No matter how you look at it, "Luigi's Mansion" was an anomaly, especially for a company like Nintendo. From creating a spooky game, to having it star the lesser-known Mario brother, there were a lot of things that were different about it, yet it still managed to make its way into the launch line-up for the GameCube back in 2001. Having sold 2.5 million copies over the life of the console, Nintendo's experiment with giving Luigi his own game certainly seemed to work out, but it still took 12 years for the man in green to get a sequel. "Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon" is the much anticipated follow-up to Luigi's first, and only, starring role, and much to our hero's dismay, he's heading back to the haunted mansions to bust some more ghosts.
"Dark Moon" picks up sometime after the original "Luigi's Mansion" when Professor E. Gadd noticed that the ghosts that he was researching seemed to be a bit off. Instead of being their mild-mannered selves, they had taken a turn and began to be more disruptive, and even aggressive. After a bit of investigation, he discovered that the Dark Moon, a mysterious object that seemed to keep Evershade Valley in balance had been shattered and spread throughout a series of different mansions. In order to return peace to the valley, E. Gadd decided to call in an experienced ghost hunter, Luigi, to help him procure all of the pieces of the Dark Moon, and restore balance to the valley.
This all-new follow up to "Luigi's Mansion" plays a lot like the original. Our favorite green plumber is armed with a modified vacuum cleaner, the Poltergust 5000, that has been tweaked to suck up just about everything, from dust and cobwebs to supernatural beings. The game has a unique, fixed third-person perspective that always features Luigi in the foreground while he is wandering around the various rooms in each of the game's mansion. As ghosts begin to harass Luigi, capturing them and returning them to E. Gadd is the best solution. The Poltergust serves as a supernatural fishing hook that can reel in specters after they have been stunned by Luigi's flashlight. The more ghosts that Luigi can collect, the more data that the professor can collect to help try and solve the mystery of what's going on with our otherworldly friends.
One of the great things about the original "Luigi's Mansion" is that it didn't take itself so seriously - it was a funny game with a spooky premise, but it was never a "scary" game. "Dark Moon" follows the same path, putting the inherently more humorous Mario broth in precarious situations, with hysterical outcomes. Injecting humor into any game is a challenge, but the way that Next Level Games have worked funny moments into "Dark Moon" feels natural, and doesn't seem to get old over the span of the game. Luigi's reactions, and short dialog are expertly crafted and will bring a smile to your face over and over again.
In a strange twist of events, "Dark Moon" also includes an interesting multiplayer mode, staring Luigi, Luigi, Luigi, and Luigi. The game's ScareScraper co-op gameplay puts players alongside their friends, or unknown players online, to clear out all of the ghosts on five progressively difficult, randomly generated levels. The gameplay is essentially the same as in the single player, but the team must work together in order to successfully clear out the rooms of all the ghosts, and then collect red coins for bonuses between levels. The inclusion of the multiplayer mode is an interesting addition, especially since most first party games from Nintendo tend to be more single-player oriented, unless they are all out party games. The multiplayer in "Dark Moon" is far from the game's showpiece content, but it is still a nice compliment to the package, giving players a different way to experience the game.
There are a lot of great things to be said about "Dark Moon," but there is one downside that stands out - it tends to be a bit repetitious. The premise for all of the mansions is essentially the same - go in, clear out the rooms until you fight the boss to collect the next piece of the Dark Moon crystal. On top of that, Luigi doesn't have a ton of mechanics at his disposal, the Poltergust really only has two settings, suck and blow, and his flashlight only has a couple of upgrades. This leads to a simple game (which is a plus), but it also gets to be a bit monotonous as you reach the later levels of the game. Next Level have done an amazing job of constructing a wide variety of different puzzles for Luigi and his super vacuum, but they all tend to end up being a variation on the same general concepts.
"Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon" is a great example of how an older franchise can make a return after being dormant for so long. The team at Next Level Games have helped breathe some life into a game that is now three console generations old, and give gamers a chances to experience a game starring Luigi. If you missed out on the original "Luigi's Mansion," then "Dark Moon" is a reasonable stand-in as your first game in the series, but if you had a chance to play the original then you'll truly appreciate the care and attention to detail, as well as the extensive fan service, that NLG put into the game. Maybe it's because it has been so long since the original game was released, but "Dark Moon" feels fresh... at least until it doesn't, but even the repetitious gameplay mechanics can be overlooked when a game as charming as this is released.