REVIEW: Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon (3DS)

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  • Nintendo 3DS / Rated E / $39.99 / released March 2013
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

Outfitted like a long-lost Ghostbuster, Mario’s oft-overlooked brother Luigi gets rare top billing in “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon,” now out for Nintendo 3DS. A not-really-that-connected sequel to 2001’s “Luigi’s Mansion,” “Dark Moon” pits cowardly Luigi against a village full of mischievous spirits. This time, the formerly cooperative ghosts – tamed after the first game – have flipped out, and Luigi’s professorial friend E. Gadd suspects the Dark Moon is to blame.

Luigi’s tools in the fight are a flashlight and a vacuum, of course. The basic plan of attack calls for you to stun the specters with a blast of light and then suck them into the vacuum bag. The trick is that ghosts, being ghosts, will fly crazily around the room, vanish unexpectedly and even find cute ways to block your light beam (like sunglasses!) Additionally, rooms in “Mansion” tend to be small and littered with tricks to trip you up, so there is a lot going on in any given bustin’ battle.

You’re expected to perform quite a lot of finger dexterity as you run Luigi around the room in search of recalcitrant spirits. This brings Luigi’s adventure fully up to par with big brother Mario’s classic run-and-jump tests of skill in his Super Mario series, even if the setting and tone are completely different. What is amazing is how well it works once you finally hit your ghostly groove. Until then, you may find yourself pointing Luigi in the wrong direction or letting yourself get overwhelmed by the fracas.

To better fit the portable experience of the 3DS, Nintendo has seen fit to break Luigi’s quest into bite-sized definable chunks. Each “level” can take anywhere from ten minutes to thirty. This has the unfortunate result of allowing the game to save your progress only at the end of each mission (whether you won or not) which can lead to unpleasant level restarts should you repeatedly fail out during a tough ghost fight. Several boss encounters and other difficult levels get especially frustrating.

But do not assume that “Luigi’s Mansion” is only about chasing ghosts. Each level involves plenty of exploring and searching, as Luigi checks under every rug and behind every painting for clues and keys to further the Dark Moon quest. Clever puzzle-solving combines with classic haunted house scares to forge a beautifully done mystery game.

“Dark Moon” features some of Nintendo’s finest character animation to date. Luigi’s movements are expressive and detailed, communicating the plumber’s fear and hesitation at every step. When unseen spirits are about, he tiptoes through the room, teeth chattering. He ushers a Toad sidekick through doors with an impatient wave of his hand. And when he “dies” in multiplayer mode, he gingerly raises his hand into the air to signal for help from a teammate.

Did somebody mention multiplayer? “Dark Moon” provides a full round of online multiplayer scenarios where up to four Luigis compete and cooperate to catch ghosts. The standard “hunter” mode and the detective-like “polterpup” mode (you track down loveable ghostly puppies!) are can’t-miss fun, but the strictly timed “rush” mode can be skipped.

Charming through and through, “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” provides silly, spooky fun for 3DS owners. The controls may need some practice, but the game’s challenge makes the mastery worth it.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.