Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Nintendo 3DS)

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: 3D Action
Release Date: 03/24/2013

If you’re a longtime reader of my video game writing, then you know I’m generally not a fan of Mario themed games AT ALL. I can count on one hand the number of Mario games I enjoy and that includes Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.. Knowing this, you’re probably wondering why I chose Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon as my 500th review. Well, there are three reasons. The first is that I really enjoyed the original Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo GameCube back in the day. It wasn’t a keeper by any means, but it was a nice launch title that along with Super Monkey Ball helped tide me over until games like Eternal Darkness came out. The second is that Dark Moon was developed by Next Level Games, a dev studio I feel is criminally underrated with titles like Spider-Man: Friend or Foe and Captain America: Super Soldier under their belt. Finally, I was going to do Lego City: Undercover as #500 but my rabbit ended up getting extremely sick and it’s much easier to take a 3DS into the room he’s recovering in than my sixty inch plasma and Wii U. So here we are. Is Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon a fine follow up to a game that was released well over a decade ago, or is it a first party fumble for the Big N? Let’s find out.

Dark Moon is a direct sequel to the original Luigi’s Mansion, straight down to the game assuming you have not only played the original GameCube release, but have beaten it as well. The storyline of Dark Moon is for all intents and purposes the same as the original game as it’s just Luigi’s busting ghosts and finding Boos for several hours. Now the original GCN title did have more to the plot like a missing Mario (from the start of the game, not just tacked on) and Luigi winning a mansion in a strange contest he never entered. Dark Moon however, just has ghosts going crazy because the Dark Moon has been broken and Luigi has to enter several mansions (instead of one massive one) and clear ghosts out. Professor E. Gadd is back and supplying Luigi with gadgets to help him defeat the undead menace plaguing Evershade Valley. So the story has taken a step or two back in terms of detail and depth, but what’s here is serviceable. Most people will be playing the game for the gameplay rather than the story anyway. You normally don’t play Mario related game for their gripping RPG style storylines after all.

What is different about Dark Moon from its predecessor is how the game unfolds. Boos are still optional collectable ghosts, but Portrait Ghosts are completely gone from the picture (pun intended). As well, instead of being one long dungeon crawl experience, Dark Moon is divided into chapters (six per mansion with the last being a boss fight). You have specific linear goals you have to follow and once you have accomplished them, the chapter is done and you are automatically brought back to E. Gadd’s headquarters. Because of this new format, free roaming sandbox style exploration is missing from Dark Moon and it’s a bit of a disappointment to me. That said, you can always replay a chapter at any time, complete with any new upgrades or powers you have earned and then just ignore the goals to explore things, but it’s just not as satisfying. As well, each Boo can only be found in a specific chapter and you won’t get the ability to find the Boos until several chapters in, meaning you do have to replay pieces here and there if you’re trying to 100% the game. Again, I’d be much happier if Dark Moon let me free roam to my heart’s content, but it’s not to be.

Each mansion also has thirteen gems to collect. They’re pretty easy to find, although like some of the Boos, you have to be in a specific chapter to find a few. As well, earning all the gems in a single mansion does absolutely nothing. If you get all the gems in all the mansions, though, you get…a Luigi statue. That’s more than a little underwhelming. At least looking for and finding the gems is fun even if the reward isn’t worth the effort.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon also offers a multiplayer experience known as the Scarescraper. You’ll have to complete the first five chapters in the first mansion to unlock it. Of course it all comes down to how many people you know that have a copy of Dark Moon, right? Well, not really. Dark Moon lets you use the download play feature, so even people without a copy of this game can experience the Scarescraper. I love it when games do this as it gives people a chance to see if they would enjoy the game before committing to a forty dollar purchase. Local play does seem to work better than online, which can be a bit laggy. I’ll admit I strongly prefer the story mode over the Scarescraper, but it’s really nice to have this option for those that want to go ghostbusting with friends or even complete stranger.

