Nothing makes you feel old like knowing the original Luigi’s Mansion is nearing 17 years old. If this game was a teenager they’d be able to go for a driving license! In that time the world has changed, there was the Year of Luigi, and many more games with Luigi in them. We already have a Luigi’s Mansion 2 and a third on the way, and no I haven’t forgotten then arcade game (we could be here some time if we got into the Mario Sunshine/Luigi’s Mansion stuff). Nintendo has decided to take the old 2001 GameCube Mansion and spruce the place up before cramming it into a 3DS. Professor E. Gadd would be proud.
It kicks off with Luigi being sent a letter. He’s won a big spooky mansion and he’s due to meet Mario to check it out. Mario doesn’t show up, but there’s plenty of ghosts instead. It’s not long before you come across Professor E. Gadd, a strange little scientist who’s lab was attacked and let out all the ghosts from the paintings he had (because who doesn’t keep ghosts in a painting for all eternity). Mario is missing (yet again), and Luigi is the lucky ghostbuster who is given the task of not only finding his brother, but recapturing the ghosts within the mansion. Armed with a torch, a Poltergust 3000 (a vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts) and the Gameboy Horror, it’s time to be the hero.
Going from darkened room to room, Luigi has to clear each room of ghosts to restore the lights. There are often smaller ghosts that get in the way, but in every few rooms there is a named ghost to capture and remake into a painting. Restoring the light in a room often rewards you with a key, allowing you to push deeper into the mansion. For those who aren’t familiar with the Luigi’s Mansion games, the method for catching ghosts involves a pattern. First you need to expose the ghosts heart using the flashlight, leaving them vulnerable to being captured with the Poltergust 3000. Aiming the vacuum nozzle at the ghost you’ll experience a game of tug of war as the ghost tries to fly around the room to escape, while you have to pull in the opposite direction to reduce its hitpoints to zero. The smaller ghosts will just show up as you walk around, it’s the portrait ghosts that can require a little bit of light puzzle solving. Often these ghosts will be in hiding until you interact with the right item, or it won’t show their heart until you disrupt their routine.
One of the updates added into this version is that you can select which version of Luigi’s torch you’ll use, either the ‘classic’ or Strobulb from the sequel. I played most of the game with strobulb thinking surely the newer version would be better. I was wrong. I tried the classic bulb for the sake of seeing how the game played with it, and more often than not I was stunning the ghosts by doing very little. I recommend sticking with the classic torch, if you want a bit more of a challenge and want to make the game a bit harder use the strobulb.
The Gameboy Horror is the other tool at Luigi’s disposal. Previously you had to use it on the same screen as everything else, but with the magic of dual screen gaming the whole bottom screen is used for the map and other information like money collected. It’s very handy being able to check the map to see where you need to get to next. The Gameboy also has a scanner feature where you can scan the portrait ghosts or anything you need hints about. One or two puzzles require it to progress, so it’s an item worth remembering to use when you’re stumped. There are also elemental medals you can find that allow you to get the power of fire, ice and water to help catch a few ghosts that require opposite elemental attacks. This is pretty fun up until you’re rooms away from an element you need to collect.
It is hard to know who to recommend this game to. The sequel, available on the 3DS, improves on the original in almost every way. Throughout the 5 hours you’ll spend with Luigi’s Mansion you’ll find yourself essentially doing the same thing the whole way through. Clear a room of ghosts, get the key, go to the next door to unlock and repeat. When it was brand new, it was one of the launch titles for the GameCube. It was a difference approach for a ‘Mario’ game, and of course put Luigi under the spotlight, giving him a bit more of a personality (pretty much ‘Luigi’s a scaredy cat’). While it is nice to be able to revisit a ‘classic’ game, the remake only makes the slightest of improvements while also suffering from some rough controls.
