Review by MTLH

"A remarkable little game."

When the Nintendo GameCube launched in 2002, one of it's very first titles was Luigi's Mansion. Where it's usually up to Mario to support the release of a Nintendo console, this time that honour befell his lankier brother. I must admit that at first I had some reservations, fully expecting a Mario platformer like Super Mario World on the SNES and Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64. Instead, we got a ghost hunting exercise with the least popular of the two brothers. Still, those doubts eventually dispelled after spending some time with the game and I now rank it amongst the console's finest.

As a first generation GameCube title, Luigi's Mansion was something of a showcase for the console, showing off the effects it was capable of like transparency and lighting for example. The level of animation and detailing is very good. Luigi's apprehensiveness really shows in the way he walks through the mansion, his jittery movements or how he startles whenever a ghost pops up behind his back. The mansion manages to look both convincing and menacing. Surprisingly so even, when taking into account that it still takes place in Mario's usually happy and cheery universe.

Although the game still looks good and it succeeded in it's endeavour to showcase the GameCube's abilities, Luigi's Mansion does show it's age. Some textures look a little unclear and the visuals aren't always as sharp as you'd might expect, especially when activating the first person viewpoint. Still, the overall package is quite pretty and the diorama style, caused by the game's viewpoint, is rather appealing.

The audio is very atmospheric and eerie. There isn't any music playing during the game itself, with Luigi calming himself by softly whistling the main theme. The few tunes that are there crop up during cutscenes or special events. The sound effects are spot on. The ghost's inane giggling or the hovering sound of Luigi's ghost catching contraption forming good examples. Together with the visuals, Luigi's Mansion's enhances the game's surprisingly dark mood.

Even when winning something, Luigi just can't seem to get a break. After winning a mansion in a contest he didn't even remember entering, Luigi tells his more famous brother to meet him at his new home. After arriving there, Mario is nowhere to be found and the place appears to be haunted. The local ghost expert, professor E. Gadd, hands him the Poltergust 3000, a modified vacuum cleaner with which to suck up ghosts, and sends Luigi on his way to rescue Mario and clear out the mansion.

Catching ghosts is the aim of the game. Luigi must explore the mansion armed with his trusty flashlight and the aforementioned Poltergust 3000 and use this equipment to suck them up. The idea is to first stun a spectre in order to reveal their heart before they can be caught. The ghosts come in various types. The simpler ones act as the game's thugs, appearing in larger numbers and attacking and scaring Luigi on sight. Most are easily defeated although some require the right element, but more on that later. Their strength lies primarily in their numbers which can occasionally lead to brawls that are more frustrating than challenging. On tier up are the ones Gadd is after. These must really be coaxed into revealing their hearts and are more difficult to defeat. One level above these are the bosses, whose confrontations finish each of the game's four areas.

The meat of Luigi's Mansion lies with catching the second type of ghost. Going after them is a kind of puzzle, figuring out how to reveal their hearts before commencing with the odorous task of actually capturing them. Most cases involve provoking them in some way. For example, early in the game Luigi encounters a fat ghost gobbling up some kind of food. By vacuuming up his diner and subsequently preventing him from getting a refill, Luigi agitates the ghost enough so that he actually attacks him while leaving himself open for capture. Not all of them require this kind of elaborate planning but enough luckily do.

Early on Luigi accidentally releases some Boos, a type of enemy familiar to long time Mario fans. Whenever Luigi clears a room he can seek out the Boo hidden there. To finish the game, most of them must be caught. If Luigi isn't fast enough to capture an uncovered Boo, this can lead to a chase where the ghost jumps from room to room, including ones that aren't accessible yet. This forms a nice and more action orientated diversion from the game's usual fare.

