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.
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.
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.