In the original game, the GameCube controller allowed for dual stick movement and aiming. The best the 3DS has to replicate those controls are the ‘C-stick’ or the Circle Pad Pro. There are two methods of control, Standard and ‘side stepping,’ which has the main Control pad strafing, as the C-stick controls the direction you’re moving. To start with, the C-Stick is not ideal for that kind of use. It’s uncomfortable to use in this way, especially with little feedback, although it handles turning movement way better than looking up or down when in a pinch. The other option is to use the D-Pad to aim, positioned so if you go with that you’re stuck on the spot and nearly no situations in game allowed for that. You can also use motion controls (that should be enough to make any 2DS/3DS user tremble in fear), and this allows you to move the handheld up and down to control which angle the vacuum is pointed. As a replacement for a decent joystick it doesn’t compare. It doesn’t replace the full range of movement and before I turned off the motion controls, I nearly threw the game out of the nearest window due to its poor implementation. In the end the controls weren’t enough to keep me from cruising through the game, but whenever any quick aiming was needed the game suddenly had all the joy sucked out of it for me, and all of the bosses were swear-inducingly frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, this game is still beatable with these controls — in the whole game I only died once prior to the final boss — but the final boss does have a rough difficulty spike due to the controls, and it suddenly expects a lot more from you than the rest of the game did.
The big thing going for Luigi’s Mansion is that it’s still full of charm. It was also great to have Professor E. Gadd back in another game (sure it’s a remake but you’ll take what you can get), he’s the wacky inventor that the Mushroom Kingdom could do with more of.
But after all these years is Luigi’s Mansion still as fun? Unfortunately not. When Luigi’s Mansion 2 had built on the original and made it work better overall, coming back to the original feels like a downgrade. As you play through the game, you begin to realise that if the keys you collect didn’t unlock doors far away from where you found it, you would potentially be able to beat the game in half the time. There is no fast travel system except to the Mansion entrance – you have to walk from floor to floor. It actually doesn’t take long to back track, but it feels so slow. You’ll be going through areas where you have to deal with the same old obstacles to progress. The act of catching the ghosts changes very little, you never get stuck for longer than a few minutes. Boos are more frustrating as they can move between rooms, sometimes sending you on a merry chase. By the end I found it was more often 300 HP boos floating in-between the same wall, sending me running back and forth whittling down its health in what essentially felt like ‘Luigi’s chores’.
Given Nintendo’s back down from having 3D be a selling feature, it was surprising that Luigi’s Mansion has it. It is possible if a similar engine to the sequel was being used, it wasn’t too much of a hassle to add in. Like Luigi’s Mansion 2, the 3D is pretty decent, although if you’re using the motion controls you might as well keep it off. Visually the game looks good on the 3DS, the same-ish nature of the Mansion was never really going to push the system, but Luigi and the ghosts look good. The lighting effects are easy to take for granted now but ‘back in the day’ it was still very new.
The music is still good and over the years the theme is quite memorable now. Whether it’s music as you wander around, down to the way Luigi hums the games theme as he sneaks around the mansion. Luigi’s humming changes whether he is confident or scared, it’s a cute touch. The one downside is that, for 4-5 hours, you’re going to be hearing the same music over and over.
One of the additions the remake brings is co-operative play, featuring a ghostly green version of Luigi as player 2. However, player 2 is easily damaged and when knocked out, it takes a short time before they’re back in the game. I didn’t actually get to try this feature because download play only allows a second player to join for looking at paintings or the practice room. It’s a missed opportunity, because it feels like the feature as a whole is to help make the game easier by letting a friend join in. Player 2 isn’t made equal, and unfortunately, without having access to anyone else who would have a copy before the actual release date, I can’t even see if only then ‘main Luigi’ gets to keep any progress — once again the ghostly green Luigi is treated as some kind of lesser being. Given the remake treatment, it’s also a surprise that the Scarescraper multiplayer didn’t see a re-emergence as a side game to add on some content.
Some final additions included in this version are achievements, the gallery and amiibo functionality. The achievements are a list of tasks you need to complete, and you can’t see the next difficulty without collecting all of the current one. The gallery is where all the ghost portraits are kept and you can return to relive the fight whenever you want. Amiibo functionality is limited to a handful of Mario series amiibos that provide a bit of assistance, whether it’s ghost locations or some health. The don’t do much overall, but it’s a neat addition.
Some remakes can work wonders for the ageing content of the original. It helps when the game was held back by limitations of the hardware. Luigi’s Mansion was a strange pick to remake, even with a third game on the way. It would be better to play the sequel then go back to this remnant of the past. If you really really loved the original, or feel you missed out on a bit of history not playing it at the time, then this game will have something for you. Ultimately this version of Luigi’s Mansion would be better off being left in the time capsule it was pulled out of.
Note: Although our review is going live tonight, the game is not out in Australia until October 20th.