Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Luigi's Mansion 2: Dark Moon

The Title Screen

Introduction
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (or Luigi's Mansion 2) is an action-adventure title from Next Level Games. Released in 2013 for the 3DS, it features singleplayer and multiplayer modes. This review is on the singleplayer campaign only.

Disclaimer : Since it is not possible for me to take acceptable screenshots on the 3DS, I have obtained pictures from the internets. I will link to the original source, and I thank those I have taken them from.


The First Thing
Since this is my first game for the 3DS XL I have to be careful not to mix in my first impressions of the device. But it has been a while since I've played a contemporary Nintendo title, and the familiar warmth and appeal of the characters/situation was immediately noticeable; Luigi in particular. Unfortunately, the opening moments of the game were then ruined a little by the incessant interruptions of E.Gadd. Perhaps a less constantly intrusive tutorial concept would have worked better.


Plot & Devices
Professor E.Gadd lives in Evershade Valley, with friendly ghosts whom he studies. However all goes wrong when the King Boo arrives and shatters the Dark Moon; covering the land in fog and turning the ghosts evil. Meanwhile, as Luigi is enjoying a nice sleep he is woken by the Professor and summoned against his will through the television to E.Gadd's secret bunker. From there Luigi will be sent out into the various mansions of the valley to capture ghosts, find missing pieces of the Dark Moon and investigate why this has happened.


Professor E.Gadd & Luigi
from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/

The plot is quite typically 'Nintendo Adventure Game'-esque: something has been shattered, or taken and must be retrieved. The story is not complicated and Luigi's Mansion 2 relies more on its gameplay and characters to keep the pace moving. The effort placed into animating and giving personality to Luigi is especially praiseworthy. Presented as a long-suffering 'everyman', he is resigned to his fate of saving the world, all the while being absolutely terrified of anything unexpected or spooky. Professor E.Gadd on the other hand is a genius, but amoral, scientist; with no qualms about sending others to sort out the mess. 

The story is mostly advanced through direct exposition from the Professor, either between levels or through the DS-Phone device. Since the ultimate villain is revealed to the player from the start of the game, but is unknown to the Luigi and the Professor, we are essentially waiting for the characters to catch up. Occasionally the King Boo can be seen in the background, but it takes the main characters most of the game to deduce what is happening. Despite the spooky subject matter, there are no horror elements to the story or game.


The Game
The core gameplay falls under the vague 'action-adventure' description. Set in 3D, the player will spend a large amount of time exploring the rooms of each mansion; either for quest items, hidden collectables, or just from curiosity. Keys and locked doors usually act to gate level progress, and sometimes the path is blocked by puzzles. The only platforming elements come in the form of simple spring-jump moments, or balancing beams where the orientation of the 3DS is used to maintain balance.

The overall level design is a quite unusual. There are five mansions, or zones. Instead of standard linear progression, the player will return to the same mansion each time. Each new visit usually opens up areas of the mansion, but the player is usually able to revisit all previous rooms. This is often the only way to find all the collectibles, and the Boos in particular, from previously visited rooms. The 3DS lower screen shows a map that shows objectives, as well as access to the current mission log.

Ghost Capturing
fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi's_Mansion:_Dark_Moon

Combat purely consists of capturing ghosts. This basic formula applies to all encounters: flash the torch to stun, then 'start sucking' with the Poltergeist 5000. The combat variety comes in how the different ghosts behave. Many become invisible, some hide inside objects, some protect their faces making them immune to stuns. When in the grips of the Poltergeist 5000, Ghosts will generally attempt to flee and if
moving in the opposite direction causes the Poltergeist 5000 to start building power. Upon a certain level of power, the player can unleash a small period of great suction. Ghosts have a 'health' number that depletes during suction and are defeated on reaching 0.

The difficulty comes in later levels with the many different types of ghost. The player will have to choose when to 'suck' and when to avoid enemies, since taking damage breaks any hold on ghosts the player has. Enemies telegraph their attacks and more than one ghost can be stunned and 'sucked on' at once, providing additional rewards if successful. The suction function is used for many other elements as well, such as picking up objects, or removing wallpaper/rugs/curtains etc for puzzles, or secrets. The normal torch is also used for opening certain doors by flashing their light sensor. It can also be used to turn critters into gold. The Poltergeist 5000 can 'blow', but this does not really serve much purpose except for a few sections.

As well as the suction and normal torch, Luigi also possesses a rainbow-projecting torch to uncover invisible objects. Upon locating such an object, floating blue orbs appear and must be sucked up quickly in order to permanently reveal it. There are not many indicators that an object is hidden. Sometimes there is a shadow, but most of the time the player either must remember from previous visits or deduce from the surrounding environment.

Many problems are solved with light
from : http://www.eurogamer.net/

The player receives a score at the end of each level broken down by time, health lost, number of ghosts sucked and gold acquired. Each mansion has a series of collectible gems that are hidden away, often behind puzzles. Each level also has a 'boo' ghost that can only be revealed and fought with the rainbow torch. Finding the boos in all levels unlocks a time trial version of the whole mansion. If all health is lost, the entire level must be restarted; unless a hidden golden bone object has been discovered. Each room has many interactable objects that may or may not possess rewards. There are five set upgrades to the Poltergeist 5000 that are unlocked with gold.

The graphical quality is high, with a lot of effort placed into character animations. I would describe the art style as the fairly typical cell-shaded style associated with Mario games. The level environment deserves special mention as much time has been spent on making each room feel complete and nice looking. The sound is excellent, and the voice (limited though it may be) has charm and emotion. The controls felt more or less suitable, although I feel that a button press for autorun is outdated; especially with an analogue stick available. The title is polished and I only encountered two gameplay bugs where I performed a task unexpected by the collision engine.


Wrap Up & Negatives
I started to become annoyed with the level design and how it interacted with the scoring system. Neither is bad individually, but combined they create an atmosphere of obsessive re-visiting. It starts to feel like a grind. It is of course completely optional but the scoring system at the end of each level makes you feel you are not playing properly. Normally I am really quite fond of the "check every cupboard, box, drawer, etc. in a room" style of game but even I found the notion of looking through every room of a house for a 5th time too much.

The scoring system is also vague. Luigi's Mansion 2 handles in-level collectibles quite well, but the requirements for the 'score medals' at the end of each level are hidden. Makes it difficult to work out what aspect you should improve on to get the next medal. Since there are only five set upgrades, collecting gold suddenly becomes a bit pointless 3/4 through the game. On the first playthrough the player will find that levels suddenly end and I found myself purposefully avoiding anything I thought might end the level in order to continue exploring.

I am not sure how I feel about the 'golden bone' life system. On the one hand, I quite like the idea of having to find each level's 'extra life', but on the other hand dying without it forces an entire level restart. Given that a level can take upwards of 30/40 minutes if you are the exploring/committed type, this sorely hurts and is too extreme a punishment. It took me 15 hours to complete, but I had to redo two levels and a lot of time was 'wasted' on re-exploring empty rooms.


Personally
I had a lot of fun with the game. It has so much charm. Although the story and characters are not especially deep, the whole tone is warm and appealing. I thought the cute little 'Greenie' ghosts in particular were fantastic; some of the best characters to appear in a Nintendo game to be sure.

I just wish they'd been a little more creative with the level design. After a while the concept of thoroughly re-checking each available room again became too much for me. The lack of checkpoints and one life may put some players off, but despite all this, Luigi's Mansion 2 was a great game. The indefinable Nintendo charm comes together with solid and enjoyable mechanics to provide a really fun experience. A lovely title, definitely worthy of your time.

Charge!
from: http://nintendo.wikia.com/

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