Review by MTLH

"Luigi's second ghosthunt is just as good as his first."

Amongst the GameCube's launch titles in 2002 was Luigi's Mansion. Seeing that most probably expected a Mario platformer, it's safe to say that the initial response wasn't exactly overwhelming. I know I was a tad disappointed! Still, over time the game's reputation steadily improved to the point where it is now considered somewhat of a classic. There was thus much rejoicing when Nintendo announced a sequel for the 3DS. It has been more than a decade since the original launched so the question remains if Luigi's Mansion 2 can life up to it's predecessor's reputation.

The visuals are simply gorgeous. The original already had a diorama style look to it and the sequel takes this one step further. The 3D effect helps in a surprisingly subtle way. The added depth really enlivens the style but is understated enough so as not to become too 'in your face' like in some of the earlier 3DS games.

The visual's highlight is Luigi himself who is exquisitely animated. His resigned apprehension really shines through all his movements. It's the way he warily looks around whenever he enters a haunted area or the overenthusiastic way he accompanies the other living beings he encounters. The various ghosts and other creatures he encounter don't look too bad, far from it, but don't quite reach Luigi's standard. The environments look very good, featuring a lot of details both big and small.

The score really suits the game's vibe. It's eerie when it has to be, even downright menacing at times, but there is always a kind of jolliness to accompany it. There is also more music playing in general, replacing Luigi's nervous whistling from the first game. The sound effects are spot on, with the various bangs, thunderclaps, creaks and groans helping greatly to make Luigi's Mansion 2 the slightly unsettling experience it is. A cute feature is that at the press of a button Luigi can say 'hallo' in several ways, from frightened to cautious. It doesn't do anything in particular but it's a nice touch.

Professor E. Gadd is hard at work in the Evershade Valley studying, what else, ghosts when something horrible happens. The Dark Moon which hangs above the area is shattered into several little pieces and the friendly spectres quickly become hostile and turn on the unsuspecting scientist. He manages to flee the scene and drafts in poor Luigi to catch the ghosts and restore peace and quiet to the valley.

So Luigi's main objective is to catch ghosts. He is equipped with the Poltergust 5000, a converted vacuum cleaner with which he can suck them in. Before Luigi can do that he must first stun them. In the first game it was enough to catch them in the flashlight's beam. In the sequel it must be charged first so that it blasts out a flash of light. This scares them into displaying their hitpoints after which they can be hauled in. This change is probably due to the handheld having only one analogue stick. In the original the second stick was used to aim both the flashlight and the Poltergust's muzzle. With one missing, certain mechanisms such as this had to be adapted to a clunkier control scheme. This has also had an effect on the way ghosts are caught. Previously, Luigi had to really reel them in, pulling back with one stick while angling the victim in with another. Luigi must still try to drag his prey back, or at least attempt to hold his ground. Vacuuming in a ghost now happens more or less automatically with an added meter that fills up for as long as Luigi can maintain his hold. This meter is divided into several segments which, when activated, does a bit more damage to the ghost's overall number of hitpoints. Catching ghosts becomes thus less a matter of fishing and more one of holding on while avoiding obstacles.

I called the new control scheme clunky and perhaps that is a tad unfair. They do work quite well with a bit of practice. It just takes a while to get used to the controls as their layout isn't the most intuitive to begin with. Expect to accidentally mix the buttons up a few times at the start. Another aspect of that takes some practice is that they make Luigi's movements somewhat constricted. When using the Poltergust or flashlight, he can't turn around and is essentially stuck pointing in a single direction. That means that Luigi is even less agile than in the first game and that positioning him correctly is very important. Again, this isn't the end of he world but there are more than a few times you will miss Luigi's Mansion's fluid control.

On a side note, some actions can be performed by tilting the 3DS itself. As you might expect, this plays havoc with the device's 3D perception. Fortunately using this scheme isn't mandatory as the regular buttons and stick work just as well. Still, you do have to wonder why developers still try to cram this concept in.

