Review by MaxH
"Can you resist Luigi's kitsch house keeping skills?"
Luigi’s Mansion is an ideal introduction to the Gamecube’s controller as it uses every part of it (Aside from the awkwardly tiny d-pad, designed by equally tiny Japanese men). However, as an introduction to a new Nintendo console, it’s quite disappointing. It is by no means awful, on the contrary it is well thought out and deals out surprises quite a large amount of times considering it’s limited premise. But while it’s consistently entertaining it’s never exhilarating, exciting and it’s not very varied at all. These aren’t phrases I want to be using to describe a first party Nintendo title (And a flagship one from designer Shigeru Miyamoto no less), but while it was fun while it lasted (Which wasn’t that long at all), it certainly hasn’t had me yearning for another Luigi-fronted title.
The story is about as complex and involving as the Mario 64 equivalent. Luigi has won a mansion in a competition he didn’t enter, and arranges to meet brother Mario at said Mansion. When Luigi gets there, he finds that Mario is missing (The situation, not the terrible SNES edutainment title) and the mansion is haunted by ghosts. A friendly little old man with whirly spectacles (Doc E Gadd. Ha) offers to help Luigi and equips him with a ghost sucking vacuum cleaner. Luigi has the task of sucking up all the ghosts he can (He must capture portrait ghosts for Gadd, these are portraits which have turned into ghosts and provide some logic puzzles) and saving his brother.
And so after a brief session in Gadd’s practice room, you begin your game in the foyer, where you'll find the ever-irritating Toad crying in the corner (Several of these miserable vegetables are dotted about the mansion to save your game). It is here that the most striking element of the game becomes clear: it’s impressive attention to detail and use of effects. Wave your hoover around the floor and grime will billow up around the edges and waft lazily in whatever direction you drag it with the hoover. And almost everything in the mansion can be moved or manipulated, you can open drawers to find money, sway chandeliers to and fro to affect the lighting in the room and even suck up huge cloths from tables without affecting what lies on top of them.
And with the gameplay being so basic, you learn to extract some joy from these little things, if you are creative enough with your vacuum you’ll yield lavish rewards. But what is the ACTUAL foundation of Luigi’s Mansion? Well it’s sucking up ghosts of course. A process that seems quite complicated at first will soon succumb, and you’ll be ghost-busting like a pro with the rather camp plumber in no time. In every new room you enter, ghosts of several varieties will appear out of nowhere and gravitate towards you cackling and screeching. Turn to face them with your flash light and their heart will become visible for a second, signalling it’s time for you to quickly pull out your vacuum with the R button and start reeling it in. Every ghost has health points (Usually 10, 20 or 30) and you must pull at the c-stick while they are in the field of your vacuum until it is whittled down to zero and you can finally suck them in. It works like this for every ghost in the game, be they ghost, portrait ghost or Boo.
Portrait ghosts won’t show their heart with a simple flash of the light though, you’ll have to think of ways to have them make themselves vulnerable. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but it’s usually a case of manipulating the environment in a way that will irritate the ghost (Like maybe making the room colder or smacking them with an object from the room). Boos are the most annoying things in the game, with 50 of them floating throughout the mansion, they can pull away from your vacuum with ease and float through walls, making catching them a real chore. Things get a little more complicated later in the game when new features are added to Luigi’s vacuum, giving him the ability to shoot fire, ice and water from the machine when he has vacuumed up the appropriate element ghosts.
It’s quite a unique concept, and the stunning animation of both Luigi and the ghosts makes for quite a memorable experience. But soon the excitement fades, certainly not into boredom, but it’s no longer the unique idea it once was, as you are essentially doing the same thing over and over again. Catching a particular stubborn portrait ghosts (and these beasts have 100 health points each) provides a burst of satisfaction (along with a key to access the next room) and the one or two plot twists and truly bizarre moments (I won’t spoil, but I’ll say one involves outer space) keep the game fresh enough to make sure it never gets monotonous, and the intense pace and immense character of the action barely gives you time to get bored either. So while the execution of the concept is less than what was hoped for, there is plenty of enthusiasm and great design to keep you going.
But it confuses me why Nintendo have opted for such a straightforward approach. The game is as linear as linear can get, has no tasks that deviate from the main concept of sucking up ghosts and doesn’t really try anything new. It’s slick and fun, and some of the tougher ghost battles will have you on the edge of your seat, but the repetitiveness of it all will get to you after a while.
But while the gameplay doesn’t exude the Nintendo brilliance many have come to expect (not quite anyway), the graphics put on a fantastic show. From the sudden bursts of lighting that illuminate rooms momentarily to the way blowing the light bulbs and chandeliers will have the shadows on the walls rapidly morphing and sliding in sync with their movements, the mansion itself packs in some stunning lighting effects. Not to mention the amount of detail that has been lavished upon every item in every room. But the real stars of this show are the ghosts, transparent, yet strangle full and glossy, they are exquisitely lit and superbly animated. Their ominous glow is both shocking and stylishly cartoon-like, and their faces when they scare you, or when they are dragging desperately out of your vacuum are just priceless. Quite endearing at times. Luigi himself will also cause you to sympathise as he grimaces in terror while he is being flung about the room by the ghosts. He was born to suffer, that Luigi. My only gripe is that with the entire game being set inside the same mansion (The interior designer of which was obviously in no hurry to differentiate one room from the other) the style of the locations becomes very drab. I longed for a stereotypical Mario snow-world or volcano!
The sound also goes a long way to add character. I was a bit disappointed that with the advent of mini-discs Nintendo still haven’t added in real speech, but if Sega’s latest sonic games are anything to go by maybe this is a good thing. Professor Gadd’s mock voice is quite amusing anyway. But it is the typically slapstick-cum-sinister tunes that grace the mansion’s corridors and rooms that really gets the personality of the game running, occasional remixes of classic Mario themes mixed in with different interpretations of the Luigi’s Mansion tune. The music that is played when talking to the fortune teller is my favourite, being the boldest and most comedic of all, closely followed by the beepy gameboy tune you’re treated to when chatting with Prof Gadd. Ghosts make the requisite screeches and chuckles, but the variety of their taunts isn’t as wide as I would have liked, but what’s there is good.
The big problem with Luigi’s Mansion? It only lasts for a few hours! Admittedly you can go back through the game a second time, finding as much treasure as you can, but when the only reward is a slightly better picture of the mansion than you got first time round, it’s not really worth bothering with unless you particularly want to play through again. It’s quite a short game but more than anything else it’s just easy. I only died three times during the game, and two of those times occurred during the final boss. With Luigi’s range of attack limited to two things (Suck and blow. And I’m above making cheap jokes right now), getting through the game is extremely effortless, the harder ghosts of the game just take more time (rather than effort) to catch.
But perhaps I’ve been too hard on Luigi’s Mansion. While it’s no substitute for a Mario game and fails to live up to expectations, it still shines brightly for the duration with excessive imagination, creative design and aesthetic brilliance. But however beautiful it is, and however much fun it may be, it’s just too short to recommend it as a purchase for many of you, so I’d recommend everyone rented it before they considered shelling out serious money for it. Let’s hope Nintendo EAD’s frightening new mantra of ‘short and sweet’ which is underlined by this and Pikmin, goes out of the window for their future titles.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/13/02, Updated 06/13/02
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