecessor. With five different haunted houses, each with their own theme, the bevy of different puzzles you’ll face will keep you on your toes and entertained through the two dozen stages. You also get to see the range of this new Poltergust and Luigi’s new flashlight, as some simple techniques learned early on get inventive uses later as the stages become more complex.

The game does supply a few frustrations, however; the most notable of these is the aiming system. Dark Moon is just another entry on the ever-growing list of 3DS titles that could benefit from the use of a second analog stick, as you can’t easily turn Luigi in one direction while moving in another. And it grows more frustrating, as you face tougher and tougher ghosts—and the pull against them is what allows you to suck them into the Poltergust.

In light of the fact that the 3DS only has one analog stick—and that Nintendo decided not to offer support for the Circle Pad Pro—you’re left to make use of the system’s gyroscope, but I don’t imagine anyone playing this will want to spin around wildly with their handheld in an attempt to complete the game. I can just imagine someone sitting on a plane, flailing around and smacking their neighbors in the face. When they ask why you did that, you can just reply that you were desperately trying to catch imaginary ghosts. I’m sure that’ll go over well with the FAA.

The story’s also a bit of a drawback, because just like his brother Mario’s adventures, Luigi’s tale here hits almost all the same beats as the first Luigi’s Mansion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the game still has a lot of charm and remains quite humorous as scaredy-cat Luigi progresses further and further. I just expected a little more. Then again, after 12 years, I’m sure not everyone remembers the original Luigi’s Mansion, so this could also serve as an entry point for rookies.

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.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon’s charm, great looks, and interesting puzzles overshadow its few flaws to provide a quality experience that fans of the original and newcomers to the series alike should enjoy in earnest.

Developer: Next Level Games • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.24.13
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon maintains much of the charm of the original and benefits from a superior coat of paint and level design. But one limitation the 3DS has—its lack of a second joystick—can prove irksome, especially as you move into the latter stages.
The Good A large variety of levels and puzzles keep the experience fresh.
The Bad The aiming system is in desperate need of a second joystick.
The Ugly Nearly 12 years between titles and virtually the same story.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive.