Genre distinctions are supposed to exist for our convenience, but Luigi’s Mansion defies them all. It exists somewhere between a kid-friendly take on survival horror, a competent puzzle adventure, and a terrific unlicensed Ghostbusters game. The new 3DS version of the Gamecube launch title adds a few new features to the original, but Luigi’s Mansion on 3DS is a faithful port that delivers fun moments while showing its age in some key areas.
The Fear of Luigi
Luigi’s Mansion’s gameplay is entertaining but simple: Enter a new area, use detection gear and wits to solve a mystery, fight a mini-boss ghost, loot the room, and move on. I enjoyed many of the distinctive encounters that invited me to overcome gravity-flipping puzzles, utilize mirrors to detect invisible enemies, and manipulate environments to render ghosts vulnerable. But not all of the challenges are equal. Catching ghosts in Luigi’s mansion required me to overcome puzzles that ranged between simple-but-satisfying to slightly irritating. Clues were ample and there was never a moment that defied all logic — but I did occasionally find myself just banging on things hoping something would happen. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the rare moments when I was forced to backtrack, heading for a life refill or trying to locate a wardrobe I’d last seen hours before.
The ghost capture action sequences are mostly challenging without feeling frustrating. and usually a great deal of fun. Different ghosts required me to quickly adapt tactics and draw upon an arsenal of distinctive weapons, and dodging ghosts, banana peels, and poison mushrooms while locked in a ghostly tug of war feels tense, but not too difficult.
The Ghost of Luigi Past
Luigi’s Mansion artistic direction helps make the game great: Always spooky and silly, occasionally bizarre, but never scary enough to permanently scar kids. The original Luigi’s Mansion, a Gamecube launch game in 2001, highlighted that system’s 3D rendering capabilities, and Luigi’s Mansion is still a good-looking game. Though I played mostly in 2D mode, the 3D effects were quite lovely whenever I turned them on and provided an atmospheric illusion of depth that complemented the mansion’s Halloween vibe.
Luigi in action on the top screen.
The Nintendo 3DS hardware improves the experience in some ways. The DS gyroscope felt natural when manipulating my Game Boy Horror first-person scanner to investigate rooms and look for secrets. The bottom screen is mostly used for mapping, and I was grateful for the quick navigational access because there’s a lot of backtracking in Luigi’s Mansion.
Most of the difficulty of the final boss battle was a struggle not against the enemy, but against the controls.
One unfortunate characteristic of Luigi’s Mansion shares in common with its survival horror inspirations is the sometimes-clumsy aiming. Most encounters are thoughtfully designed around the shotgun-blast-like radius of Luigi’s flashlight and vacuum, so this isn’t usually a problem. But in those few key moments where precision is required, Luigi’s Mansion can be quite frustrating. Most of the difficulty of the final boss battle was a struggle not against the enemy, but against the controls.
Helpful and quick menu options let me customize how I controlled Luigi on the fly, and I found myself switching between these settings to confront different situations. Motion controls allowed me to fluidly adapt the elevation of my weapon, but I relied heavily on the second thumbstick of my 3DS, which was adequate but not exactly ideal.
Something bad is about to happen to Luigi.
Finally, Luigi’s Mansion’s music, particularly the main theme, is strong and atmospheric. Listening to Luigi dynamically hum the memorable theme in time with the understated soundtrack while navigating along the spooky corridors is delightful.
Super Gooigi Brothers
Brian Altano and I spent some time together playing through the first area of the mansion in the new co-op mode. Rather than pairing Luigi with Mario, Nintendo has created an ectoplasmic duplicate of Luigi named Gooigi to serve as player two. Co-op play is a lot of fun. Teaming up on individual ghosts with two vacuums is quite useful, but we experienced noticeable issues with lag or frame rate; nothing game-breaking, but a little distracting.
I tested a half-dozen Amiibo with Luigi’s Mansion: Mario, Luigi, and Toad Amiibo all provided significant special abilities that decreased the difficulty of the game, while Mega Man, Bowser, and Yarn Yoshi had no effect. Toad’s ability to restore health while saving was actually a little irritating… There’s no particular reason this shouldn’t have been a regular feature of Luigi’s Mansion as it would have eliminated some tedious backtracking.