As the quintessential "player two" character, Luigi tends to take a backseat to Mario, the face of Nintendo (and of video games as a whole, if you really think about it). While Mario fearlessly dives headlong into exploding supernovas and fights skyscraper-sized enemies who treat him as a real threat, Luigi gets to creep through haunted manors filled with jerkass ghosts who are more than happy to bully him.
Or scour the globe in a not-very-fun edutainment "game." What the hell is up with Luigi's right hand?
Luigi's Mansion was a great launch title for the Nintendo GameCube, and despite a lukewarm initial reception, it's rather fondly-remembered now as a fun and inventive adventure game that finally gave Luigi a chance to shine. Much like the original, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon follows the tropes of classic-feeling Nintendo adventures while breaking from tradition in some unexpected ways.
Most adventure games--like any Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or Darksiders title--tend to follow a simple pattern. You'll start out with nothing, then slowly acquire new upgrades and items that you use to traverse levels and solve puzzles--it's a fun-yet-predictable pattern that's worked for a very long time. Unlike a lot of these games, Dark Moon gives you everything you'll need in the first few levels--Luigi's trademark Poltergust 5000 vaccuum, a ghost-stunning strobe light, and a handy Darklight that you'll be using to uncover hidden items and doors. From there, the game does the unexpected by keeping things simple--you'll only ever need those three things to solve just about every puzzle and fight every boss you come across in the game.
It's great how that simplicity keeps things fresh, as you're rewarded for checking every single nook and cranny of the multiple haunted houses you'll be exploring. While it's fairly straightforward, Dark Moon isn't particularly linear. You'll have to do plenty of backtracking, once again opening every drawer, pulling every cord, and zapping every invisible armoire as you try to hoover up every ghost and coin you can. While Professor E. Gadd will occasionally call you to give information, the game is pretty hands-off when it comes to puzzles and challenges, letting you learn through playing and rarely dragging things out through trial and error. I've had my review copy since the middle of last week, and I've spent more time going back to levels to track down hidden Boos than I have actually progressing in the game, so I know that some of you who bought the game are farther-in than I am.
Maybe that's really the game's only real fault, as it doesn't even explain the basics of play. Yeah, the game teaches you that you have to pull on certain things to get the Poltergust to suck them in, like curtains and cords, and that transfers to ghostbusting, but my gamer-newbie guinea pig had to practice for a while before she got the hang of it. Much like many of the puzzles, the boss fights will leave you scratching your head wondering how the hell you're supposed to do anything until it'll finally hit you in the middle of dinner and you'll go "Ah HA! Pull, then suck, then blow!"
There's also a four-player multiplayer mode that evokes the absolute chaos of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, centering around vaccuuming up ghosts. It's fun and frantic, but lacks the substance of the actual game itself with its clever puzzles and level design. I think that it's a nice addition that's fun to visit, but feels more like a light, enjoyable last-minute addition that will be quickly forgotten.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a game with a lot of character and a lot of heart. It's smaller-scale, laser-focused on good, thorough game design and replayability, and does a whole hell of a lot with its small inventory. So many games these days seem to think that more is better, that you should have bigger setpieces and longer, more cinematic cutscenes and more visceral action, but sometimes all you need are some smartly-designed challenges and the right tools to use on them.
+ Focused, smartly-designed gameplay bucks the adventure-game trend, giving you all the necessary items from the start
+ Multi-tiered levels packed with hidden treasures and secrets encourage revisiting and thorough replay
+ The game encourages you to explore and experiment on your own instead of holding your hand and telling you what to do
+ It helps that this is one of the absolute best-looking 3DS games out there
+/- Multiplayer mode is fun and hectic, but is forgettable compared to the main game
+/- Puzzles and bosses sometimes require real outside-the-box thinking, and the game's hands-off approach means that some players will end up stuck or frustrated