I didn’t believe it when Nintendo first announced Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. I knew it had been a long time since I played the last one, but was that really all the way back in 2001? That’s Duke Nukem Forever sequel distance, there. Anyway, I was pumped to play a new game in the series. The original game had been such a weird, fun diversion that I was disappointed that Nintendo didn’t seem all that interested in following up on it. Here we are, though, and the game is as much fun as I remember. Perhaps a little harder at times, but still as much fun.
If this is your first time playing a Luigi’s Mansion game (and it probably is given the amount of time between sequels), you’re in for something new and unique. Your entire job is to run around a couple of haunted mansions and deal with the cartoonish ghosts inside of them. Possibly because it’s Luigi and he always gets the short end of the stick, you have to do this with a modified vacuum cleaner, something that ends up being a lot more fun than it sounds. Next Level Games really put that concept to work, somehow taking all of those times you’ve ever accidentally sucked something up while vacuuming and turning it into a game.
You’re not just stuck in a single haunted mansion like in the previous game, but instead get to explore a whole bunch of different haunted houses over the course of the game. Each of these places were widely different from each other, yet they all had a similar feeling about them that tied them together in the main game. Going from the first house to the lab-like interior of the giant tree and surrounding buildings felt like I was in a similar area to the first, but all of the background items were widely different. It kept the game visually interesting, as just when I started to feel that it was getting stale the game would shift to a newer, more complicated place. Just the same, their similar art style made these different locations all feel like part of the same place, so I never found myself wondering why I was in a certain location.
The interactivity of these places is fantastic, too. When a friend asked about what kind of game it was, I had to think about it for a minute before I said it was largely an exploration game. I spent a lot of the game just vacuuming away at the things on the walls, then using my flashlight and dark-light to see if there were any secrets that I’d missed. Almost every item in the game is interactive in some way, so it really pays to try your abilities on every object and surface. Sometimes you can suck up the carpet, sometimes an item will appear out of thin air, and sometimes a plant will blossom in reaction to your flashlight. You might even find yourself pulling off sections of wall with the vacuum, or sucking up a towel that’s connected to a mechanism that releases some cash. Every room is packed with interactive items, giving the player tons of stuff to goof off with and many rewards to find.
Even the stuff that doesn’t do anything will jiggle and shake if you vacuum it. I liked just walking along the walls and trying the vacuum out on everything to see what it would do, and almost every item reacts to it in some way. It’s a cool effect, and it also provides a little bit of entertainment when you’re poking around every available space looking for money or the way out.
Having everything have some sort of reaction and hiding things everywhere can be a problem at some points. I didn’t get lost all that often in the game as it tends to be straightforward, but whenever I did I was lost for a long time. There are often important items you need to interact with for a couple of seconds in succession in order for them to work, so you’re encouraged to use all of your tools on everything for at least a little while. This meant that I sometimes didn’t vacuum a set item for long enough so I wouldn’t actually activate the mechanism. I’d then find myself saying that I’d already tried a certain way of manipulating something and wouldn’t try it again for a while, only finding out that I just hadn’t been doing the action for long enough upon a second attempt. It can cause some minor trip-ups, but your best bet is to always vacuum any questionable items for at least five seconds or so before giving up. Check the roof too. You’ll thank me for both of those later.
When you’re not puttering around the house you’ll be fighting ghosts, something that’s gotten even better in this version. You use your vacuum to suck up the ghosts, something that isn’t all that hard by itself, but you have to stun them with a charged shot from your flashlight first. This can be made more complicated by ghosts wearing sunglasses or buckets on their heads, and you’ll have to figure out how to get that protection off of them each time a new defensive scheme shows up. You may have to wait for an opening, use your vacuum right from the start, or use some other way to break through those defenses before the ghosts whittle your health down to nothing.
