There a good reason why Nintendo cultivated such a fervent fan base across the 8-, 16-, and 64-bit eras: the company’s first party titles have provided some of gaming’s most superlative experiences. From skulking through The Legend of Zelda’s shrewdly crafted dungeons, careening across Super Mario Kart’s spirited tracks and confronting competitors in Super Smash Bros., the Kyoto-based corporation has created and published a succession of wonderfully polished, thoroughly blissful titles. Although the recent release of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS was crafted by Canadian developer Next Level Games (Super Mario Strikers, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe), the title is indistinguishable from one of Nintendo’s own internally-developed successes.
Told through lithely animated in-engine cinematics and the type of staccato vocal prattle found in Animal Crossing or Banjo-Kazooie, Dark Moon’s prologue re-introduces players to Professor E. Gadd, the inventor and scientist responsible for many of the technologies in the Mario universe. When lead character Luigi first meets the researcher, Gadd’s persuaded ghosts to assist in some of Evershade Valley’s more medial tasks. Yet, when a malicious force shatters the Dark Moon- a crystalline celestial object that hangs over the region, the apparitions become antagonistic. Conversations with the professor (conducted through the 3DS’s bottom screen) initially serve as a tutorial for players. Yet, across subsequent levels, the banter continues a bit too frequently- marring Dark Moon’s otherwise dexterous cadence.
After gathering the vacuum cleaner-like The Poltergust 5000 as well as a multifunctional strobe attachment, Luigi is tasked with expunging five mansions full of phantasms. Much like the game’s predecessor, 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion, getting ghosts into the machine involves a bit of analog stick wrangling, as adversaries pull away from the device with a convincing sense of weight. Unlike the GameCube title, Dark Moon succeeds by supplying a satisfying variety of foes, each with their own distinctive traits and behaviors. From commonplace floating Greenies, ectoplasm pitching Gobbers, and devious sneakers, each type of enemy requires a different attack tactic, endowing the ten hour single-player campaign with variability.
As enjoyable as purging poltergeists is, it’s Dark Moon’s puzzle aspects which prove to be the game’s greatest asset. Forsaking the original game’s open-ended design, this game provides a slightly more directed experience. While that might seem restraining, know that the title’s riddles are masterfully conceived. Using variants of the Poltergust’s absorption and immobilizing abilities, Dark Moon’s conundrums can be solved through either contemplation or experimentation. Given the restrained toolset, becoming hopelessly stumped on a puzzle is rare, allowing the game to persistently progress. Pleasingly, a plethora of hidden gold bars, coins, dollars bills, and gems not only encourage exploration, buy also impart a reason to replay the game’s collection of stages.
Moving through the title’s quintet of mansions furnishes a pleasing sense of progression with each manor growing increasingly capacious and cunning. Naturally, each locale has its own aesthetic and ambiance, while still following a Burton-esque combination of eeriness and cartoonish charm. At least some of Dark Moon’s charisma stems from the organic feel of the graphics. Instead of the conventional rigid polygons, objects have a captivating manipulability- from the tension and pliability of fabrics to the jostle exhibited when heavy objects meet the force of the Poltergust’s suction. Even with the bite-sized, 15-30 minute sections suited for portable play, Dark Moon’s gameplay flaunts the sophistication and depth of a console experience, making the requisite apparition-hunting campaign a must for 3DS owners.
Often, well-crafted, single-player titles ship with a multiplayer component that feels motivated by obligation rather than inspiration. That’s not the case with Dark Moon, which offers a robust competitive suite that faultlessly complements the story-driven venture. With options for local, online, and download play, the title’s ScareScraper modes provide randomly-generated locales for parties of one to four explorers. Groups have three different variant to choose from: Hunter where teams gather all the ghosts, Rush where squads race for the exit, and Polterpup, where players scour stages for adorable ghost dogs. While there’s no option for voice chat, between issuing four commands on the directional pad and using the touch screen to designate a location to associates, the game handles communication admirably. What truly elevates Dark Moon’s multiplayer mode is its customization options- players can set both difficulty level and the number of floors to explore- allowing for quick, whimsical jaunts or extended undertakings which require vigilance and cooperation.
Between a twelve year hiatus since its predecessor and a transcontinental shift is development duties, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was able to conquer the complications which have hindered similar efforts. Masterfully, this sequel builds on the strengths of the original game, resulting in another essential title that dispenses an immensely enjoyable solo adventure along with an engaging multiplayer element. Hopefully, developer Next Level Games concentrates their supernatural coding capabilities toward Nintendo’s Wii U. A title like Dark Moon could be the stimulus that the struggling console needs.