Visually Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon looks fine as long as the 3D slider is turned all the way off. Luigi has never looked better and the backgrounds visuals are highly detailed. Each Mansion looks creepy and because you’ll be poking and prodding at just about everything, you’ll be able to see this for yourself firsthand. The ghosts themselves however are a bit generic looking. They’re nowhere as diverse or as interesting as the ones in the original Luigi’s Mansion, but they serve their purpose decently. Bosses in Dark Moon tend to be multi stage ones and are quite large. My favorite is the giant spider in the first mansion because hey, giant spider. Unfortunately when you turn the 3D aspect of the 3DS on the visuals go to pot. Long time 3DS users know that if you move the 3DS while playing or you are playing an action oriented game (as opposed to an RPG), you’ll end up seeing ghost effects or other frame related issues. Well, that’s the case here, especially when you have the bits where you HAVE to move the DS to balance Luigi as he walks along narrow beams or passages. As well, in large battles where there are tons of enemies on the screen, the shadow effects can not only distract but make it appear that there is an extra ghost (or ghosts) on the screen. Trust me when I say that like most 3DS games, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is better played with 3D off. Keep it in 2D and appreciate what’s here.

The audio aspects of Dark Moon are, along with the threadbare story, the weakest parts of the game. E. Gadd talks in that annoying “Pipipipipipi” speech a lot of video games have instead of springing for voice acting. It’s extremely annoying here, especially because Luigi does have some voice acting. Luigi’s voice acting doesn’t have a lot of variety and you’ll hear the same things over and over again, but it’s always cute to hear him scream or say “I-a-do-eet!” The ghosts just make the occasional squark noise that would feel more at home in the MIDI era of gaming sounds, which again is underutilizing what the game could have been capable of. The sound effects of the mansion itself, ranging from the vacuuming up of cobwebs via the Poltergust 5000 to the flushing of a toilet are well done and diverse and help to counterbalance the subpar “voicing” of the non Luigi characters. The music of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is likewise a mixed bag. There aren’t a lot of tracks here and the few the game contains aren’t very memorable. That said, I have found myself humming the title track here and there since I started playing the game, which shows at least that song has some staying power. Still, the majority of the music tracks are elevator background tracks at best.

Gameplay, Dark Moon plays almost exactly the same as the original Luigi’s Mansion. You use the analog stick to move Luigi. X and B let Luigi look/aim up and down respectively, A lets you use your strobulb flash, which lets you stun enemies and Y activated the Dark-Light device which reveals invisible objects or things covered by an illusion obscuring their true form. R and L let you suck and blow respectively, although this is an E rated game, so be wary of the mental images that come into your head from that description. When sucking up a ghost, a power meter will fill. Hit A to drain even more life. The D-pad doesn’t officially do anything, but I do notice that if I press it, Luigi says something. The controls are all exceptionally tight. My only real complaint is that I wish I could pivot while sucking things up, but you couldn’t do that in the first game either. I really enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny of the rooms for coins, dollar bills, and gold bars to upgrade by Poltergust 5000, along with the hidden Boo ghosts and the occasional Easter Egg. Although Dark Moon is quite repetitive, the gameplay is still fun enough that you can play a few levels in a row before monotony sets in. The good news is that that one playthrough can last around twenty hours if you’re trying to collect everything and achieve a three star rating on each level, so this is MUCH longer than the average Mario themed game.

