Thursday, 21 March 2013

Review: Luigi's Mansion - Dark Moon (3DS)

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is more than just a philosophical examination of life after death, a treatise on the supernatural and otherwordly; things unseen by the naked eye that brings to question God and the nature of existence; what it means to be human; and the boundary between what is Real and what imagined things hide in the shadows.

The game also has some swell puzzles.

It’s the puzzles that blunt the edge of the stabbing (cute) terror that dogs Luigi at every turn. Enlisted by Professor E. Gad to reassemble the Dark Moon artifact to bring some semblance of normality to Evershade Valley, Luigi takes up his Poltergust 5000 – it both sucks and blows – to clear out mansion after mansion of otherworldly and not-so-otherwordly creatures he'll come across many puzzles.

Each mansion can be viewed as a multi-stage puzzle. Finishing each stage of the mansion unlocks a different path or other options for the next stage. One area may be closed off by spider web but during a later stage Luigi has the tools to burn through the web, which then allows him to utilize an upgrade or new attachment of the Poltergust 5000 to gain access to even more areas. The mansions are staged very well and the puzzles integrated into each area (and during boss fights) to force the player to really think about the tools at Luigi’s disposal.

Some of the puzzles are inconsequential to progress, like revealing a hidden rock, standing on said rock to have a target spring up, use the Poltergust 5000 to suck up a projectile then fire that projectile to break the target to free a gold spook that when caught coughs up some serious coinage.

Players might not even find some of the puzzles because they’re integrated into discrete areas.

The “story” puzzles are entirely different matter. On more than a few occasions Luigi wandered for many minutes trying to figure out what to do next or where to go, even if the mini-map does a pretty good job indicating where Luigi might need to go next (though not always how to get there).

Some puzzles are just a matter of capturing all the ghosts in an area to unseal the room and press forward. The ghosts encounters are varied. Though most of the ghost busting comes down to blinding the ghost, then getting dragged around the room as the Poltergust 5000 attempts to suck up the ghost, the little change-ups are good. Luigi will come across ghosts with sunglasses or that use objects to block the flash of the Poltergust 5000. Then some timing or pre-sucking is involved, which isn't usually a problem one-on-one but it's often the case that Luigi will be locked in a room with multiple spirits.

And it’s all so charming.

That’s the right word for it. In fact, that’s the only thing that stops re-treading each mansion, albeit along different paths, from becoming a chore. While it conjures up the style of the original Luigi’s Mansion (on GameCube), the good feelings actually tap into the soft spot in my brain for Day of the Tentacle, though obviously in 3D, which is occasionally put to awesome use. Luigi breaks the 4th wall by humming along with parts of the soundtrack -- heavy on the harpsichord -- which again taps a soft spot in my brain for the original Addams Family television show. In this case, charming isn't the wrong word, even with or perhaps because of the cartoonish jump scares and Luigi’s buffoonery.

There's a local/Internet/download co-op mode that works really well. Of course, during the review process there weren't that many people actually playing, but even when I was connected with overseas players there didn't seem to be any hiccups as our team of four Luigi clones -- different coloured overalls -- went from floor to floor of a haunted skyscraper. It seems to offer just enough collaboration/competition to make it a viable option if you need a break from the puzzle-focused story.

It took long enough for a sequel to arrive but Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon offers a spirited* romp, a good level of challenge, and might spur some thought regarding your very existence.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Some really effective use of 3D
- Subtle use of the motion controls to look around and maintain Luigi's balance during tricky navigation
- Some really clever puzzle, both inconsequential to the story and the main plot points
- Charming, almost to fault

The Bad:
- Even I realize that some of the backtracking bits are just padding, no matter how charming
- Sometimes Luigi handles like a Mac truck
- Failing a level in the final moment and having to restart from the beginning is little cheap!

Score: 9.0 / 10
* You saw that coming.