London MCM Expo October 2011: Luigi’s Mansion 2
The GameCube played host to a variety of weird and wonderful takes on Nintendo’s franchises, from the controversial cel-shading of Wind Waker, to the peculiar community service-focused Super Mario Sunshine and the exercise in perfection that was Metroid Prime. For better or worse, it was a time of experimentation and risk-taking for the company and its catalogue of characters. It’s fitting, then, that the GameCube’s release was not marked by the appearance of a Mario or Zelda title, but instead a curious instance of Luigi meets Ghostbusters; a strange little survival horror-lite game whose charm was matched by its endearing simplicity. At MCM Expo in October this year, almost ten years after the original game’s release, we got to try the sequel to Luigi’s Mansion, one of a number of titles set to help Nintendo’s floundering 3D portable.
Luigi’s Mansion as a franchise seems oddly appropriate for the handheld format. Its basic gameplay mechanics and light thematic content lend themselves well to short bouts of gaming, but it wasn’t until now that any of Nintendo’s handheld machines could support the impressive, charming visuals that the original game boasted. These visuals carry through to the sequel; at the start of the demo we were dropped into the courtyard of a large cartoonish mansion filled with a perfect cutesy-horror atmosphere. Spooky lighting, creepy elongated shadows and the odd flash of lightning gave a real Scooby Doo feel to the game’s setting.
The basic premise remains the same; explore the mansion Resident Evil style while finding keys, unlocking doors, avoiding traps and – of course – disposing of the rampant ghost infestation with your proton pack-esque vacuum cleaner, the Poltergust 5000. Both a suck and blow (quiet at the back) feature allows you to interact with the environment in numerous ways, such as removing fabric coverings from various objects (revealing coins and secret passages) and allowing you to gather out-of-reach items. The primary function of the vacuum cleaner, however, is in the game’s ‘combat’. The ghosts lurking in most of the rooms have to be busted in order to unlock further sections of the mansion. As in the first game, combat consists of two parts; using Luigi’s flashlight to stun the ghosts, then wrestling to trap them inside the Poltergust. The flashlight is slightly altered from the first game and now has to be charged to unleash a bright flash. This reveals a ghost’s health indicator, allowing you to suck them in with the Poltergust and initiate a tug-of-war. By maintaining a hold on the ghost (which will thrash around and attempt to escape) its HP will slowly decrease until it’s captured.
As far as combat systems go it’s hardly complex, but neither was most of the demo we got to play. Apart from a fair share of key collecting and some rudimentary trap-dodging, nothing during our time with the game suggested any significant evolution over the original GameCube title. The closest thing to any kind of puzzle we experienced came in the form of the area’s boss; a large, bulbous-headed ghost which periodically turns invisible. Revealing the boss involves carefully watching the candles placed around the room for signs of its location; if a candle is extinguished or there’s any other disturbance in the room that’s your cue to charge your flashlight at that spot, revealing the boss and allowing you to wrestle with it in the usual fashion. It’s hardly taxing stuff, but it suggested a more cerebral approach to the otherwise one-trick combat.
The game’s simplicity is easier to accept on a portable format, but Luigi’s Mansion 2 will need something to set it apart from its predecessor if Nintendo wants it to remain engaging for any length of time. What’s more, the shaky framerate combined with the 3D makes for a double dose of eyestrain, worsened when adjusting the camera with the 3DS’ gyroscope. Why developers continue to insist on simultaneously utilising these entirely incompatible features is beyond us. Nonetheless, the game’s charm cannot be overstated; Luigi is an endearing coward whose exaggerated responses and over-the-top animations are truly hilarious. If Nintendo can add some diversity and challenge to this overdose of charm, Mario’s oft overlooked brother should find a perfect home on Nintendo’s portable format.