I’m not really sure how much replay value there is to be had with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Sure you can go back and beat your old score for each level, or find the gems and Boo ghosts you missed along the way, but for the most part, the experience of replaying a stage will be 99% the same as the previous time you played it. Collecting all the Boos in a Mansion just unlocks a bonus level where you have to get as many ghosts as you can. We’ve already covered what all the gems get you, which is pretty much nothing. So really, the only things to replay Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for are to get things you missed or for the multiplayer mode, which really didn’t interest me at all. With all this in mind, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was a fun experience, but it was more a “one and done” game for me like a lot of point and click adventure games. I’ll end up trading it in shortly, but I’m glad I played the game and I’m sure most people who pick it up will feel the same even if, like me, they don’t see it as a keeper.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is for all ages, and as such, it’s a pretty easy game. I never even came close to dying in my time with the game. Sure there were times I took damage, but the lowest my health ever got at a single point was 60 (out of 100). There are plenty of health refills in each stage and enemies are quite easy to beat as soon as you learn their one or two attack patterns. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun and it certainly doesn’t mean the game can’t challenge you at points, but unless you are young or a very casual gamer, Dark Moon should be a pretty easy experience for you. It’s pretty much the same thing from beginning to end while replaying levels should make things even easier, not just because you know what is coming, but because the money you earn will keep giving your Poltergust powerups.

I think the hardest part about reviewing Dark Moon is deciding how original the game is. After all, it’s mostly a carbon copy of the original game, which was truly out there in its day. However that game came out eleven and a half years ago and nothing similar has come out since. On one hand I really do feel Next Level could have done a lot more with Dark Moon to make it stand out more from the original, but on the other, it’s been over a decade since the first so Dark Moon still feels fresh and innovative while also feeling familiar (or even nostalgic) to those that played the GCN original. Both games really do stand out from the pack as they are a nice blend of comedy and creepy. It’s also one of the few non platformers or sports titles to have a Big N plumber as the protagonist. I’ll be kind and say that even though it’s very similar to the original game, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, it’s still a breath of fresh air compared to the countless First Person Shooters, over the shoulder action games, and yearly rehashed sports titles consoles are littered with these days.

So I enjoyed Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, but it wasn’t a game I could play for long stretches. According to my 3DS statistics, my average play time before putting the game down was an hour. That’s not very long all thing considered, but when you realize a level in this game will take you between six and twenty minutes, that’s playing several levels in a row without taking a break. Sure the game got very repetitive at times and it could be monotonous going through the same mansion for six levels straight, seeing the same places and doing the same thing each time, but it was still a lot of fun in short doses. Each time I came back to Dark Moon I found myself eager to explore all the rooms in case I missed something, or to see the little tramp-esque antics of poor Luigi. At no point did I care enough about beating my old scores and if I hadn’t found all the gems in each mansion through natural progression, I wouldn’t have bothered to repeat a level just for those. Hell, I only replayed a few levels to get some extra cash because I was close to an upgrade or because I wanted to a catch a Boo for review purposes. Again, I had fun with Dark Moon, but there’s nothing here that will make me want to play the game over weeks, months, or even years from now. That said, I’m quite sure most people that pick up Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon 2 as either a rental or a purchase will have fun with the game and enjoy their time with it, but I don’t see it as a long term investment or something people will go back to regularly as time goes on.

For all practical purposes, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is extremely similar to the original GameCube game in terms of look, feel, controls, and even story. With that in mind, if you have played the first game, you will already know if you like this or not. I thought the first Luigi’s Mansion was fun and one of the better launch window titles, but ultimately not one of the twenty GCN titles I would keep in my collection. Dark Moon pretty much falls under the same description. It was fun to revisit the game and see Luigi get the spotlight once again, but it’s ultimately not a game I’d play through again. It’s a one and done experience that is well worth experiencing, but it’s so linear, it’s pretty much a “one and done” title. I had fun with the game and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who asks (or reads this), especially since it’s one of the few plumber based protagonist games I’ve enjoyed, but mileage will definitely vary with this one in terms of long term value or even as to whether or not this is worth playing again once in a dark blue moon.

Short Attention Span Summary
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is pretty much what you got from its predecessor, just now with a different story, a multiplayer component, and some updated visuals. It’s a fun but mostly linear experience that fans of the first game will savor while doing nothing for those that didn’t like said GameCube title. There’s not much in the way of story or replay value once you’ve finished off the single player mode and captured all the optional Boos, but you’ll have a lot of fun playing the game from beginning to end. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon might not have a permanent place in my video game library, but much like the first game in the series, I’m glad I played it and I think most gamers will have fun with what’s here.



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