As for the ghosts themselves, they come in various guises ranging from slim tricksters to hulking brutes. Some attack Luigi from the front while others sneak up on him. There are even some spirits that arm themselves with shovels and buckets and such. Each location ends with a confrontation with a possessor that takes control of a creature or object. There are also Boos, one per mission, who are hidden and must be found by using a dark light device. This gadget uncovers invisible objects and ghosts and is especially crucial for detecting the Boos. It's something of a shame that these confrontations are limited to the room the Boo is found in as chasing them around the mansion was one of the highlights of the first game.

All these types of enemies are fine in themselves but there is something missing from Luigi's Mansion 2. The first game had several specific ghosts that where named and had their own quirks and habits. Catching them was a kind of puzzle and formed essentially the heart of that game. Most of these confrontations revolved around getting them to notice Luigi in the first place which involved looking for their weak spot. Separating a fat ghost from his dinner for example or disturbing a spectral painter during his work. Their omission means that Luigi's Mansion 2 shifts ever so slightly from a more puzzle orientated game to one more focused on action.

That is not to say that there isn't any puzzling left. Finding money and the more elusive gems usually involves looking for clues while the Boos are also regularly hidden well. The aforementioned dark light device plays an important role in finding these secrets. Still, the first game also had the option to suck up water, fire and ice with which to overcome some simple obstacles. To be fair, it didn't do much with this feature but it's inclusion did add a little bit of extra variety.

Luigi's Mansion 2's structure has been altered to accommodate it's handheld nature. The original had some seemingly Metroid-like tendencies but ultimately followed a fairly rigid structure. Luigi was sent to and fro throughout the mansion on some errand or other with just a little leeway to divert from the path set out before him. The mansion itself was a large interconnected place however, where one task smoothly crossed over into another interrupted only by the occasional boss fight. The sequel on the other hand offers five different locations, increasing the variation on offer. These are in turn divided into several specific missions, making for a much more structured game. This is what I meant with accommodating being on a handheld, giving the player smaller chunks to play while sitting in, for instance, a train or bus. This works well enough although some of these missions may last a bit too long for a single bus ride.

Just trying to reach the end credits will take a decent amount of time as the game can be challenging at times. Mostly it's a matter of perseverance though as life giving hearts are dispensed generously. What really adds to the game's longevity is that most missions last a good while. Luigi is send in to perform a seemingly simple task which almost invariably turns out to be more complicated, and thus more time-consuming, than anticipated. Besides working your way through the plot, there are also gems to be found. There are about thirteen per location and finding them all will lead to a nice surprise. Finally, for those inclined, there is also a multiplayer mode.

As you might have noticed, in this review I have frequently compared Luigi's Mansion 2 with it's predecessor. Some things came to light that the sequel does differently, not all of them for the better. The game's focus has shifted from catching a dozen or so named ghosts to simply following Gadd's orders. In practice, that means that Luigi's Mansion 2 has become more action orientated due to the diminished attention to puzzling. That in itself doesn't make the game necessarily any better or worse than the GameCube original. It's just a different experience. What does make this game potentially better is that there is more variation, both in locations and the things you must do.

On the other hand there are the controls. Luigi's Mansion's elegant and intuitive controls have been traded in, understandably so, for a more clunkier version. The 3DS misses a second stick so there was arguably little choice in the matter. Eventually you will get used to it, the new scheme also fits in neatly with the altered focus on action, but the sheer fun of angling in a ghost has been slightly lost.

That leaves us with a game that is polished, enjoyable and very charming. When striking away the pros and cons against each other it becomes clear that Luigi's Mansion 2 is perhaps only a smudge better than the original. I personally prefer the GameCube iteration, however slightly, but both can be considered as essential.

OVERALL: a 9,4.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/30/13

Game Release: Luigi's Mansion 2 (EU, 03/28/13)

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