Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon on 3DS: Three cheers for the underdog
You know, those games that you can't quite define using the unwritten encyclopedia of games. Is Dark Moon a platformer? No, because Luigi can't jump in this game. Is it a 3D brawler? Not really, since Luigi fishes for ghosts with a vacuum rather than pummel them. Is it like those classic point-and-click adventure games all over KickStarter? Nah. This is more action-packed than those and has fewer puzzles.
In Dark Moon, Luigi hasn't won his very own mansion again or stumbled upon a new one. Simply put, Professor E. Gadd has called upon the less portly plumber to solve a mystery in Evershade Valley across five different mansions. That's really all the exposition you get, but honestly, what's the last game set in the Mario universe that required much more set up?
Once you set foot on the front yard of the first mansion, you'll instantly feel the atmosphere that developer Next Level Games clearly sought to establish. With the 3D turned up and headphones on, it's easy to forget you're playing a handheld game. However, there are other reasons why Dark Moon feels more like a console game, both good and bad, but more on that later.
Like the original, players explore various floors of mansions, digging through and sucking up every last thing they can (including ghosts). Also like its predecessor is the method through which players take on ghosts: Flash them with the strobe light and suck them in. For those concerned, Dark Moon absolutely nails the thrill of the tug and pull while in throes with a group of ghouls.
Of course, both processes are mixed up by the Dark Light, a new tool in Luigi's arsenal that reveals objects hidden by the numerous Boos (and sometimes the Boos themselves) that have plagued the valley. The combination of these tools in exploration and encounters becomes vital as Luigi moves on from one mansion to the next, retrieving a shard of the not-so-mysteriously broken Dark Moon in each.
Capping each dungeon are progressively more interesting and difficult bosses that--surprise!--each hold a piece of the Dark Moon. But the path leading to each boss is perhaps even more interesting. Unlike its predecessor, Dark Moon splits each mansion into about for or five stages. While one would assume this is to make the adventure more mobile friendly, each mission takes between 10 to 30 minutes and there are no save points.
What's more likely is that this was a decision made with replayability in mind, especially since each stage comes with a ranking upon completion, and each stage hides a Boo. Capture all the Boos in a mansion, and unlock a bonus stage. (Plus, each mansion has a series of gems to collect.) So, Dark Moon isn't compatible with the gamer on the go, but there's quite a bit to come back to here once Luigi puts the fabled object in the subtitle back together.That said, the cooperative-meets-competitive multiplayer component serves this purpose much better than shinies. When unlocked, ScareScraper Mode offers online, local and Download Play options to hunt down ghosts, play room escape or a strange game of tag with a ghostly dog. Local play is a frantic rush of oohs, ahs and shouting between friends that justifies itself in a single match. Online play, however, frequently boils down to four Luigis shouting binary commands like "help" and "hey" at each other through the direction pad. It's a welcome and necessary addition these days that just misses the mark with neither voice chat nor persistent lobbies. That said, only the closest of friends will find lasting enjoyment online.
But you didn't come to Luigi's first solo adventure in over a decade for the multiplayer, did you? Didn't think so. Unsurprisingly, Dark Moon shines most brightly when enjoyed alone, with headphones, perhaps on the comfy leather couch in your study ... if you have one of those. The living room couch did just fine for us. (At least it's leather.)
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon boasts some of the best lighting, physics and sound on Nintendo's new handheld to date. This sequel takes a goofy concept and turns it into one of the best adventure games on the 3DS. Nintendo's "Year of Luigi" campaign is cute and all, but if only it were to celebrate a "Year of the Underdog." Nintendo clearly has a knack for those.
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