Review by J4913

"The fun of being green"

We start with a story of woe. Having received a letter indicating that they have won a fabulous mansion in a contest they never entered, the Mario brothers naïvely, typically, arrange to meet at the venue of their prize (which is a little odd, considering they live together). Luigi, arriving second of the two, discovers that his brother has been captured by the ghosts that haunt the huge manor. He meets Professor E. Gadd, who informs him that the house appeared only the other day, and is presented with the Poltergust 3000, a modified vacuum cleaner, a ghost-capturing device, as the means by which he can save Mario. The tables have been turned. Green is in control…almost.

Because, of course, Luigi isn't used to being the protagonist. There is little keeping him collapsing in a quaking, shuddering heap other than the player's, your, guiding hand. The game will involve you methodically (or erratically, it's up to you) clearing the mansion's many rooms of these phantoms, collecting keys to progress further, approaching Mario and his faceless captors with every step. Or shuffle – he is very afraid, after all.

The basic game mechanic of sucking ghosts up into the Poltergust is simple yet a challenge to perfect. After watching Luigi jump in fear, daze the poltergeist to expose its heart by pointing Luigi's torch at it, which can be aimed up or down to light the way, though how close you have to be for this to be effective varies amongst the different types of ghosts. Follow that up by holding the R-button to use the vacuuming power of the Poltergust on Luigi's back, and the enemy's hitpoints will begin to fall. The ghost, however, will do anything in its power to escape – and anything in its power means darting around the room in utter panic in an attempt to throw Luigi off the other end of the stream of pressurised air connecting the two – so you will have to constantly pull back the analogue stick in the opposite direction of the target as it flits from one end of the screen to the other to avoid being forcefully thrown off and losing some precious life and a few coins from your small hoard of collected treasure.

But this doesn't ever become monotonous: some ghosts throw bones at Luigi to ward him off, others attack with a shockwave-generating slamming of the ground, and the short, mean-looking red ones try to grab him and shake off all the money he has collected. The range of tasks is immense considering that the objective is to suck up ghosts, but that remains one of the game's major flaws: sucking up ghosts is pretty much it. Special ‘Portrait Ghosts' with more life that are actually distinguishable from each other require strategic thinking to reveal their hearts: a simple beam of light won't do it. You might have to open a window or answer a question correctly – or suck up all of the enemy's food. As the game progresses, Luigi will gain extra abilities from ‘element medals': his Poltergust will be able to expel fire, water or ice to combat trickier opponents, put out burning doors, freeze sludge, and even water plants.

Yes, I did mention treasure. The rooms are teeming with it and more, surprises hidden in every drawer, bookcase and fridge. Shake a piece of furniture or rattle it from afar with the Poltergust, interacting with the mansion's every object, allowing for endless possibilities that extend to rotating the blades of a ceiling fan or pulling posters away from walls. Collect coins, notes, gold bars, pearls and gems to have it all added to your end-of-game total.

Overall, playing is fun, a fun that effectively lasts the length of the game. Each room is different, many quite eccentric, and all with a refreshingly different character, which renders the concept of the entire game being set in a single mansion where every hallway is decorated in the exact same satisfactorily bizarre style much less detrimental to the overall impression. Meet Toads along the way with an assortment of often-humorous predicaments, which add to the experience even though the Toads basically act as givers of hints as to what to do next. There are a number of surprises and unexpected elements, but I won't spoil them for you here.

A few cutscenes adequately help with the progression of the fairly bare story – which means that it is quite complex when compared to the conventional Mario game. The equivalent of a hard mode, the idea of collecting treasure and the captivating charm that the game has all help where longevity is concerned, but, unfortunately, cannot save it from another notable blemish: it's certainly not as long as it could be. Although the collecting of items and the appeal of hidden rooms are all favourable aspects, there is not enough to last much longer than twenty hours at most for the average person, or a little less than half of that for the easily bored. The relative linearity, considering how open-ended Luigi's Mansion could be, does not encourage further playthroughs past the second on the ‘hard mode'; on the other hand, the variation between rooms manages to save the game from its length.

The difficulty of Luigi's Mansion is persistently ideal. It is not much to stay alive through the game for more experienced players, but there are the further tasks of exploring every room, locating and amassing as much money as possible and capturing Portrait Ghosts without imperfection to appease any complaints. Beyond that is the harder mode, a further challenge to those who wish to accept it. For those who are not so practiced in playing games, the game gives the player plenty of opportunities to replenish Luigi's life, and there is nothing overly complicated, nothing that cannot be understood.

If you pay attention, it won't be long before you realize how beautiful this game is. From shiveringly frosty vapour billowing from frozen crates to the luminescent translucency of the ghosts themselves, graphical effects are smooth and meticulously implemented. Although reflections are far too lacking in detail for my liking, most evidently when inspected up close using the Gameboy Horror, another device given to Luigi by E. Gadd, the lighting is suitably varied – as it should be, considering that atmosphere is such an important part of this game. Gentle moonlight of pastel shades and the steady, warmer glow cast by candles and fires sufficiently stand out against and blend with the general yellow of the mansion's lights, and Luigi's torchlight cuts through the darkness of unexplored areas, appropriately fading at a distance. Sudden startling cracks of lightning outside intermittently illuminate rooms at the front of the mansion with their harsh white, forming crisp, well-defined shadows – some, spookily, seemingly without an object as a template.

Sound is another major contributing factor to the unearthly mood Luigi's Mansion so successfully projects. Almost all of the music that you will hear consists of a single theme: a low-pitched, eerily repetitive tune. This might sound disappointingly minimal, but there is enough variation to keep it from monotony, as it fades in and out, plays faster and slower, harsher and gentler, and as its depth fluctuates from lone timid flute to orchestra, thereby moderating the mood and suspense, retaining interest but remaining uncomplicated enough to keep the player's attention on playing the game. There's never a point where you'll think that that same tune is unfit to accompany this next deathly silent room, cobwebbed and with furnishings as peculiar as ever, or that fast-paced boss battle set in as far-away and unreal a place as there could be. What's more, Luigi himself will hum or whistle along to the music, adding to the mood to a degree dependent on his own health: when low on life, the green-wearing plumber's voice quivers in dread; with a full heart in the corner of the screen, he will brightly whistle along, upbeat and cheerful. His voice can also be heard at the press of a button, at which Luigi will yell ‘Maaariooooooo…?', which varies in much the same way as his humming.

The crisp realism of sound effects in the game is more fitting than the traditional, Mario-esque noises that are less accurate to life. The creak of opening doors, the trickle of water and the hoarse roar of a certain modified vacuum cleaner are perfect, as are Luigi's sighs, grunts and whimpers of terror. The way E. Gadd talks is oddly appealing, and all the normal sizzles, whooshes, beeps and explosions are impeccable.

Above all, it is Luigi's Mansion's atmosphere, the darkness and impenetrable stillness at times, made up of so many vital details, that makes it a vastly enjoyable game. Had it more substance and less repetition, gameplay- and music-wise, it could have been much more worth buying than it is; even so, I cannot fault the feeling of playing for the first time, or much else at all.

Score
-80%-


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/12/07

Game Release: Luigi's Mansion (EU, 05/03/02)


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