Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon Review

Over the past year there’s been a reinvigoration of the Adventure genre. They never went away, but nowadays they’re not quite as present outside the esoteric circles of point-and-click crowds on PC. Games like Telltales’s The Walking Dead and Double Fine’s The Cave, however, are bringing this Jurassic style of interaction to a new generation, although the genre still holds a degree of disconnect by virtue of its interaction. Sure, The Walking Dead let’s you steer the plane with your own morality, but the interaction itself is just a cursor scrolling on the screen. The Cave grants you access to the cockpit, trading traditional pointing and clicking for digital control, though it still feels like you’re staring into a dollhouse. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon lets you assume full control by making every object and entity in the game feel tangible and in reach of your grasp. 

The ghosts that inhabit the spooky community of Evershade Valley have taken a turn from their cooperative and jovial selves, to meet more insidious demands. The titular Dark Moon has been shattered by some unknown assailant, and Luigi’s tasked with picking up the pieces throughout the several manors that adorn Evershade Valley. Local paranormal researcher, Professor E. Gadd, arms Luigi with an updated model of his vacuum companion and sends him into the thick of the night for another spectral outing.

Scaring a ghost in the bathroom.

A lot has changed from Luigi’s initial venture back in 2001, from complex puzzles to an entirely fresh layer of interaction by means of the Dark Light, a flashlight that let’s you see objects naturally hidden to mortal eyes. While not the most original idea, the Dark Light adds a degree of exploration, especially for perfectionists, given its necessity in finding various jewels and Boos scattered about the mansions. Amid the act of ghostbusting this supernatural torch serves a greater purpose: exposing any craven ghouls.

Couple clairvoyance with a chargeable flashlight and you can net yourself a myriad of ghosts in a single inhale. The room to room combat is satisfying, and the game continuously thrusts variations of ghosts at you, causing you to always think on your feet as you’re impelled to master control of space and timing. These nuances in enemy design take the form of ghosts simply adorning objects found in the given room and makes for some rather charming animations while adding varied gameplay. Unfortunately, this inventive enemy design doesn’t carry over to boss fights, which are positioned as the final room of each mansion. Barring the first and last boss, these fights tend to be rather banal and depend on taking ancillary mechanics from familiar environmental puzzles and replicating them on a larger scale. What you get is a lot of been there done that, with a more malicious visage that doesn’t change much.

Unlike Luigi’s first solo journey, Dark Moon doesn’t offer any elemental powers, squashing any hopes of a fire-breathing vacuum. Instead the puzzles in this game task you with using objects found in the environment to further your progress — like a traditional point and click adventure, minus the point and click. They’re rather simple tasks though immensely satisfying because of how tangible the environment is, assembling puzzles as the most compelling aspect of the title. You’re in a room, it’s clear something isn’t clicking, and that search for the right object in the room or the right trigger to pull never manifests as a frustrating endeavour because of your connection to the setting. Everything you vacuum shakes, rattles, moves, falls — the environment is entirely palpable, often with occurrences unique to the room you’re in. It’s with this corporeal structure that the level design allows for substantial experimentation and exploration, with treasure chests to be exposed by dark light, and money pouring out of every nook and cranny. To an extent cash is used to pay for upgrades — namely the speed at which you can vacuum a ghost and the length of time your Dark light can be used for — but you quickly max out these provisions, reducing the collection of coins and bills to a mere peripheral to gauge high scores.

Luigi vacuuming a tablecloth.

Each locale has a distinct theme from one another, depicting individual puzzles and histories that shed light on their owners. What’s disappointing with Luigi’s Mansion is how it’s diverse in every facet of the game except that of enemy design. They’ll arm themselves with a number of objects to affect gameplay but you won’t see new ghosts after the halfway point of the game; a stark contrast from the first game where there were countless ghosts that were unique in both appearance and weakness. Be that as it may, the limited designs of ghosts are still flushed with colour and radiate their own personalities and inadequacies, with their nature fully expressed in their animations. Catching a Boo even makes an adorable squeaking noise as you force it into the vacuum, giving texture to even the most vaporous characters. Amongst the living there’s even less variety, but there really isn’t variety to be warranted. Although Dark Moon does possess the toads’ most endearing performances; their fear and inadequacies push Luigi to displace his cowardliness to be the older, more courageous brother to these merry stewards.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon oozes that old-fashioned Scooby-Doo charm that is taken seriously by the characters in the diegesis, and plain goofy fun for the audience. Luigi mumbles and hums along with the music to comfort himself as he quivers about the mansion, but by the end of the game the story strays away from his fearfulness, as he grows confident and realizes he no longer stands in Mario’s shadow. The 3D effects add an extra dimension to the cross-section you play through, though it’s not as polished as other titles, leaving muddy textures and aliasing issues to cloud your enjoyment. The real star of the game is the interaction uniting the player, Luigi, and the environment, allowing for a harmony between player input and the game’s output and creating a pull that’s hard to escape.

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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Review

Outside the clout of the Pokémon series, Japanese RPGs sustain a quiet release in the West to a humble audience and modest sales. You’ll find your Tales game here, your Disgaea there, but no JRPG has released with as much fanfare as Level 5’s latest title, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Coupled with Studio Ghibli’s reputable animation, the game serves as a gorgeous love letter to JRPGs of yore, filled with every mechanic you’ve come to expect from the genre, and with that its most significant issue: it’s locked down in ye olde claustrophobic conventions and functions of the 90s. But the game’s premise is what changes the pace of the typical JRPG trifles you’ve come to expect, coated in a heartbreaking primer and a heartwarming finish.

