Poor, poor Luigi. For years and years, Nintendo has sidelined everyone's favourite younger brother to supporting roles or cameos in favour of big brother Mario, despite giving Luigi a brief chance to shine on his own during the launch of the Gamecube in 2001 with Luigi's Mansion.
The first Luigi's Mansion was a very different type of Mario game for its time. Instead of traditional platforming elements, the game focused on puzzles and light-hearted but challenging ghost-busting in a haunted mansion armed with only a torch and an extremely useful vacuum. The game oozed charm, originality and polish, but it just wasn't a system seller.
But it seems that 2013 will be a second coming for the goofier, but just as iconic Mario brother. Eleven long years later, Luigi's Mansion 2 may be an unexpected and perhaps long overdue sequel, but it's definitely shaping up to be a welcome blast from the past. MMGN was fortunate enough to have a visit from Nintendo Australia last week, and had ample hands-on time with the sequel to experience its new mechanics and ideas, test out the inital single-player levels and the all new competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes.
The first things I noticed in the game's opening moments was how great the 3D functionality was, and how the charm and quirkiness of the original title remained. The intro cinematic reintroduces players to the eccentric Professor E. Gadd, who falls prey to the affects of the corruption of the "Dark Moon" (the subtitle for the U.S. version), an artefact that makes ghost placid and friendly. The ghouls helping the Professor in his research turn hostile, and E. Gadd escapes his mansion to summon Luigi for help on catching the berserk ghosts once again.
The intro contained plenty of the franchise's unique humour; poor old Luigi may be the hero, but his scare-dy cat demeanour and constant jumps at the thought of returning to ghost-catching had me laughing like I did back in 2001. When the professor "pixelates" the frightened Luigi with one of his untested devices to physically bring him to his lab; watching the spooked Luigi turn into little blocks against his will was humorous and helped show off the 3D effect, which seems natural and aesthetically matching to the game's colourful artstyle.
Poor Luigi is subject to many of these pixelations as Professor E. Gadd uses this device to transport him through TVs and cameras into the various mansions the game is set in. From there, progression is structured around missions E. Gadd assigns.
Without dual control sticks on the 3DS, Luigi's Mansion 2 makes use of the face buttons to control Luigi's aim as he wanders throughout the mansions: X and B raise and lower aim for the vacuum while Y and A handle the darklight and flashlight, respectively. Thankfully, the control scheme is comfortable, not cumbersome, and works smoothly.
Eleven long years later, Luigi's Mansion 2 may be an unexpected and perhaps long overdue sequel, but it's definitely shaping up to be a welcome blast from the past.
The first mission involves finding the Poltergust 5000 and the 'Dark Light', a special form of light used to open certain vaults and make certain ghosts appear in battle. After completing some preliminary tutorials, the gameplay opened up into something familiar to the original; solving puzzles, finding keys, catching pesky ghosts and exploring the mansion for any cash.
However, this time around, there is added emphasis on puzzle-solving, exploration and using the tools at your disposal to their full capabilities to acquire keys and loot. Progression is linked to finding where a key is hidden or battling a ghost for it, often in a creative way rather than the first game's push-over puzzles. For instance, I had to use my trusty Poltergust to rattle a chandelier above to acquire a out-of-sight key, and the next room involved blowing a dusty old gramophone record to force out two pesky ghosts holding a vital part of a vault door.
Most rooms will usually have a hidden cache of cash or a rare diamond to uncover through clever manipulation of the environment with your trusty vacuum, encouraged by a large level of things to test your Poltergust on. You'll be sucking up plenty of curtains or blowing more pesky chandeliers, raiding drawers and pots for even a scrap of cash, and unfolding carpets to find hidden vaults.
There are many instances where you're given a glimpse of a room beforehand through a peep-hole of sorts to see where those cheeky ghosts hide the good stuff or see what amusing things they're up to, adding another level of interactivity to the exploration of the mansions. These sections also help prepare you for the inevitable ghost-busting fights, which require you to blind ghouls with your flashlight to make them vulnerable and suck them up and reel them in as they struggle to float away.
As you progress, the number of ghosts increase and the parameters to make them vulnerable become harder. One hit makes Luigi lose his grasp and advantage, so keeping the aggressive ghouls at bay is a fun, ever-changing challenge depending on the room's environment, ghost type and special requirements.
Cash and goods collection also serves a greater purpose this time around; money can be used to upgrade your vacuum and flashlight to become more powerful and useful, though I was unable to find out what specific upgrades there were due to limited playtime.
Once we were finished with the single-player hands-on, the multiplayer was shown off. Developer Next Level have really done a great job with introducing a genuinely challenging, tactical and enjoyable four-player cooperative mode (online, local and download play) that supplements the single-player story. Working your way up through numerous floors, four of us worked together to clear a series of rooms full of ghosts, solve clever challenges and acquire the keys we needed to make it to the next floor, all under a strict time-limit.
Hunter Mode was surprisingly challenging, and it required plenty of coordination in the later levels for the joint MMGN/Stevivor team to progress safely. A competitive scoring system is also implemented, and whoever catches the most ghosts or acquires the most keys gains a chance to win an upgrade for their Poltergust or flashlight.
Naturally, I kicked Ben and Tano's asses and scored the first two waves of upgrades, both later game content. Both were made the Poltergust 5000 more effective in ghost catching, and proved helpful in crowd control when the team came upon a room full of masked ghosts, who were more aggressive than usual and required tactical timing of the flashlight to get past their protective facewear.
While there's still a lot yet to be explored in Luigi's Mansion 2, the gradually evolving mission structure, depth in exploration, emphasis on environment manipulation and enjoyable ghost battle encounters suggests this long-over due sequel is something Nintendo has spent a lot of time on to attract returning fans of the Gamecube original and new 3DS gamers looking for a fresh, unique "Mario" experience.
Throughout my playtime of Luigi's Mansion 2, I found the trademark quirkiness, humour and eeriness that made the original so endearing to be even better in the sequel, and it perhaps is the best part of the franchise. Little humorous touches, like the Professor giving Luigi an upgrade of the original "GameBoy Horror" in the form of an all new "Dual Scream", or Luigi randomly humming the theme song while creeping through the mansion supplements the unique ghost-catching, loot hunting gameplay and adds that irresistible, inexplicable charm that only Nintendo seem to be able to pull off time and time again.
Luigi's Mansion 2 will be released in Australia on March 28, exclusively for Nintendo 3DS.
Nathan Misa is the senior games writer, reviewer and contributor for MMGN.com and GamesFix, and an old-school Nintendo fanboy. You can catch his ramblings here on MMGN, Google+ and Twitter.