I love that Bitmob doesn't cater to the impression/review hungry crowds. These urges can be sated elsewhere. That said, I've enjoyed the reviews of games shared by the community, particularly older ones that the author initially missed out on. And so I add a few of mine to the mix. Here I look at a launch title for the Gamecube that owns a peculiar spot in the Nintendo canon. Not sequel nor reboot, Luigi's first starring role was different than any other game out there — and yet it left many wanting more. With a remake rumored to be coming for the 3DS, it's a good time to look back at the only ghost-sucking treasure hunt of 2001
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Since its release nine years ago, Luigi's Mansion has gained, if not a cult following, then at least an appreciation; players recognize its shortcomings, but are charmed by the unique gameplay and green-clad protagonist. As a Nintendo loyalist who passed over Luigi's haunted affair the first time around, I owed it to myself (and that oft-ignored brother) to pop the game into my Wii and check it out. And I'm glad I did.
When Luigi's Mansion was first introduced at the Nintendo Space World in 2000, many assumed the same thing: this must be a portion of a larger game, possibly involving Mario, that would rightfully continue the Mario Bros. series. The concept was just too odd to sustain a full title: Luigi, creeping around a spooky house at night, sucking up ghosts with a vacuum-cleaner?
A little over a year later, Luigi's Mansion released alongside the GameCube's launch. Though it sold well, reviews were mediocre – indeed, this Ghost-bustin' action was no early level of a vast and epic quest, but the entire game. Many players expecting the next Super Mario 64 were disappointed. Some (like myself) skipped out entirely, not sufficiently interested. Due to the Wii's backwards-compatibility with GameCube, I've now been able to right my past wrongs. Don't make the same mistake I did. This Mansion is worth exploring, especially at used prices going as low as $4.
The story goes something like this: Luigi wins a mansion and tells his brother to meet him there to celebrate. But when Luigi arrives, Mario's nowhere to be found. The prize was a trap, and a bevy of Boos and other ghosties are holding Mario hostage. It's up to Luigi to find his brother and win the day.
Your main task is to clear this house of its undead residents. Upon entering, the entire house is dark and cold. This is no Resident Evil, nor does it try to be. Specters are humorously drawn, with big gaping eyes and bold, ethereal colors. A mad scientist named Professor E. Gadd helps you along the way, handing over you his newest invention, the Poltergust 3000 (basically a vacuum mixed with a proton pack). You also gain use of a Game Boy Horror, which offers a map of the mansion's floors along with a neat camera function that offers clues on your surroundings— think of it as a very simple version of Samus' Scan Visor. A flashlight rounds out the entirety of your inventory.
Controls are simple. You move with the analog stick and control a flashlight with the c-stick. While in the dark, your flashlight is always on. Turn it off with the B button, and a ghost will emerge from the wall and creep up behind you. Swing around, flash it with your light, and the ghost is stunned—when this happens, a heart appears inside the translucent body with a number. Once the ghost is stunned, suck him into your Poltergust with a press of the R button. But it's not quite that easy. Ghosts don't like being vacuumed, apparently, and will fly around the room, dragging you around as you try and reel it in. While pressing down R, you need to tap the c-stick or analog stick in the opposite direction of the ghost to bring his heart meter down. Once the meter reads zero, you'll finally suction up the ghosty with a satisfying 'pop!'
When the area is cleared, the lights come back on and you receive a chest holding a key to the next room. You can explore every nook in each room. Shake a vase or rustle an object, which might uncover hearts to increase your health, or money in the form of bills, gold bricks and gemstones. The only other ability you have is to shoot out flames, water, or ice from your Poltergust after sucking in elements found throughout the house. Puzzles often revolve around this mechanic. You might have to light all the candles in a room before being able to open the next door. You progress through the mansion in this way, slowly uncovering the secret of Mario's captors.
Graphically, the game is full of small but noticeable flourishes: Luigi's breath is visible in the dark, cold rooms; curtains sway in the gust from your vacuum, and you can suck tablecloths off tables and blankets off of mirror. Your flashlight emits a nice cone of light that sweeps through the darkness. Objects throw proper shadows on the floor, and strikes of lightning flash through windows. The game still looks good, even better than some Wii titles. You can tell Nintendo was trying to push its new hardware, and wanted a showpiece to wow their fans used to blurry textures and isometric fog.
One of my favorite touches is the sparse and clever use of sound. While exploring the darkened halls, a suitably creepy theme plays in the background. Once you clear an area, though, all we hear is Luigi whistling that same tune. Press A while not around a wall or object and Luigi will call out, “Maaa-rio!” Small aural cues like this add to the atmosphere of being alone in a large spooky house.
The challenge level overall is pretty tame, and though boss battles ratchet up the difficulty, I feel this is a game that's less about challenging your gaming acumen than it is one to enjoy on its own kooky merits. You can't fairly compare Luigi's Mansion to larger, more robust experiences. It has its own style and pace almost wholly removed from modern games. Think of it like the Ghost-Train ride at your state fair; sure, the roller-coaster is bigger and louder, but there's just something intangibly fun about being accosted by plastic monsters in the dark while fake fog rolls in.
Luigi's Mansion feels somewhat limited by its one-note concept. Clearly, Nintendo felt the same way, as we have yet to see a direct follow-up to the game. They do think enough of the concept to give us tastes now and again— the Poltergust 3000 is an unlockable kart in Mario Kart DS, and the Mansion is a stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Personally, I would welcome a new entry in the series (especially with the Wii Remote well-suited to the control mechanics), as I came away satisfied to have experienced this strange side-quest in Nintendo's history.
Though a Wii sequel is unlikely, a handheld version may be coming soon. Hideki Konno has stated they used an early version of the game to test out 3D screens for use with GameCube. Rumors persist we'll see another Mansion on the upcoming world-peace-creating-hunger-solving 3DS. Perhaps then more people will get to experience the charms on offer here. Luigi's first major starring role doesn't approach those of his brother, but that's okay— he's used to standing in the shadows.
A version of this review first appeared on PlatformHeroes.com