Review | 3/30/2013 at 10:07 PM

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon Co-Op Review

Whip out your dual-scream 3DS for a spooktacular adventure

Nintendo has a long history of producing some of the very finest games available. Virtually every derivative of Mario has been nothing short of excellent throughout the plumber’s long and illustrious career. When Nintendo decided to create the original Luigi’s Mansion for the Gamecube, many people waited eagerly for the finished product, aware of Nintendo’s quality track record. Luigi’s Mansion released in 2001 to critical praise. Unlike his action loving brother Mario, Luigi’s adventure involved a spooky sojourn into a haunted mansion full of ghosts. It was a slow moving adventure game that rewarded careful exploration and the scrutinous eye. It was also a cult classic, and many people still enjoy the original Luigi’s Mansion to this day.

Fast forward to the present, when Nintendo announced news of a sequel to the lanky green plumber’s original adventure. This time, the game was being developed by Next Level Games, who has been earning a reputation as a respected developer for Nintendo platforms. Some of their previous works include Super Mario Strikers and Punch Out!! - both well received titles. The new project was titled Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, and the release platform this time was the 3DS.

You may be wondering if the charm and fun of the original Luigi’s Mansion stayed intact in Dark Moon. You will be happy to know that not only is the same level of care and attention to detail present, but the game actually greatly improves in other areas. Dark Moon is simply an absolute treat of a game. From the outset, Luigi is whisked to a nightmarish land by the kooky Professor E. Gadd. The mad (but adorable) scientist uses the pixelator to bring Luigi to him, in order to call upon his services once again. His otherworldly assistant has shattered the Dark Moon, and the pieces have been scattered around the valley. In turn, the loss of the moon has whipped the local ghost population into a frenzy. Luckily, Luigi is on the scene with his trusty Poltergust 5000 in order to suck up ghosts and hunt down the pieces.

Dark Moon is a visual feast for the eyes. In your quest, you will travel across five varied levels, each with various sublevels. There will be countless objects to interact with in each room. Often times, searching objects will yield some sort of treasure, usually in the form of coins or money. Rarely, you will come across a hidden gem, a hidden ghost, or a rare Boo ghost to hunt. This is a game that rewards the careful eye, and in order to complete it you will need to submerge yourself into the atmosphere of the game. The graphics are very well done, and serve to truly flesh out the spooky environs. You will find yourself wanting to explore every inch of the levels in order to find everything that is hidden. Animations are extremely well done. Luigi has a lot of unique animations, and the ghosts all have their own unique personalities. If one was to capture the essence of the game, it would be a G-rated haunted house at Disneyland. The world feels alive, and is often times humorous. While the dialogue is scarce, comedy is conveyed through the actions of ghosts, or the desperate cries, pleas, and whines that Luigi comically emotes.

The sound quality is excellent as well. You may notice a recurring audio track that plays throughout most of the game. The developers do a great job of transforming the theme in order to fit the situation at hand, however. Sound effects are plentiful and rewarding. Cackles can be heard from ghosts, Luigi whistles, virtually every object makes a sound, and there are a wide variety of environmental sound effects. This is definitely a game you will want to play with headphones on in order to receive the best aural experience possible. The 3D effects are modest, not the best I have seen, but certainly far from the worst. The game can be played just as well with the 3D turned on or off.

There is a lot of exploring to be done in Dark Moon, and if you are not a patient gamer, there are some frustrating moments to be had in the course of the journey. You will have a few tools at your disposal, including the gust and sucking power of the Poltergust 5000. The other addition is the “Dark-Light” contraption, which will reveal hidden objects in seemingly innocuous spaces. Besides simple exploration, there will be numerous puzzles to solve along the way, almost all of which will have you using your tools and the environment. During the course of my playthrough, I was stumped numerous times, at one point for nearly an hour. This game, while charming, is by no means an easy game. It WILL stump you, and when you find the solution to a tricky puzzle, make you feel like an idiot. Like I mentioned, a certain degree of patience is required in this game. The patience will pay off in a big way though.

The game is structured into five different levels, each composed of numerous sublevels. There is a great sense of buildup contained in the level progression, in which each proceeding level you will unlock a little more of the level at large. This process continues until the last sublevel, which features an exciting boss. The sublevels also feature a star-ranking system, which can be earned by collecting treasure, progressing in a timely manner, and by finding the hidden Boo in that particular sublevel. It is a challenging, addicting, and very replayable experience.

