When the Nintendo GameCube launched in the beginning of the new millennium it also marked the first time that the Japanese developer didnít provide a game featuring its iconic plumber at launch, rather the torch was passed onto his brother in the original Luigiís Mansion. It was a brief yet fun game that certainly laid the groundwork for an interesting new series. With Luigiís Mansion 2, Canadian developer Next Level Games finally delivers a title that expands and improves upon the GameCube original in every way.
The King Boo has shattered the dark moon and Luigi is reluctantly called in by Professor E. Gadd to gather the pieces from several haunted mansions. Each mission places Luigi into a mansion where he is free to explore each room and work his way towards completing the objective which usually involves locating a key or item to unlock more of that particular mansion. While the player will be revisiting many of the same rooms in each mission it never gets tedious thanks to each mansion opening up more with each successive mission. Luigiís main tool in clearing away obstacles and gathering ghouls is his newly upgraded Poltergust 5000 vacuum cleaner. Various objects such as rugs, rubbish and curtains can be pulled away to reveal new areas and uncover hidden treasures.
Thereís surprisingly little in the way of hand-holding as players attempt to complete their objective which does make a very welcome change from a great deal of modern game releases that annoyingly point you in the right direction step-by-step. Beyond an objective mark on the map presented on the lower screen the player is left to figure out the route and clear whatever obstacles they may come across. Should you dawdle around for a while the Professor will give you a call and remind you of what youíre actually supposed to be doing so that less experienced wonít get stuck unduly.
Hiding away in each mansion is a variety of different ghosts waiting to startle Luigi. Ghosts must first be stunned by flashing them with the torch before being sucked up by the Poltergust, but the player will have to pull the ghost in as once flashed they will panic and flee. Initially Luigi will only encounter solo enemies but will soon be faced with multiple opponents with different abilities and attack patterns. It can become quite challenging especially in one of the later boss fights as players will need to be patient as they slowly chip away at a particular ghostís health before easing off on them as another prepares to attack.
Once a mission is completed Luigi will be teleported back to E. Gaddís laboratory to deposit any collected ghost samples and hand in whatever key mission item the player has just obtained. Players are also scored on how fast they clear a set mission as well as how much health they lost and the amount of collectibles obtained. Some players may find the scenes in-between missions to be too talky as Luigi is briefed on what his next task is but thankfully there is an option for the impatient to skip onwards to the meat of the game.
There is some frustration to be had thanks to the lack of checkpoints in each mission with death sending Luigi back to the start of a task after losing all of his health. The initial satisfaction of overcoming a particular obstacle or puzzle can feel cheapened somewhat as you plod on back to the point at which you failed. Hidden around the levels are golden bones which will revive Luigi in the same fashion as a bottled fairy in a Zelda title but their rarity makes them an unreliable fallback.
Luigi isnít as agile as his shorter brother but the controls are still very responsive. Players may take a short while to get to grips with Luigiís movement particularly while combating ghosts as he has no special evasive abilities. There are occasional awkward moments however whenever the player is required to tilt the 3DS, as Luigi makes his way across tightropes in a similar fashion to the Wii remote tilting of Skyward Sword. Fortunately these moments are brief and the penalty for failing is a minor health loss.
While Mario gleefully yahoos his way through any obstacle in his way Luigi feels a lot more vulnerable as he timidly explores each mansion. From the way he shuffles his backpack, how he nervously hums along to the background music or dances with happiness once an objective is completed, Luigi conveys a lot more character and personality than so many other game characters despite only muttering a few generic phrases. A few recent games such as Tomb Raider have attempted to incorporate the protagonistís journey into the gameplay more seamlessly to differing degrees of success, but Luigi is consistent throughout his adventure.
Completionists will have quite a lot to do beyond the core missions. Hidden away in each mansion are thirteen unique gems, some of which are very well concealed. Also hiding in each mission is a Boo ghost that can be captured and once all of them are caught an extra mission will unlock for that mansion. In addition to the main story there is also an online multiplayer component where up to four different coloured Luigis explore floors of a mansion to hunt ghosts, chase ghostly puppies or find the exit in a rush against the clock. Although the 3DSís friend code system is quite tedious it is possible to play with anyone worldwide. The multiplayer does provide a lot of frantic fun but probably wonít offer a lot of extended replay value thanks to its limited rewards.
Where Luigiís Mansion 2 truly excels is in its presentation. The visuals are wonderfully atmospheric, featuring excellent character animations and environmental art direction. The 3D effect is also very well implemented and like Super Mario 3D Land the clean visuals are much easier on the eye than many of the more visually detailed games for the 3DS. Sound effects and music are also incredibly effective in building upon the retro horror vibes of the visuals and are as catchy as any other Mario title.
Luigiís Mansion 2 is exactly what a great sequel should be. Itís a much bigger game than its predecessor but retains its creaky charms. Itís a wonderfully crafted title featuring some of the best production values for any Nintendo game. While there are occasional irritations, they are so few and far between they really donít dampen the overall experience as a whole.