If Luigi’s earned one thing from the gaming community during his nearly three-decade existence, it’s surely their unbridled sympathy. While his shorter, pudgier sibling was spending his time living it up in lavish castles, beachfront resorts, and the furthest reaches of outer space, the oft-vexed Super Mario brother, clad in green, was left to play second fiddle, vacuum-cleaning haunted houses for a kooky, gibberish-speaking manchild scientist. The first Luigi’s Mansion was one of the GameCube’s biggest success stories, an especially inventive take on Nintendo’s classic platforming and puzzle-solving formulas that made an unlikely star out of the cautiously courageous jade-hued plumber. For the past 12 years, fans of the original ghost-busting yarn have been clamoring for a sequel, and after much tinkering (Luigi’s Mansion’s software was actually used to beta test the 3DS’s 3D effects), Nintendo and the capable developer Next Level Games have delivered yet another must-have title in the 3DS’s already excellent library in the form of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.
The narrative kicks off in standard key item-scattering fashion, with Professor E. Gadd’s occult experiments running amok as a result of the titular celestial body shattering at the hands of a fiendish Boo, thus sending shards of itself across several spectral locations. The nutty professor wastes no time rudely summoning a sleeping Luigi from his living room chair to send him off on an inquisitive fetch-quest, pixelating him to a secret bunker that will act as a sort of makeshift headquarters for the game’s remainder. After the typical introductory scenes and tutorial segments, Luigi finds himself equipped with his signature apparition-battling devices: his trusty flashlight and the new-and-improved Poltergust 5000. Over the course of the main campaign these endlessly advantageous tools will be modified on multiple occasions to better suit your specter-silencing needs. Noteworthy upgrades to the flashlight include the shade-stunning strobe attachment and the illusion-revealing Dark-Light add-on, which reveals countless hidden objects and those dastardly Boos necessary for 100% completion.
The Poltergust 5000 is incredibly simple by design (basically, it’s a modded canister vac that sucks spirits), but the sheer amount of varied gameplay that Next Level Games imparts into Dark Moon is quite remarkable. Not only does the Poltergust unclutter everything in sight, but it frequently takes the place of Luigi’s grabbing extremities, pulling back umpteen curtains, both literal and figurative, and interacting with a variety of pivotal switches. Deceitfully, Dark Moon begins as elementary, but rapidly evolves into a challenging endeavor crammed with ghoulish duels and deeply concealed treasures. The means by which the player must discover these cloaked riches rarely repeat themselves; there’s always a fresh approach to solving each cleverly crafted enigma. There’s a certain dexterity that comes along with skillfully outwitting Dark Moon’s legions of disgruntled ethereal beings; it’s not just hooking banshees on a suction line and reeling them in like phantom fish. No, besting many of the game’s baddies is a multi-step process that has Luigi peeling away defensive layers (such as sunglasses or shields to block the strobe’s incapacitating stupefaction).
While the smooth, intuitive combat is the game’s most consistently enjoyable aspect, another high point is the designs of the mansions themselves. Not since Super Mario 3D Land has the 3D slider been put to such good use; conclusively, the enhancing of the 3D effects is less of an eye-piercing distraction than an unruffled visual polishing. Every layered foray into the supernatural chateaus unearths innumerable mysteries and alternative pathways leading to bonus prizes. From the customary coin-and-bills currency to extra-life-giving golden bones and obscured special gemstones, obtaining these collectables alongside the regular course objectives elevates Dark Moon’s replay value to a lofty dimension.
Dark Moon contains only a few misfires, like the cumbersome gyroscopic control sequences, the one-note multiplayer Scarescraper mode which feels slackly tacked on, and the game’s strict mission-based structure that minimizes the amount of widespread exploration. If Next Level Games had opted to make Dark Moon more of an open-world experience, granting the player free will to poke around its gloomily graceful environments without continual check-in interruptions, it could have been equated to a minor masterpiece. But the game is still something of a small wonder, packing a shocking degree of detail into its slight handheld package, and once again daringly justifying Luigi’s involuntary position in the limelight.