Each ghost in the game has a timer when you first grab him, one that counts down as long as you’re still pulling on him with your vacuum. Considering that you can get knocked off of a ghost with an unlucky hit from an enemy, this isn’t the most ideal way to catch one. If you can hold onto one long enough while pushing away from him with the stick, you can build up a more powerful suction. At full charge, this attack will down almost any ghost in the game short of minibosses. Doing so feels natural, as pulling away from whatever you’re grabbing is just how you would do it in real life (it seems to be a similar effect to people who lean while playing racing games). I was doing it without the game ever telling me, which is nice because it never will tell you how to do it, and it’s very important when you need to clear a room fast or down a hard enemy.
The move is so easy and natural that it makes the entire game seem deceptively simple in the first few acts. Ghosts in those chapters tend to come in small packs or alone, allowing the player lots of time to figure out the system and get overconfident in their abilities. It’s not long before small wildlife starts getting put into the same areas as the ghosts. These rats and spiders only do a little damage, but running into one while a ghost is dragging you around means letting go of the ghost. You can fight against the pull a bit, but possibly not enough to avoid the hit. There are also typically a couple of ghosts in any given encounter, so while you’re sucking one up the others tend to be sneaking up behind you. The ghost’s counter will remain at the same number if you get knocked out of suction mode, but you will have to stun it all over again.
More annoying is that you can’t always target the enemy you want to. When you’re facing several enemies with different weaknesses, there is no way to select which one you want to attack. Given that some enemies are immune to suction at specific points, you may find yourself trying to use your vacuum on the wrong enemy and not be able to actually do anything. Sometimes I’d stun a few basic ghosts while trying to deal with the weakness of another ghost (like vacuuming the sunglasses off of a ghost’s face so I could stun it as well). Instead of grabbing the sunglasses it would prioritize the ghosts who were stunned, pulling me right into the sunglasses ghost I was trying to attack. It’s never been more than an aggravation, but it can still force the player to take some unneeded hits.
You don’t have all that much health, either. Wildlife like birds and rats will only hit your for five damage or so out of your hundred life points, but if you’re knocked out of catching a ghost then you’ll fall on the ground and be susceptible to damage until you get up. This often means taking a couple of hits, something that’s terrible as some ghosts and bosses can deal as much as twenty-five damage per hit. You can pick up a golden bone while playing through some areas if you’re thorough and the item will allow a one-time revive, but once that’s gone, you’re done. The game is divided into individual stages to make things a little easier, but if you die in a stage you have to restart it. Given my average stage time was over twenty minutes, you’ll end up with a game that can be pretty hard in some places.
The bosses showcase this difficulty perfectly. They’re not simple affairs like catching ghosts, but are complex and force you to use your head while dodging around dangerous attacks. One of the first bosses had me dragging items all over the boss room, trying to figure out how they all interacted while weaving around spiders and blobs of poison. It was intense, and I got completely stomped a couple of times because of the amount of damage I took while trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. It was viciously hard for a while, and completely engrossing because of it. Puzzle-like bosses tend to revolve around hitting switches and aren’t all that challenging, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon‘s bosses required that I be trying out different items while dodging attacks. It was frantic and required my brain at the same time.
For a game about ghosts in creepy old houses, the game manages to be pretty silly. There’s just something about Luigi humming along to the game’s music that just made me chuckle each time. I really liked that the game could be difficult but that it wasn’t taking itself very seriously. I felt like the challenge had been built with adults in mind, but that the sense of humor was child-like. Luigi often stumbles and falls, taking hits like one of The Three Stooges, and it just made the game feel very comfortable and fun for me. Seeing Luigi’s reaction to many of the enemies and locations in the game just made everything better.
The whole game just has this fun vibe to it that makes it really addictive, even when it’s getting on your nerves. It’s annoying when you get lost or can’t figure out how to beat an enemy, but just when you’re about to lose your temper Luigi will start singing and you’ll start laughing. The game is just so relentlessly goofy that it’s hard to stay mad at it, something that helped me gloss over spots when I was overthinking what I should have been doing in an area. If you have an interest in exploration games or just want to play something really different, it’s well worth buying. It’s a game that was definitely in capable hands at Next Level Games, and I hope I don’t have to wait another twelve years for another one.