Luigi's Mansion review
For Nintendo it seemed as if each console that make has to be launched with Mario title. Technically the Gamecube managed that too, but the actual game released wasn't quite the one people expected. For a start it's not a platform game, and the starring role belongs to the eternal understudy, Luigi.
Luigi wins a mansion in a contest he didn't enter. Of course nobody in the Mario universe finds this in the least bit suspicious, so Mario says he will meet his brother at his new pad (not quite the same as having a princess waiting for you though). When Luigi does finally arrive his brother is nowhere to be found, and instead he is greeted by a bunch of ghosts. Shortly after another weird lifeform appears who attempts (and fails) to vanquish the spirits. Afterwards this lifeform introduces himself as Professor E.Gadd (didyouseewhattheydidthere?) and gives Luigi the vacuum he was using earlier - the Poultergust 3000. You adventure is about to begin.
No, it's not a terribly involving plot, but it's a nice change of pace from the usual princess getting kidnapped by Bowser concept that's been abused by the series. The cast of characters, on the other hand, are the kind you can really come to like. The various Gallery Ghosts that are found throughout the game have such diverse personalities and all cling to afterlife in their own ways. Meet the ballroom dancers, the crying toddler or the soldiers. Each ghost brings with it their own traits, and while these ghosts may lack backstories they do wonders for the progression of the events. Luigi and Gadd are somewhat less interesting. In fact, Luigi's role of the game sems to be based entirely around being scared all the time, and while one can appreciate he's having to face his fears to rescue his brother the fact that nothing else happens with him is lacking.
Luigi's mansion is displayed in the same style of graphics Mario games are known for. There's a distinct smoothness to the visuals and the features of the characters and environments are quite distinct in their appearance. Things are fairly colourful when the lights are on, and the ghosts themselves look rather bright, but when darkness descends the mansion takes on a more gloomy appearance. It not exactly scary (I doubt Nintendo actually wants to scare their target audience with this) but it certainly puts across a spooky feeling.
As a launch title it seems that Nintendo wanted to show off its console's power, and the lighting effects seem designed purely for this. Luigi has a torch to fall back on in darkened rooms, and watching the light from it dance all over the furniture is fantastic. It looks so natural and really enhances the experience greatly.
There is a wonderfully spooky music track that plays along in the background. It still manages to retain some elements that comprise much of the music in the Mario series of games while highlighting the overall theme of the game. It's lighthearted but enough to make the most of the spookiness factor. The ghostly cries of the spooks is also great, as are the various sound effects like the suction of the vacuum.
Luigi's goal in the game is to suck up every spook in the mansion. This is where the unique characteristics of the game come through. The light from Luigi's torch deters ghosts from appearing, but it is this same light that stuns them. Therefore the players has to draw ghosts out in the darkness and then surprise them with the torch. Doing this exposes their hearts, which is the signal to start vacuuming them up. Once sucking players have to drag away from the ghost with the analogue stick to drain their health until it hits zero, at which point the ghost is defeated. Although that sounds easy it isn't, as the ghosts will drag Luigi all around to try and escape the suction, and some of the later ghosts have rather high health amounts, making vacuuming them up quite the challenge. It's not as if you lose if the suction is lost, but it means having to stun them again.
Earlier encounters are pretty basic, with singular ghosts that put up little resistance before being defeated. Later on not only do you have to contend with higher endurance levels but the ghosts themselves will be a lot more aggresive in trying to get away, and at times you'll even have to tackle multiple spooks at once. Some ghosts will also have some form of a weakness to exploit, like sucking up and object and firing it at them.
The torch mechanics work themselves wonderfully into this. You can hold it off ready to surprise spooks at a moment's notice, but the real gem in here is the ability to free aim it. While Luigi's walking movements are assigned to the analogue stick, the torch can be aimed with the C stick at the same time.
Boos are another matter. At some point in the adventure Luigi will release 50 Boos (ghosts resembling white balls with stumpy arms - Mario fans should be famaliar with them). These ghosts are different because they can't be stunned and may well be in any room in the mansion. They also can't be stunned or dragged around, so Luigi has to train the suction on them. An irritating trait is that they will simply float out of the room at times, forcing you to exit and re-enter the room to redo the process. On the plus side is that the health gauge of any Boo does not reset, so if you drained them down to 30 HP then they will still be at 30 when you go back in. It is a welcome change of pace from abusing the torchlight in some way.
It's not just ghosts you can use the vacuum on though. Your suction can be turned on virtually everything in the game, ranging from the chandeliers to bookcases, chairs and any other item of furniture that litters the mansion's numerous rooms. This is done for more than sheer kicks (although it is fun to wreck the place) as various places will relinquish money. During his search of the mansion Luigi can find dollars, gold, gems and other valuable items. Some of these are earned by defeating ghosts, but most has to be found by exploring every corner of every room. The money gained contributes to the final end of game rank, for the perfectionists aiming for the highest grade. It's a nice extra challenge if sucking up the dead isn't quite enough for you.
The mansion itself is a rather large and complex structure. Rooms and passageways spread out in all directions. Part of the game is a matter of finding out exactly where you need to go. You will find yourself trying to work past locked doors or mysterious passages in an attempt to reach that elusive room Gadd is directing you to. At certain points in the game you will be required to return to Gadd, at which point certain elements in the mansion will change a bit, like new areas opening up and extra spooks appearing to block your path. It's quite interesting to seek a path through the place.
To compliment the puzzle aspect are the elements. There are three elements made up of fire, water and ice. Once Luigi has met certain conditions he can suck up element orbs and then expel these from the vacuum. Turning the device into a flamethrower sounds like a brilliant concept by itself, but it's nice to see how these have been worked into the game rather well.
For this adventure you are given a device called the GameBoy Horror. Aside from being a not-too-subtle reference to Ninty's old handheld it also has a few uses, like offering a map of the mansion and providing some hints as to where you need to go or what to do.
Completing the game once opens up the mirror mansion. This is basically a flipped version of the normal mansion, but it also ups the difficulty by pushing in extra ghosts around the place. Even the more experienced players will find some challenge here.
If there's a big problem with Luigi's Mansion it is that the replay value is fairly low. Battling ghosts doesn't quite have the same level of interaction to remain fresh for so long, and the exploration loses its appeal once you know where you're going. It's great for a playthrough or two, but the appeal goes away after that.
Regardless, Luigi's Mansion is an entertaining, if shorter than expected, experience. It's one of the more unique titles for the Gamecube too, so look to this title to broaden your gaming experiences.
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