The controls ensure that catching those ghosts couldn't be easier. Luigi moves through the analogue stick and points his flashlight and Poltergust with the C-stick. This enables Luigi to perform manoeuvres that he otherwise couldn't have made seeing that he isn't all that agile. The best aspect of the controls is how it turns the whole business of ghost hunting into something akin to fishing, with Luigi trying to pull the ghost back while angling him in with the C-stick. Another, more cute, aspect concerns the use of the context sensitive A button. It opens chests and lockers and allows Luigi to shake, poke and thump objects throughout the game. However, when not standing next to an interactive element, pressing the button will have Luigi calling out to his missing brother. It doesn't do anything and the developers didn't have to incorporate it into the game but I'm glad they did nonetheless.

As mentioned previously, Luigi will find upgrades for his Poltergust. These will allow him to suck up fire, water or ice, which are needed to catch certain ghosts and bypass several obstacles. It's a shame not more was made of this. Some ghosts need to be hit by a certain element before revealing their heart and some doors can only be unlocked by such an element. It's unfortunate that this is signposted a bit too obviously with Luigi gaining an element right before he is confronted by the accompanying door. That way, these upgrades function much like normal keys. There are a few instances where Luigi is, for example, required to freeze some water to reach something or where he must light a candle. These add to the game's puzzle aspect but they are used too infrequently to make a real impact.

The game follows a fairly rigid structure. Clearing out a room usually yields a key and the location of the accompanying locked door. This will frequently send Luigi from one end of the mansion to the other while opening up areas and passageways. Together with the upgrades, this may seem as an encouragement for Metroid-like exploration but Luigi's Mansion offers surprisingly little. Some rooms do have a hidden doorway to another room to look for, usually one filled with treasure, yet these are quite rare. There is a kind of sidequest which leaves more room for exploration, seeing Luigi looking for several of Mario's possessions, but this is also over sooner rather than later. Besides these instances, the structure steers the player through the game's four areas at a steady pace. This kind of handholding does limit the player's freedom and, together with the short length and relatively easy puzzles, ensures that Luigi's Mansion doesn't last all that long. There is an incentive to collect as much treasure as possible though, for the amount gathered determines what kind of dwelling Luigi will get at the end of the game. After going through such an ordeal, only a heartless person would deny him a fine and proper home.

Luigi is aided by a portable device called the Game Boy Horror. Amongst other things, it allows him to seek out the hidden Boos and scan rooms in a first person view. Using the latter option makes Luigi comment on objects and ghosts, giving either clues or insight into the man's personality. He really seems to be obsessed with cleanliness and especially interested in the monetary value of the items he encounters. Unfortunately this device isn't very helpful during more hectic moments, leaving Luigi a little vulnerable. What I liked about the Game Boy Horror is how it's reference to the Game Boy Color dates the game in a rather cute way.

At the time, Luigi's Mansion steadily grew on me after having some doubts about it's merits. It has to be said that those doubts mostly originated from my disappointment about the lack of a Mario platformer at the GameCube's launch. Eventually Luigi's Mansion's charm won me over and it turned out to be a great little puzzle action game. The presentation is generally quite good, the controls work wonderfully well, the puzzles are fun as is catching ghosts and the overall experience is very satisfying.

That's isn't to say that Luigi's Mansion doesn't have it's flaws. The structure is fairly rigid, bringing a great deal of linearity to a game that potentially possesses quite a few qualities usually associated with games such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. Travelling around the mansion and finding upgrades that both opens up more areas and enables Luigi to take on more types of ghosts could have made for a fine semi-freeform game. Instead, the player is put in a proverbial train and driven to the finale. A finale that furthermore comes sooner rather than later. Most of the puzzles aren't that hard to figure out while the action elements can be annoying at times but never really challenging. This results in a game that can be completed in one, perhaps somewhat lengthy, sitting. Earning enough money to get Luigi a more luxurious dwelling does offer some incentive to scour the areas for funds in the same way it did in, for example, Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land.

These issues don't diminish the experience on offer. It may be compact and a bit too short but that only becomes a problem because Luigi's Mansion is just a very fun, unique and enjoyable game. Yes, it could have been better but what remains is still exceptionally good. It is what it is and sometimes that is more than enough.

OVERAL: a well deserved 9,2.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/04/12

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

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