Review by SneakTheSnake
"Ma... Mario? Mario???"
It can be rather difficult to describe and eventually analyze Luigi's Mansion as a whole. Like many games out there, this Gamecube launch title can be examined from several different perspectives. The game itself displays a great graphical prowess, which is almost always an objective for a launch title. The title gives second-banana Luigi a chance to shine. Gameplay-wise, Luigi's Mansion also has a lot of new concepts to bring to the table. Nintendo's spin on the rather-new survival horror genre is certainly a good game, but perhaps the wavering opinions has mainly to do with the time the game was released.
Ever since the dawn of Nintendo's console market, way back when, each new system has been released with a new Mario title. This new Mario title has always existed to not only further the series, but also to show off the first cycle's graphics. The NES had Super Mario Bros., the SNES had the groundbreaking Super Mario World, and no one could ever forget 1996's Super Mario 64 to accompany the release of the Nintendo 64. It is rather hard to compare Luigi's Mansion to all of these outstanding flagship titles, in terms of launch game quality.
Come 2001, with the release of Nintendo's Gamecube, the system is not released with a Super Mario title. Luigi's Mansion is enthusiastically released from Nintendo instead. For many loyal Nintendo followers, this was rather surprising and disappointing. Many took the game to be a bad sign, and eagerly awaited what would eventually turn out to be Super Mario Sunshine. However, Luigi's Mansion is a game not to be looked down upon.
In fact, Luigi's quite the lucky fellow. It turns out he won his very own mansion in a contest he doesn't remember entering. When he communicates with his brother Mario and decides to meet him up at the new mansion to catch up, things go awry as soon as Luigi arrives. With the help of Toad and the mysterious Professor E. Gadd, Luigi discovers that the mansion is infested with ghosts, and that it is his job to extinguish them. Luigi, equipped with some of Gadd's strange technology, goes out in search of his lost brother. Good luck, Luigi!
There are several devices Luigi has at his disposal. The Poltergust vacuum cleaner is used to trigger and suck up ghosts, while his flashlight is used not only to help navigate the dark corridors but to also stun said ghosts before the vacuuming. These are obviously essential in the disposal of the pesky ghosts. Additionally, Luigi is given a cleverly-named Gameboy Horror, which can help track treasure collected, and also houses a convenient overhead map of the mansion. This device also tracks the next door that can be unlocked after having been given a key.
The gameplay is as such: Luigi enters a given room of the mansion. In the room, there may be several smaller ghosts, or one central ghost, that has to be disposed of. Larger ghosts may require something further to get their attention. For the rooms with smaller ghosts, however, the task is just as difficult. For each ghost, Luigi must sneak in front of it and stun it with a blink of the flashlight. Once the ghost is stunned, it can be sucked up with the vacuum cleaner. Luigi must twist and turn with the movements of the ghost in order to suck in the ghost quickly. Once the room is clear of ghosts, the lights in the room come back on, and there is usually some treasure or a key to another room to collect.
When the room is cleared of its standard ghosts, there may be a Boo in hiding. The Gameboy Horror will act as a radar in order to locate any hidden Boos that may be in the newly illuminated room. When a ghost is found, say, in a dresser or under a bed, Luigi taps the object and the Boo springs forth. The Boo then introduces itself, and it is Luigi's job to suck him up before the Boo vanishes. Each ghost, including Boos, has its own individual HP. Sucking up a Boo is different than sucking up any other ghost, simply because the Poltergust does not "grab onto" the Boo. The Boo is always free to move at its own while, whereas with any other ghost, Luigi usually has a "suction" on the ghost, which limits its possibilities to escape. However, once the Boo is captured, Luigi is contacted by the mad professor. This can be used as a save point.
Some rooms may require or contain more than simply ghosts. The Poltergust can also carry certain bursts of elements, such as water, ice, or fire, which are used to trigger certain events. Water can be frozen, candles can be lit aflame, and so on. These elements may even be used to vanquish a ghost or two.
The control scheme, just like the gameplay concept, is really quite original. This is a prime example of good dual-analog control. The left analog stick moves Luigi in a chosen direction, while the right analog stick exclusively controls the flashlight. Luigi, for example, can move toward a room on the right side of the screen, while flashing the light behind him, or to the player's left. "B" Button turns on and off the flashlight, while "A" is entirely context-sensitive. "A" may be used for opening a chest, opening a door, or simply calling out for the missing mustachioed Mario. "R" Trigger activates the Poltergust, and "Z" is used to bring up the Gameboy Horror.
Graphically, the game is superior to anything I'd seen on the previous generation of consoles. The overall graphical presentation leaves an eerie aura, one that stimulates the senses. The lighting, in particular, is what really surprised me. Shadows dance gracefully from the flashlight onto any object in the room. The physics of the vacuum cleaner suction always prove to be rather realistic and fund to play with. Try and vacuum up a curtain, for example, and the cloth flows in the gust before being sucked up.
Character models are also quite excellent. Luigi has a wide array of facial expressions, and his weary movements are quite realistic. Boos and ghosts move with a strange but wonderful fluidity.
In terms of sound, the game is varied. The overall theme is not only played over the primary parts of the game (title screen, with variations of the theme during the cutscenes), but is also sung by Luigi in-game. As he moseys secretly through the mansion, he hums the song quietly to himself. Depending on his health, he can hum the song with lazy confidence, or with a quiet and broken squeak, if he is about to die. The sound effects all sound top-knotch. The ghost's whimpers and screams are really quite intriguing and rather indescribable. The devices, such as the vacuum cleaner and so forth, sound as they should, of course.
I will admit that Nintendo probably made a poor choice when opting to release no Mario-starring games for launch. However, with that fact aside, Luigi's Mansion is a great game. From a gamer who is indifferent to how and when the game was launched, Luigi's Mansion can be a very enjoyable romp, if rather short. There are some fun easter eggs to be found while playing the game, but after the adventure is over, there is not much to do. The mansion can be replayed under different conditions, but it is essentially the same house. The adventure is a decent length, though.
There are a few shortcomings in gameplay variety (essentially the game could be simplified to describing it as only ghost-busting through fifty rooms, but that would be cutting it too short) , but this is a game I could easily recommend, and while the replayability may be on the short side, Luigi's Mansion is an unforgettable experience overall.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 10/18/05, Updated 12/01/05
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