The other half of the game is spent in combat. Combat can be a bit tricky at first because of the way the controls are positioned on the 3DS. Basically, the general idea is to use your flashbulb to stun and materialize a ghost, who can then be sucked up with the Poltergust 5000. Once you start sucking the ghost up, you will need to “wrangle” them like a fish on a line, until the number above their head reached zero. At this point, you can fully suck up the ghost. Ghosts come in many different varieties, shapes, and all have their own patterns of attack. They also come in a variety of flavors. For instance, the common green ghost will sometimes wear pots and pan to bolster defence, or may even don sunglasses to reflect the flashlight. Like the game at large, the combat feels almost like a mini-puzzle in which strategies must be found to suck up ghosts. Some of the enemies are quite challenging, and if you should happen to die without holding onto a Golden Bone, you will have to restart a sublevel from the beginning. This can prove to be quite irksome, but really nails the point home that this game is by no means a cakewalk. Luckily, the sublevels are never so long as to deter you from giving them another go, usually ranging between 15 to 30 minutes.

At the end of the substage, E. Gadd will summon you back to the laboratory, at which point a few things will happen. First, you will be given a performance score based on how well you did during the mission. These missions can be replayed in order for you to best your previous ranking. Next, the ghosts you sucked up during the mission will be recorded for spectral mass and sent to the “vault.” The vault is a place where you can review the ghosts you have encountered and treasure you have found. FInally, the gold and money you collected will go into a fund that will  reward Luigi with upgrades at various increments. While modest, it all creates a system in which replayability is most definitely rewarded. The main game itself will take you some time to complete, and collecting all of the gems and boos and besting your score will add double to that completion time. In addition, if you collect all of the boos in all of the sublevels of a single level, you will unlock a secret level. Replayability is strongly advised in Dark Moon.

One of the more interesting facets of Dark Moon is the included cooperative features. There are a few way to play cooperatively with your friends, or with random people online. The entire cooperative experience is titled the “Scarescraper.” It is essentially a randomized dungeon that can be played with a total of four people. Take note that you actually need to progress a bit into the single player portion of the game to unlock the Scarescraper, so there is no immediate co-op right out of the box. Scarescraper is an absolute blast to play. You can play with your friends both online and locally, or with randoms online. You can even play with only one copy of the game and multiple 3DS systems, thanks to download play.

The Scarescraper features a few different modes of play. They include “Hunter,” “Rush,” “Polterpup,” and “Surprise.” Hunter mode has you tracking down ghosts in order to scale the Scarescraper. Rush mode is a special mode in which time is of the essence, and there are extra obstacles that will leave you scrambling for the exit. Polterpup has Luigi’s using the Dark-Light device in order to track adorable little ghost dogs. Finally, Surprise mode essentially randomizes the previous three during the course of the game. There are enough co-op modes to ensure a lot of playtime in Dark Moon.

All of the cooperative modes involve multi-colored Luigi’s. You can communicate with rudimentary words using the d-pad during play. Floors are randomly generated, and feature environments that hide treasure, keys, and most importantly, ghosts. Clear a floor of ghosts and you can advance to the next level. Simple, right? Well, you will also be competing against the clock, and if you all die or run out of time, it’s back to the bottom of the Scarescraper for you. From the outset, you can choose how many floors you want your dungeon to contain (up to 25 floors), and whether the action is set to normal, hard, or expert. The levels can get quite difficult, and you will really have to use some teamwork in order to proceed. There is also a special boss battle every five floors. While the dungeon randomizer isn’t the most powerful in history (some rooms start to look identical), it is not noticeable enough to break the immersion. This is mostly due to the in game clock mechanic. After clearing a floor, you try to collect red coins scattered throughout the level in order to earn a bonus that goes to a lucky character on the next stage. There is enough healthy competition to make the game fun, but cooperative play is paramount to the experience. You will probably want to roll with a full group of Luigi’s. I tried playing the game with just my girlfriend and the levels proved to be too difficult later on. If you can find a dedicated group, the co-op is extremely rewarding and addicting.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon as an incredible surprise and joy to play. It takes everything that was great about the original, and builds upon it to cater to today’s gaming enthusiast on the go. While there are a few G-rated scares to be had, the game is appropriate for all ages and audiences. There is also enough challenge and replayability to keep the most hardcore gamers occupied with their time. It is a rewarding experience, and there are few games similar on the market today. It stands as an excellent adventure, and deserves a spot in any 3DS owner’s library. The co-op is fresh and interesting, taking parts of a roguelike and mixing them with the exploration and battle mechanics of the single player experience. With the nice variety of modes and randomized stages, co-op will be enjoyed for a long time to come. The developer made sure that virtually everyone could try out on the cooperative experience through the use of online co-op and download play. For this, Dark Moon should be doubly praised. Just do yourself a favor and play the game already.