PREVIEW: Luigi's Mansion 2 (Dark Moon) [3DS]

My brother was a bit of a control freak when we were kids (and well, still now, actually). As we grew up playing games, that amounted to him insisting that he had to be Player One, every time. It didn’t really bother me so I went with it, playing the Diddy to his Donkey Kong, the Helper to his Kirby, and of course, the Luigi to his Mario.

I ended up developing an attachment to those sidekick characters, and by the time my brother learned to share, I didn’t want to. Why would I want to be Mario? I identified with Luigi: We were both the taller, older sibling, patiently letting a controlling brother get his way.

Anyway, that wordy preamble leaves it unsurprising that the original Luigi’s Mansion meant a lot to me. Luigi was finally in the spotlight! (Even if it was a dim, dank spotlight.) And he had his own mansion! (Albeit a gloomy ghost-infested one.) Most importantly, he had his own game, and it was a fun, clever and original one.

This sequel has been far too long in the making, but I won’t complain. It’s finally almost here, and from the short session I had with it, it’s been worth the wait.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 (the Dark Moon subtitle seems to have been dropped outside of the U.S.) has our green-suited, yellow-bellied plumber summoned once again to Professor E. Gadd’s lab of questionable science and terrible puns (he calls the DS the “Dual Scream” LOL). The professor had pacified the area’s ghosts, but when an artefact called the Dark Moon is damaged, they rebel, trash the lab, and cause havoc throughout the now-numerous mansions in the valley.

While the professor is busy professing, he sends Luigi into the mansions one by one, armed only with a backpack for vacuuming up ghosts, which sure doesn’t bring back memories of any classic ‘80s films.

Finally in control of Luigi, the game feels familiar, but the input has been refined to fit the simplified interface of the 3DS.

The absence of the GameCube controller’s right thumbstick makes some actions a little awkward, but it’s been catered for by making some buttons context-sensitive: While holding one of the shoulder buttons to make your “Poltergust 5000” inhale or exhale, the X and B buttons will aim it up and down, and the 3DS’ single thumbpad will let you wrangle ghosts into your vacuum pack.

This time, simply catching creatures in your flashlight beam won’t stop them: Instead, there’s a special strobe light attachment that lets you stun ghosts with a tap of the A button. It might seem an unnecessary distinction, but it gives players a more direct, deliberate attack.

All together, it feels pleasantly familiar, yet markedly different. Luigi still creeps from room to room, emptying them of ghosts and treasure, but there’s a key difference in the structure.

[img_big]center,8092,2013-01-28/78605_3DS_LuigisMansionDM_GEM_05.jpg,Luigi’s Mansion 2[/img_big]

The original Luigi’s Mansion took a light-hearted approach to the formula of the first few Resident Evil games, of players wandering a mansion laid out as an open world. Some doors will be locked and the mysteries of certain rooms will be unsolvable at first, but through exploration and backtracking, players slowly find a linear path through this non-linear environment. It made the whole mansion feel like a huge puzzle that slowly comes together as you find keys and information.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 reduces that feeling somewhat, by breaking up the environment into separate levels with clearly-defined goals. There’s a focus on more immediate puzzles now, largely revolving around finding hidden items and ways to access certain areas.

Strangely, the “portrait ghosts” who haunted many rooms in the original game are notably missing. These unique enemies could only be defeated in certain ways, and figuring out their weaknesses made each one a puzzle. While they would be a welcome addition to the sequel, their absence isn’t a deal-breaker. Luigi’s vacuum has more of an effect on the environment now, so puzzles can involve tearing down wallpaper and posters, pulling back curtains and rugs, and sucking up piles of filth, all of which can reveal hidden items and passageways.

Adopting a discrete level system isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different. It kind of feels similar to the way Pikmin 2 removed the thirty day in-game countdown. That feature felt iconic of the original, and its absence in the sequel was questioned, but in the end it served to make each game feel unique. More time with Luigi’s Mansion 2 may reveal a similar distinction.

The other major addition is multiplayer, which we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try out. It sounds fun though: Up to four players climb what’s called the ScareScraper, clearing each floor of ghosts and ghouls before facing a boss at the top of the tower. The best part? Download Play allows the use of a single game card between up to four players locally, or you can play over WiFi with friends who also own the game.

[img_big]center,8092,2013-01-28/64842_3DS_LMansion_scrn02_2011Ev.jpg,Luigi’s Mansion 2[/img_big]

The whole adventure is presented in the device’s signature stereoscopic 3D, and it looks great. We follow the action from a fixed angle that removes the fourth wall, and makes the environment feel like a diorama. The added depth is effective enough to warrant keeping the 3D slider cranked up, even during the few sections where the gyroscope is used.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 is the pink rubber boot that stirs up the increasingly stagnant Mario puddle. It should have no trouble enticing GameCube veterans, as well as a new generation, into this quirky world where second bananas rule.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 will be out on March 20th in Japan, 24th in the US, and 28th in Europe and Australia.

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