I’d so much rather be John Leguizamo than Bob Hoskins.
OK, I know that sounds incredibly random, but bear with me and forgive me the old school reference. But for those of you with knowledge of the history of video games – and movies based on said industry’s properties – beyond what came out in the last month, you know what I’m talking about.
Yes, 1993 was when a movie studio rolled out a (film just doesn’t seem the right word for it, so let’s call it a ...) flick called Super Mario Bros. It starred Hoskins (fighting a role slump since he took the world by storm in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit) as video gaming’s most famous and beloved plumber, Mario. Leguizamo was cast as Mario’s brother, Luigi: A character who is often overshadowed and overlooked by fans of his more popular sibling.
But those in the know realize that just because you don’t down mushrooms with abandon, save princesses who can’t seem to go a day without being kidnapped and enjoy jumping on the heads of other living creatures doesn’t mean you can’t be a hero in your own right.
And Leguizamo is way cooler than Hoskins any day of the week. Which brings me to Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, the new 3DS game from Nintendo that (finally!) shines a light on a character who deserves much more love than he gets from the gaming public.
Now, it’s been a very long 12 years since we last saw Luigi in his own game, back when there was this ancient piece of technology called a GameCube. That game, Luigi’s Mansion, cast the scared green-clad plumber as a quasi-Ghostbuster who must eke out a living fighting the paranormal beasties that go bump in the night. It was a fun, entertaining romp and the fact it took a dozen years to get a sequel is a tad disappointing. Still, at least it’s finally here and it has certainly been worth the wait.
Dark Moon sees you having to rid houses (five this time, as opposed to the massive mansion of the original game) of ghosts, using your trusty phantom-sucking vacuum, aptly named the Poltergust 5000. Basically, that’s the entire story right there. If you’re expecting anything stronger than the plot of that crappy 1993 movie, I mean flick, sorry to disappoint. That said, this game is 100 times more entertaining and 1,000 times funnier than that flick ever was.
The game’s heart lies in its timid hero, who jumps with fright constantly, hums along with the background score (kudos to the designers for that touch) to try to steady his nerves and tentatively explores the darkened rooms of the mansions with his flashlight and vacuum at the ready. It’s the fact that Luigi is vulnerable and yet still overcomes his fears to do the job required that makes him much more heroic to me than Mario ever has. And there is plenty to fear in these five haunted houses. You poke items within rooms in order to find spooks, mini-bosses, treasures and sometimes just cool little interactions. You’ll also find collectible coins that you can spend on upgrades for your equipment. And when you do find a phantom (or more than one), you fire up the old Poltergust and enter a tug-of-war-esque mini game in order to trap said nasties for disposal.
Now, you might think that this basic exploration, puzzle solving and mini game capture sequences make for a rather shallow experience. You’d be wrong. Dark Moon keeps things moving along and entertaining thanks to its comedic approach, the little interactions that often inspire laughs and the jolts of fright that the appearance of a spectre prompt. Even the ghost-capturing mini game is kept interesting by introducing more than one spirit to trap and attacks by the fighting phantoms that Luigi has to dodge in order to succeed.
The 3D screen makes the game sparkle visually (continuing the tradition of the best looking and playing titles for Nintendo consoles and handhelds are the ones made by the parent company) and kids and adults alike will enjoy both the little frights Dark Moon elicits as well as its pick-up-and-play approach.
Now, the game does check in with about a dozen hours of content – a little bit slight, considering the sometimes annoying amount of backtracking you have to do – but it’s a relatively minor complaint for a title that does so many things right.
Of note: The game does allow for co-op or head-to-head play for up to four gamers either through local, downloadable sharing or Internet-based multiplayer modes.
Overall, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is one example of a game where a hero who sucks is a good thing. Now, if only we could do something about those video game movies ...
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is rated E for everyone.
Wayne Chamberlain has covered the gaming industry since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @ChamberlainW. He is also co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast, available on iTunes.