Cast your mind back, if you can, to the year 2001. The GameCube, for some time codenamed “Dolphin”, had just been released. Boasting far superior computational and graphical power than its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo’s creative director) hatched a plan to demonstrate just how far the Cube’s lighting powers could be pushed. One result of his plan was the enjoyable but widely criticised Super Mario Sunshine, brimming with bright beaches and expertly-rendered water effects. However, Shigsy had a double-whammy up his sleeve. Designed to use all ranges of lighting and animation in original ways, Luigi’s Mansion featured the famous younger brother clearing a haunted mansion of mischievous ghosts with a modified vacuum cleaner. Luigi’s Mansion went on to become one of the best-selling games of the time. Although criticised for its short length, its creative blend of puzzling, action and exploration earned it critical acclaim.
Skip forward a few years to 2009: Canadian developer Next Level Games announces a collaboration with Nintendo to bring a sequel, Luigi’s Mansion 2, to the then-unreleased handheld 3DS.
And this brings us to the present day. Luigi’s Mansion 2 (known as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon in America) kicks off the official Year of Luigi on a high note, plunging the other brother into darkness once again. A mysterious presence has shattered the ghost-pacifying Dark Moon that protects Evershade Valley, driving the resident spirits to violence and chaos. Paranormal researcher Professor Elvin Gadd, returning from the first game, is forced to hide in his underground bunker and drags Luigi, kicking and screaming, down to help him.
The gameplay consists thusly: E. Gadd “pixelshifts” (teleports) you (Luigi) into a spectre-occupied haunted mansion, leaving to you to explore and capture ghosts as you will. Evershade Valley’s five themed mansions are each split up into individual levels that see you advancing to continue the story. Speaking of narrative, there isn’t too much for the main body of the game, as Luigi must simply recover a shattered shard of the Dark Moon from each mansion.
If he plans on succeeding, however, he’s going to need a bit of help. E. Gadd’s modified vacuum, the Poltergust 5000, allows the green crusader to stun spectres with a charged strobe flash and snatch the spirits with a suck of the hoover nozzle. Some ghosts are more resilient and try to escape, requiring you to pull back and wear them down for a while, while others possess physical objects and have you do battle with them. Although somewhat repetitive, the ghost-busting is satisfying and enjoyable, while also giving some serious challenge in crowded rooms.
The mansions are varied and individual, ranging from a botanist’s lab to and abandoned mineshaft, and each mission is self-contained and unique, all contributing to significantly more replay value than the original game. The ghosts are less varied this time around, however, with 5 main types that gradually adopt different strategies against capture as you progress. The basic grunt-level Greenies will pick up helmets, shovels and even swords in an effort to take you down, while gooey purple Creepers can melt onto the floor and catch unsuspecting feet. The Boos are back, as well, with one of their mischievous number hiding in every level. Although they can’t put up much of a fight, it’s a huge challenge to track down every one, and catching ‘em all unlocks a bonus stage in each mansion. There are also piles of gold, cash and gems hidden in every nook and cranny, with bonus loot for grabbing lots of ghosts.
Luigi must use his Poltergust 5000 in ingenious ways to advance, as well. It seems the designers have found a new use for it every level. From turning fans, activating machines, launching Toad assistants and even removing dust, it is constantly in use. We in the Laggacy dungeon kept thinking, “that was genius, how can they top that?”, only for Next Level to show off an even better idea.
The Poltergust isn’t Luigi’s only new gadget, either! E. Gadd keeps up to date with his surveillance system, the Parascope, and by phoning his acquired ghostbuster over the DS, or Dual Scream. Luigi can scan for illusions, ghosts or footprints with the Dark-Light device, an add-on for his torch that reveals hidden objects and invisible ghosts. Constantly scanning for hidden items can be a bore, especially as using the Dark-Light reduces your walking speed for some reason, but doesn’t waste too much time and can be pretty useful in tracking down a particular evasive lost soul.
In addition to the central Dark Moon quest, you can also sink some time into cooperative multiplayer, over Download, Local and Online play. The option of Download play bodes well for showing the game off to your 3DS-owning mates, while Online allows you to form a team and climb the spooky Thrill Tower (Scarescraper in America, because apparently there aren’t any tall buildings in Europe or Australia). You and your team must dash through a randomly-generated mansion, searching for ghosts or other items within a time limit. This is great fun the first few times or playing with friends, but anonymous online play or going solo quickly become repetitive, as you are forced to the bottom of the tower upon failure or success and there are only a few room designs that repeatedly appear in various configurations. The option to adjust the difficulty or specific target has little effect on the actual gameplay, and the limited conversation phrases (“Hey!”, “Help!”, “Good job!” and “Thank you!”) don’t help to this bum note in an otherwise superb game.
Luigi’s Mansion 2 has clearly had a great deal of effort put into making it look fabulous. Every little detail is lovingly designed, from the body language of the ghosts to Luigi’s terrified facial expressions; from the spooky music to Luigi’s shrieks of terror; from the adorable squeaky footsteps of E. Gadd’s Toad assistants to his chortles of mirth as Luigi cowers in terror. Next Level’s adorable animations and Charles Martinet’s subtle-as-ever voice talents form a terrifically polished game.
In summary, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a brilliant game, improving in all the areas its predecessor failed in and retaining the simple joy of vacuuming poltergeists. Its fun campaign and entertaining style are slightly sullied by a repetitive multiplayer mode, but this is still a game with serious, ahem, spirit.
Conclusion: This game must be possessed. 9.5/10