“Don’t cross the streams.”
-Dr. Egon Spengler
Not since Mario is Missing! has the Master of Second Fiddles taken the lead role in the absence of his braver brother. And this time, you’re not forced into learning about geography! Luigi’s Mansion. Survival horror meets Nintendo. Finally.
Weegie has won a gorgeous mansion in some kind of sweepstakes and Mario has trotted on ahead to scope it out first. When Luigi arrives, his arguably far more popular broski is nowhere in sight. What is in sight in the dead of night is a mansion rather unlike the one advertised by his little pamphlet. It’s a house that would give
the Crypt Keeper Hillary Clinton the willies.
With much mustachioed apprehension, Luigi calls out Mario’s name and peeks inside the mansion. He soon discovers that it is (surprise, surprise) haunted.
Assaulted by apparitions, Luigi is cornered when a strange little man who sounds like an ewok shambles in to the rescue. The little man, Professor Elvin Gadd (heh), escapes the mansion with Luigi and together they return to his lab outside. There, Luigi is armed by the Professor’s anti-spectral armament: the Poltergust 3000. It sucks. It’s basically a weapon that makes this a Ghostbusters game.
Luigi is armed with a flashlight with which to stun the ghosts hiding in darkness, the Poltergust 3000 with which to search and rummage through furniture and household objects as well as vacuum up those bad boos, the Game Boy Horror with which to communicate with the Professor and access menus, and his clarion call of “Mario?” to locate his lost brohan. Once ghosts are stunned with the flash of light, Luigi can begin pulling the horrors in with the Poltergust 3000, which demands that he tilt the joystick away from the fleeing spirit. Luigi’s got to hold on tight and keep the pressure on until the ghost’s counter (think HP) is reduced to zero, signaling its incarceration.
Luigi’s Mansion is a whole lot of fun. It’s a mix of a lot of quiet moments and slow movements peppered by brief but high-intensity action. You’ll feel like you’re sneaking around, taut as a bowstring, just waiting for something to pounce.
As it just so happens, Mario has been kidnapped by a gang of boos, led by the aptly named King Boo. The spooks have trapped Mario in a painting. By some sick twist of fate, Luigi is the one now tasked with saving the day, rescuing his brother (not the princess), and defeating King Boo.One of the game’s side quests revolves around hunting down and capturing every last boo. All fifty of them. Cash and coins are some of the rewards in Luigi’s Mansion, and they help measure your completion rank upon finishing the game. If you capture all fifty boos, you’ll get a sizeable monetary reward.
But the boos aren’t the only poltergeists parading about the place. There are more ordinary jello-colored specters as well as “portrait ghosts”. The latter seem to be the former residents of the mansion and are more humanoid in appearance than the other specters. The portrait ghosts have names and more personality, and they function like mini-bosses and puzzles in miniature.
Portrait ghosts cannot be captured by ordinary means without first revealing their hearts. This can be tricky and requires that you be observant and patient. For example, one of the first portrait ghosts Luigi comes across is Neville, a peaceful, bookish chap in a rocking chair. He disappears whenever Luigi looks directly at him (per Super Mario Bros. series tradition), so you’ve got to wait until Neville leans back and yawns, revealing his heart for a moment and allowing you to stun him with the handheld torch and take him in like yesterday’s dirty laundry.
Once captured, portrait ghosts are taken back to the lab at regular intervals and transformed into actual paintings by the Professor’s Portrificationizer. Hence their title: portrait ghosts. The paintings of captured spooks can be peeped in the gallery, accessible through the lab.
Besides sucking, the Poltergust 3000 can also capture elemental spirits once an elemental coin item is obtained. There are three available elements in the game: fire, water, and ice. Provided Luigi has the proper coin, if he sucks up an elemental spirit he can shoot an elemental blast from the vacuum head for a limited amount of time. Gusts of fire. Jets of water. Blasts of frigid air. These come in handy for overcoming spectral weaknesses and maneuvering through the mansion.
Speaking of which, the mansion doors will be locked. You can pilfer the keys from portrait ghosts and treasure chests. One of the more annoying things about the game is all the backtracking. The mansion isn’t really all that big. Often times a key will be gained on the bottom floor which unlocks a door on the top floor, and vice versa. But once a room is properly “exorcised”, it lights up and becomes a safe zone.
Poor Luigi trembles and tremors with a voice of tremolo. Mansion seals his reputation as something of a waif, a wimp, and a scaredy-cat. The player at home may not be shocked into fits of terror by the blobular pudding-ghosts lurking in hallways and closets. This is still a Nintendo game. But really, if they had wanted to make it scarier, they could have. How terrifying would Luigi’s Mansion be with some ReDeads from Ocarina of Time?
The 8-Bit Review
The graphics took a big leap forward since Super Mario 64 which launched the N64. Comparably, Luigi’s Mansion was a launch title for the GameCube. It was meant to show off the quality and capability of Nintendo’s new system, and it certainly did. It has a much higher polygon count than SM64 and much more detailed and diverse graphics. Characters and their movements are as smooth as their new textures, minus Luigi’s purposefully stiff little, nervous jog-trot and constant shivering. The GameCube is the equivalent of the the Dreamcast, PS2, and Xbox and I think Luigi’s Mansion proved Nintendo’s console had some serious power in the ring of the console wars.
The game also has a very cinematic presentation to it with the mansion-entering cutscene and a small sequence that plays when you unlock a door for the first time: Luigi hesitantly turns the doorknob with a trembling hand. Lighting features into the gameplay in a big way with Luigi’s flashlight and clearing a room of darkness with its ghosts. Flashes of lightning and shadows provide depth.
