A frightened Luigi is the hero of Nintendo's new 3DS adventure. (Nintendo).Link
Professor E. Gadd is the mad scientist responsible for Luigi's ghost-hunting adventure. (Nintendo)Link
Not every hero gets to go home to a princess. But Luigi, the Pluto to Mario’s Mickey, has long had more modest ambitions.
The younger half of Nintendo’s core brotherly duo, Luigi rarely gets top billing. It’s not, after all, the “Super Mario & Luigi Brothers” that many of today’s gamers were raised upon.
So unlike his famous brother, who has a fetching royal companion and an army of toad-like creatures at his side, Luigi’s castle is a middle-class home with a wooden picket fence, wide-open drapes, no noticeable security system and a TV that looks plucked from the early-’80s, when the Mario Bros. made their Nintendo debut.
At least that’s where he’s seen lounging at the outset of “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon,” the 3DS sequel to a 2001 GameCube title. When we meet Luigi he’s asleep, a beverage at his side and in absolutely no mood for adventure. He is the video-game Everyman, whose access to untold fantasy realms hasn’t gone to his head. Instead, it’s bought him a comforting fireplace and a two-story home with wood paneling.
“Dark Moon” thrusts an unwilling Luigi into a ghost-hunting quest. It’s fun, of course, to use a strobe light to stun ghosts as they paint portraits, prepare a feast, or play piano — and then vacuum them up for research purposes via the ghost-snatching Poltergust.
But Luigi is arguably more trapped than any of the once-friendly specters he’s hunting. Never before have players gotten such an intimate look at Luigi, who shivers, groans, sighs and outright begs at times to be relieved of his ghost-hunting duties. Why can’t he leave? Professor E. Gadd needs Luigi’s help and only he has the power to send Luigi home. When Luigi completes a mission, he shouts “I did it!” – only to moments later be hunched over in defeat at the realization that what he did is only a fraction of what needs to be done.
Fully utilizing the hand-held device’s 3-D effects, which are necessary in this game to visualize the interactive depth of the mansions, also captures Luigi’s sad reluctance. Unlike the cheery, easy-to-root-for Mario, who has confidently bounced his way through three decades of games, we’re on Luigi’s side out of empathy. When giant red spiders trickle out from the ceilings and clickety-clack their way toward Luigi, he jumps in fright at their sight. Wandering outside, a simple burst of lightning sends Luigi bounding toward the holder of the 3DS as if asking for help.
The audio of “Dark Moon” captures every swipe of Luigi’s sweaty brow, and as he sneaks around haunted mansions he starts nervously humming along to the game’s soundtrack. Press the directional pad on the 3DS, and Luigi will quiver out a “yoo-hooo” or “hellllooo,” as if a reasonable conversation can subdue angry ghosts. It can’t, but “Dark Moon” even makes one feel sympathy for the ghosts, who seem to just want be left alone in the pursuit of joyous havoc.
As for Professor E. Gadd, he has the ultimate power here. He claps and cheers as Luigi brings him back ghosts, although the most prominent sound he makes is that of a mad scientist-like “tck-tck-tck-tck-tck!”
In the grander Mario universe Gadd is a good guy, of course, albeit one of the weirder ones and one with his own selfish ambitions. He urges Luigi to “step out of your brother’s shadow as a true hero,” but Luigi seems comfortable to just whistle to himself while Gadd prattles on about the facets of the various ghosts.
But Gadd knows more than Luigi, namely that if Luigi can’t help him restore a broken device – the “Dark Moon” the game is named after – then multiple kingdoms will be at jeopardy (the Dark Moon has a calming, antidepressant-like effect on all ghosts, turning them essentially into human pets).
Gadd has brought Luigi to his side by teleporting him through the television set, and outfits Luigi with two main weapons, the aforementioned Poltergust device and a flash light/dark light combo. It may not sound like much, especially in today’s inventory-laden games with untold weapon upgrades, but “Dark Moon” constantly surprises in how it re-purposes the tools. The vacuum can become a spiderweb-wielding torch, and the dark light is a ticket into the game’s secret passages – hidden doors, obscured paintings and secret sculptures – and figuring out how to navigate the mansions are some of the game’s most appealing head-scratchers.
If Luigi is an ill-suited action hero, the moderately-paced “Dark Moon” recognizes this and focuses more on exploration. The ghost-infested manors, with their musical libraries and odd little rooms hidden beneath stairs, recall Disney’s Haunted Mansion and the setting of LucasArts’ 1987 game “Maniac Mansion,” and there’s no shortage of ways to discover it. Floor-to-ceiling fish tanks can be lowered to reveal secret passages, and putting out a flame in a fireplace is sometimes the only path available to a room blocked by an impenetrable spiderweb or a lab holding one of Gadd’s bizarre vacuum or light inventions.
The ghosts get smarter as the game progresses, and after the first few missions Luigi will have a hard time stunning the spirits with light, as they apparently have discovered a trove of sunglasses. Since Luigi’s moves are limited when the Poltergust is operating, “Dark Moon” isn’t immune to the frustrations that have plagued every “Mario Bros.” game since the beginning of time, as the increasingly unjustifiable lack of an ability to save the game at any moment can force many a mission to start over from the beginning.
Yet turn it off, and there’s the nagging sense that one must keep vacuuming through “Dark Moon.” This may in fact be the first Mario or Luigi game in which simple completion wasn’t the motivating factor so much as the guilt of keeping a man from his nap after a long day’s work. A princess is nice and all, but let’s get real.
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