"A great, unique idea that isn't quite enough to build a game on its own"

Let's get one thing clear right from the start: this is a great idea for a game. For the few of you not aware of the way that Nintendo has marketed Luigi since this game broke out, Luigi's Mansion is a game where, essentially, Luigi is a Ghostbuster. He won a mansion in a dubious contest that he never even entered, and Mario, having arrived there after Luigi told him about it, has disappeared. Unfortunately for the Mario Bros., the mansion turns out to be haunted. The ghosts living there have captured Mario, and intend to do the same to Luigi. Thankfully, Luigi meets an old professor named E. Gadd (HAHA PUNS) who was a very Ghostbusters-like vacuum that sucks up ghosts. Luigi embarks on an adventure to save Mario by capturing all of the ghosts and returning them to being paintings.

It's a cute story, and it provides a great atmosphere for the game. The obligatory Boo levels in most Mario games have always been done well, and a whole game of it is great. With the protagonist being Luigi, who has always lived in his brother's shadow, it provides a lot of laughs because he is scared. Not only is the mansion haunted, but the ghosts captured Mario, who is braver and better than Luigi. If they did that to Mario, imagine what they can do to Luigi! (Cue lots of nervous humming of the game's great main theme throughout the game, which never fails to get a laugh from me. Great voice work from Charles Martinet here.)

But most importantly, it creates a game totally unlike anything else I've ever seen. The gameplay consists of Luigi stunning ghosts with his flashlight, which then exposes their heart, which he can suck up with that vacuum, the Poltergust 3000 (HAHA MORE PUNS). It all feels surprisingly natural, and there's a variety of ghosts that appear to make Luigi's life more difficult. Some have more health, and others might attack in different ways, by creating shockwaves or throwing bananas, for instance. Others are only susceptible to elements that Luigi can eventually spray out of his Poltergust. The actual capturing process works nicely, too, which consists of dragging back on the Control Stick until the ghost runs out of health and is captured. All the while, it's dragging Luigi around the room, too, meaning the player has to move the Control Stick in all sorts of different directions, trying to make it so the ghost doesn't escape from Luigi's grasp.

The mansion itself is a great setting. Each room of the mansion has its own personality, and no room is left without some puzzle to make it unique. One room has a projector where you have to rely on the shadows the ghost makes through the light to know where to point your flashlight at, for example. There's another where dishes fly all around you, and switches cause you to walk on the ceiling, while ghosts try to attack you causing mass pandemonium while you try to figure out what the hell is happening to you. The game really takes the mansion idea and runs with it.

The game really shines, though, with its “portrait ghosts”. Professor E. Gadd had a number of special ghosts captured and put into paintings, but they escaped and created the mansion. They function as bosses you have to beat to progress, and they all are more difficult to capture. Their distinct personalities and weaknesses are what will allow Luigi to capture them. The game gets to be clever here in what they can do to make you able to capture them, ranging from games of hide-and-seek to letting a chill waft into the room by opening curtains to playing a tune on musical instruments littered across a room. They're what I found myself looking forward to more than anything else in the game, because each one was so quirky and unique and it's them that help truly define the game.

Yet despite all of those great concepts, these are just concepts, and you can't form an entire game on concepts. The game has a number of things designed to try to make Luigi's Mansion more of a game, but they're all fairly pointless. You can collect all sorts of money hidden throughout the mansion, which can be a fun diversion at times, but it doesn't really amount to anything but a little message at the end of the game ranking you how you did. There are also a number of Boos hidden around the mansion that you can collect, but finding and capturing them all (which at times can be very tedious, because they have a lot of health and run form you easily) only results in more pointless money. This just leaves you with a few hours of gameplay and some extra stuff that ultimately matters little.

All of that could be fairly excusable if the gameplay held up on its own well enough, and it almost does, but it doesn't quite get there, just because of all of the little things. Save points are few and far between, meaning that you have to backtrack through numerous rooms just to find a Toad who will save your game. The game has you backtracking a lot in general, as you find keys for new rooms in areas you've previously explored. Travel itself can be a little tedious, because although the mansion isn't that big, Luigi moves fairly slowly. The game is sometimes unclear as to how to proceed, too. There's one point where a room unlocks on its own and the game only half-heartedly tells you that happened, for instance. (It tells you to go to the washroom, which was next to a very similar shower room that you have previously been in; I thought it meant that room, and when there was nothing to see I got very confused.)

And as much as I like the core concepts, the regular ghosts in the game, while neat, can get a little annoying occasionally, because you've already seen all of the types of ghosts and they're just preventing you from getting to the more interesting portrait ghosts. The controls of capturing ghosts can be occasionally difficult, because after you stun a ghost with your flashlight, it only takes moments for it to disappear, and often it's not enough time to get your Poltergust and start sucking, even if you press that trigger right away. Because of those things, I often found myself just trying to blaze right past the ghosts without trying to capture them because it was a lot of unnecessary effort with little to no payoff. Some of the portrait ghosts, the hard ones at the end of each chapter, function with mechanics that have the right idea but don't always quite work.

And that's pretty much the bottom line on this game; it's a great, great idea. But it sometimes falls short on the execution, meaning that it finds itself occasionally frustrating, especially because you know there's a greater game just waiting to be had with those ideas. Ultimately, though, Luigi's Mansion is a quirky little game that is really unlike anything else I have ever played. For that, it's worth checking out; it's just not the great game that its Player's Choice status might have you believe.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/02/13

Game Release: Luigi's Mansion (US, 11/17/01)

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