The mansion theme is extremely catchy. I caught myself whistling it even when it wasn’t playing. Even when I wasn’t at home. They also did something with the track: they had Luigi hum along to it. It’s hilarious and characteristically Nintendo, super endearing. When Luigi enters a pitch black room and flashes on his light, you can tell the poor guy is terrified but he’s trying to cheer himself up a little and be brave by humming along to the theme song. It’s really successful fourth-wall breaking because it’s so in character, not fourth-wall breaking just for the heck of it. It helps sell the new, nerve-wracked hero to the player in the place of Mario.
The game contains other variations on the main theme but I was surprised by how much funk is infused in Luigi’s Mansion. These are really catchy. My favorite song ended up being the one that plays when Prof. E. Gadd phones in on the Game Boy Horror after Luigi catches a boo. Like a love letter to the 8-bit age… have a listen. It quickly made it’s way up my list of favorite 8-bit songs.
While the gameplay of Luigi’s Mansion strikes it’s interesting balance between quiet moments and action moments, and it’s a largely unique move away from traditional Mario Bros. style platforming (Luigi can’t even jump in this), the gameplay is unfortunately hindered by bothersome controls on a bothersome controller. Given that the GameCube controller isn’t half as unintuitive and confusing as the WiiMote and Nunchuck, but we’re still talking about a thing with buttons that have mutually exclusive inputs.
Here’s what I mean: when playing Luigi’s Mansion, there were times when I had to move with the left stick, position myself with the right stick, press the button to suck (with my thumb already being used by the right stick), and alternate button pressing with the left shoulder button and measure the strength of how hard I press (pressing too hard with an elemental power would result in a projectile and not a stream). Shoulder buttons with different capabilities depending on how much they’re depressed was a bad idea.
This is most apparent on the Boolossus boss battle. I thought it was needlessly hard. I died quite a few times and the save point is back at the start of the mansion. But I knew I was dying because the controls were just so wonky and not cooperative with the quick demands of switching directions Luigi was facing and swapping between sucking and dispelling ice. I think the last great controller Nintendo pumped out was on the Super Nintendo. Luigi’s Mansion was certainly not ruined by the gameplay controls, but if they had been rethought it could have been an even better game. In a game where everything was awesome, the controls were sadly the least awesome.
Capturing Luigi’s reflection with the camera on the Game Boy Horror triggers a warp back to the entrance of the mansion.
Maybe the most frustrating thing about the gameplay, for me, was dropping coins every time Luigi gets hit. Considering the game ranks you for the amount of cash you finish with, losing money does have some importance. Not a whole lot, but it’s terrible to watch those coins flash and disappear before you have the chance to pick them up again after sustaining a sudden ghostly attack!
What would any Super Mario Bros. game be like without Bowser? Uh, Super Mario Bros. 2. Not well received. Bowser is the meat and potatoes villain of the franchise and he makes his dutiful appearance here in Luigi’s Mansion. But notice anything in the pic below?
No pupils in the King of the Koopas eyes. Are we to believe that he died somehow? One too many dips in the lava? Here, his corpse is reanimated by King Boo and you even knock his head off in order to get at the pesky specter. Throwing Luigi in Mario’s shoes is such a lovely and enjoyable twist. It plays out for a much different scene with Weegie quaking in his boots before Bowser rather than facing Koopa with the bluster of his braver brutha. It validates Luigi’s existence, showing us his merit, that he too can face his worst fears.
It’s not entirely unfairly difficult, taking the bad controls into the equation. Sure there are times when those controls will get Luigi hurt or even killed, but this game has some real challenge value. That’s because you can expect to get stuck. A lot. I think I got stuck for a few minutes right at the start of the game, trying to get around in the first room upstairs. You’ve got to have an attention to detail. I was told that ghosts only appear in the darkness and I didn’t make the connection that I needed to snuff out the two violet candles mounted to the wall in order to trigger the next event. Portrait ghosts will also provide much difficulty in trying to solve their “riddles” of getting them to reveal their hearts. And finally, even though the mansion isn’t that big, it is big enough to where you may forget where you need to go or what room contains what and so on.
One of the common complaints made about Luigi’s Mansion is over its brevity. The game is pretty short. Now that didn’t bother me, since my backlog is extensive to the point that I’m trying to look for short games specifically. But it’s there nonetheless. Once you do complete the game the first time, you can either replay the original mansion or enter the “hidden mansion” which has several differences: the rooms are swapped like a mirror-image, the Poltergust 3000 is stronger but so are the enemies, and Luigi will take extra damage. It’s like the game’s hard mode. This does give you a chance to get any boos you may have missed and collect extra cash to aim for a higher rank. In my opinion, though, it’s not enough to warrant a second playthrough. Why? Because most of the boss battles and portrait ghosts require critical thinking and solving skills to best, and already knowing those methods would make any subsequent playthrough that much less enjoyable. Uniqueness: 9/10
Much has already been said about how distinct this game is among others in its franchise. I’ll just leave that thought there. It’s about time Luigi gets more of that limelight.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
What a fun and creative way to expand upon the Super Mario universe without moving too far away from the “source material” and without simply tacking on another digit for a sequel (I’m lookin’ at you, Mario Party 10!). We’ve been familiar with boos as “those ghosts from Mario” since the NES days. We know they freeze if you look at them and so on. Luigi’s Mansion just expands the lore and it does so delightfully, while at the same time feeling like a very fresh and unique experience, not only among Mario games but among games in general. That’s quite the achievement for a Nintendo game these days.
Eventually I’ll revisit Mama Luigi for the hidden mansion and hunt down all those poltergeists. Somebody has to do it. But if you ask me, the Professor really should’ve called the FBI a lot sooner. They deal with this kind of stuff all the time.
Aggregated Score: 7.6