Dr. E. Gadd is an eccentric, a puffy scientist with a thrill for the ghastly and ghostly. His own eagerness and bliss for the subject overshadows the genuine anxiety Luigi shows for the scenario. Or, maybe E. Gadd is blissfully unaware of his counterpart’s lack of enthusiasm. Napping peacefully, E. Gadd pulls Luigi through a television into a claustrophobic dormer, a central location for ghost busting shenanigans. Luigi’s bravery in the scenario is only matched by his pessimism.
Nintendo has never been closer to crafting a full-on Walt Disney-level creation than they have here. Luigi’s stubby run up stairs, cautious walking cycle, and heroic playfulness are all genuine acts with purpose towards forming an identity. His words are a mumbled few and actions many, a physical performance that creates a bumbling oaf with the heart of a hero. Luigi hums theme music nervously as he trots, breaking the fourth wall barriers that video games themselves do, and mimics a shower as he stands tall under water pipes. The Mushroom Kingdom has always been alive, but here, Nintendo has created a centralized hero with more dynamic pep than superstar Mario himself.
Plopped into one of the five mansions, all crumbling at the seams from ghostly residency, Luigi shines his flashlight and sucks up the spirits in the Poltergust 5000. Many of the ghosts are sprightly, mischievous critters looking to be bothersome. Blinded by the power of Luigi’s trusted flashlight, they fumble their usually graceful flight patterns, leaving themselves open to suction. The Poltergust’s might cannot be defeated, but Luigi is fallible. Spooked by other entities, alarmed by bats, or tripped by mice, the capture process is one of many random inherent dangers.
E. Gadd’s closed, technological bubble blends with the shattered walls and dusty carpets these dilapidated homes left to the afterlife. Bursts of apparitions and escaping energy peer through into the digital lenses of E. Gadd’s equipment. Luigi is called back to the science lab with frequency, bucking the gameplay methods of the Gamecube’s Luigi’s Mansion. Missions are stricter and tightly framed, with completion lending a brief reprieve to the star’s Phasmophobia.
The sense is that this structure is fit for a handheld, chunks of gameplay frequently chopped up with simpler goals while also bulking on the retread of familiar areas. Any length counter is often a falsification; much of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is played on familiar grounds. Losing the thrill of new found areas is a certain problem. The design is such that new puzzles are opened or fresh ghosts have found residence, something to help gloss over the familiarity of being returned to infertile gameplay ground. Losing a life means replaying the entire mission; there are no checkpoints, which further sharpens the repetition.
Dark Moon’s ultimate goal are the shards of the purple Moon itself, chunks being held hostage within these once magnificent structures. Phantasms hold them dear, relinquishing pieces only after lengthy battles with top tiered members of their kind. Once the Moon is completed, the specters return to a peaceful realm of existence, one that even finds some as obedient lab assistants for E. Gadd.
Mansion sprawls over five or six individual missions, creating opportunity for Luigi to rummage through the former remnants of lavish lifestyles. Gold coins, bills, and bricks turn into upgrade abilities, the Poltergust more than a device used for ensnarement of the supernatural. It pulls up aged curtains, tattered drawers, torn rugs, stray wallpaper, and spiderwebs, most keeping their secrets through the ages. Even the insects are trying to cash in by holding gems as their own.
Dark Moon is a user of motion controls, sneaking them in for aiming – the game design now without the help of a second analog stick – or peering through holes in the mansion’s facade. These are always on, although functions are doubled with the face buttons or the analog stick. Initial strikes with the flashlight are prone to missing, while wide patches of collision make the control mechanisms manageable during the most boisterous confrontations. That includes a brief (online and local) multiplayer reprieve that sees multiple Luigi’s battling for ghosts or time.
Living inside the hardware, and with glitzy 3D effects, is a breathing cartoon. Dark Moon has all of the necessary tangible elements, draped with the benefit of interactivity. Few are this cheerful either, space filled in with darkness, yet overcome with smirks and smiles. Luigi’s Mansion winks at its own camera as often as it thrills with delightful designs. It is a shame then that the glowing haunts have so little connection to anyone. They just sort of are, with static personality cross-bred between types. What this opens for combat potential, it closes with a lack of differentiating enthusiasm or purpose. That leverages it all on Luigi, and for once, this super brother can stand as his own.