So let’s not beat around the bush; this game is famous for its good looks, and its arduous localization project (at least for us in the West), though the two-year difference between Japan’s release of the game and ours was well worth the wait. You’ve never seen a game as brilliantly localized as this one, lending side mission titles as pop culture references, excellently characterized dialogue and all the — daft, yet endearing — puns for the names of familiars, the Pokémon-like monsters you catch to use in combat scenarios. However some of the trite and kitschy “save the world through virtue” speeches do manage to squeeze themselves through. Along with the overly sentimental monologues you’ll also have to endure the traditional gasps and chokes followed by an exclamation of a character’s name. The localization may not be perfect, but it’s the best you’ll get, and furthermore the fully realized characters, who carry a gamut of emotion and depth conveyed through exceptional voice acting, are more than enough reason to overlook faults in the writing and immerse yourself in the fairytale the game offers. Though the most disappointing facet of the writing lies with the protagonist, Oliver, who is the lynchpin of this enchanting tale, but suffers from one-dimensional voice acting and platitudinous dialogue.

Oliver and Mr. Drippy gazing across the stunning landscape.

Oliver’s a simple kid living a perfect depiction of your nowhere whistle-stop: he plays outside, dreams of driving a car and involves himself in general childlike mischief. After suffering a tragic loss, Oliver’s stuffed fairy, Mr. Drippy, comes to life and takes him to another world where his journey of growth and camaraderie flourishes in somewhat of a wizard’s coming of age narrative, set in a whimsical realm. Despite being a young boy with a mouthful of pedestrian text, Oliver’s maturation is perceptible, as he’s shaped by the obstacles of the bizarre sphere he finds himself in, the friendships he builds, and how he learns to persevere through the emotional and physical tribulations that are forced upon him.

This harlequin dimension of Ni No Kuni is magical in every meaning of the word. There are the essential elemental sceneries like “the forest level” or “the fire level,” but what really stands out are the unique kingdoms with their rich politics and histories, each domain harbouring their own enthralling secrets. Every inch of this game is peppered with that Studio Ghibli flavour, from a nursery rhyme kingdom ruled by a tabby cat, to an industrial and communist city hellbent on efficiency and rigid laws. But what brings colour to these vibrant domains are the citizens that inhabit them, and the ordeals that they suffer.

Of course, this is a JRPG, so expect plenty of bounty boards that ask you to complete side quests, but don’t expect any variety. Besides bounty hunts, Ni No Kuni offers little in terms of ancillary gameplay beyond fetch quests. The game does, however, offer an interesting premise for a certain grouping of side quests, in which the villainous wizard Shadar went about breaking people’s hearts, and you’re tasked with mending them. A broken heart in Ni No Kuni entails the dearth of some sort of positive emotion, such as confidence or kindness. So naturally you have to find to an NPC with too much of the given emotion, and use magic to take some it and heal the dispirited. The most compelling aspect of these quests are their initial and concluding interactions with broken-hearted characters, which compose some of the game’s warmest insights and cheeky banter. Having said that, these interactions do get quite repetitive as they are mere fetch quests with a veneer of charm, and recurring characters battle similar issues ad nauseam which takes away from otherwise nuanced dialogue — saving the same marriage five times does get old.

Combat in Ni No Kuni.

Now when you’re done helping overindulgent soldiers and finding lost possessions for unfortunate souls you could turn to the main quest, traversing the lushest of vistas and exploring the dampest of dungeons. The level design of these areas tout a degree of exploration and treasure to pillage, but you’ll spend more time engaging in combat by means of random encounters and boss battles. These encounters are a hybrid of turn-based and real-time combat, which let you take control of Oliver, his friends and his familiars, with a cool down meter that dictates the frequency at which you may use the myriad of options bestowed upon you. With these combat and provision limitations comes a great deal of strategy to be honed; impeccable timing and multitasking becomes a necessity for later engagements. However when assuming control of a character (human or familiar) in combat there are restraints that leave much to be desired. You have absolute control of your avatar’s movement, though to attack and defend you’re forced to shuffle through a list of moves in real-time whilst avoiding and preparing for incoming attacks. This adds an awkward level of agitation, teasing real-time combat but forcing the player to adhere to the interface of turn-based combat.

A further hinderance to the combat design are the familiars themselves. Grinding is a constant in Ni No Kuni, some areas being near inaccessible for a long while because of the strength of enemies in random encounters. Catching familiars is a mere game of chance; wild familiars randomly choose an interest in you upon defeating them. A newly caught familiar starts off at a low-level and has to ascend its way back to relevance. Unfortunately the same applies to familiars you’ve evolved to a stronger state, impelling you to grind even further since their level resets to one, and drops most of the stats you’ve accumulated.

A fan of JRPGs will absolutely love Ni No Kuni with its dozens of hours of gameplay and hundreds of pieces of equipment to find and craft. After all, it’s a standard JRPG with a fresh coat of paint. You may even enjoy the cacophony that is its gameplay. But anyone looking for any new goods in the department will be out of luck. The layer of charm and whimsy may create enough momentum to carry you through the game but if you don’t already enjoy JRPGs, chances are this game won’t sway your opinion. For some, the game may suffice on aesthetics alone; the writing being quite enchanting for the most part. Coupled with beautiful level design and a wonderfully harmonious soundtrack, Ni No Kuni conjures an unrivalled trek through a fairytale odyssey.