Wednesday, October 17, 2012

3RM @ NYCC 2012: Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon


It has been almost eleven years since Luigi’s Mansion was released on the Nintendo Gamecube, and we are on our way to getting a sequel. Announced in E3 2011, Luigi’s Mansion 2, now called Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, is the long awaited sequel that hopes to expand on the ghost hunting series in new ways and new depths. Although it will not make it out until next year, I got a hands-on with it at Nintendo’s booth at New York Comic-Con 2012.

The demo on the show floor had three areas: a spooky mansion, a broken down clock tower, and a snow covered cabin. Throwing luck to the wind, I picked the farthest one into the game. In hindsight, for someone who had never played this game before, that was not the best idea, especially since the game's controls differ quite a bit from the original. After selecting the stage, the game listed three missions for the cabin, although the bottom two were still locked. The only mission selectable was to find a missing toad somewhere in the Chalet. After a quick briefing from Professor E. Gadd, Luigi was teleported to the cabin via security camera.  Who knew Willy Wonka and E. Gadd worked together for a time?

It did not take long for me to find Luigi’s Mansion-esque puzzles within the snowy environment, such as a hidden chest hidden under some snow or coins residing within a snowman’s head, which required me to shoot it with the Poltergust. Later, I had to shoot heated coal at an ice-covered door and send a puck straight into a hockey net, all of which felt fairly reminiscent of Luigi’s Mansion. Some puzzles in Dark Moon revolved around the new darklight. In front of the house stood a framed coin drawing sitting in a snow bank. After shining the darklight at it, the painting came to life and showered gold coins everywhere. Later this ability was used to reveal doors and paintings hidden by ectoplasmic orbs. Once revealed I had to quickly suck them up before they hid the object again. At the end of my playtime, the darklight was also used to free the missing toad from a painting, which lead to a hilarious cut scene that I hope is one of many that happens with poor, scardy-cat Luigi.

Just like its predecessor, Dark Moon is primarily a ghost-hunting game. After entering the Chalet, I was quickly confronted by a couple of ghosts. Unlike Luigi’s Mansion, these ghosts are not affected by the flashlight and instead must be dealt with using the new strobe function. After a second or so of charging, the strobe flashes in the direction Luigi faces and paralyzes the ghosts. Once paralyzed, I was able to suck up the ghost much like in Luigi’s Mansion. One added feature to combating ghosts is a suction meter that if filled up can not only suck up the ghost but also leave behind treasure. During the first encounter, I discovered the importance to knowing my surroundings. On the left side of the room was a large bearskin rug. When I approached it, it jumped up and scared Luigi. While it was funny, it also left him open for attack. If things like this happen throughout Dark Moon, I will have to keep my guard up and eyes open. In other rooms, I encountered ghosts carrying objects and wearing hockey headgear, which blocked the strobe. Clearly ghosts will set-up defenses against the strobe and require Luigi to get around them. In these cases, I had to wait until right before they attacked Luigi to flash the ghost, as the faces were no longer hidden. An issue I had with the combat was the aiming. In Luigi’s Mansion, there were two joysticks to aim and move Luigi. Here, I had to use the circle pad to do both while the X and B buttons aimed up and down. For someone who has played Luigi’s Mansion a lot, these controls felt fairly different. I hope with the extra development time Nintendo will add the Circle Pad Pro as a control option to help players of the first game get into this sequel more easily.

The visuals in Dark Moon look even better than Luigi’s Mansion did on the Gamecube. The environment is filled with details such as snowflakes and reflections on the ice. The best thing about the visuals was the character animation. The animations, especially Luigi’s, are fluid and add to the game’s cartoon humor, bringing the game to life. Seeing Luigi tremble as a bearskin rug roars at him is memorable as is his panicked look when the floor breaks beneath him. I would love to see what other hi-jinx Luigi takes part in. As for the music, it reminded me of Luigi’s Mansion without really sharing its theme. The serene, calm music outside matched the icy, abandoned landscape. Also having the music change as the lights in a room turn on was another nice touch brought over from the original. Considering the presentation, one concern I had was toward the frame rate. More than a few times, usually when vacuuming a ghost, the game would slow down and make it difficult to see if another ghost was coming for me. I hope Next Level Games smoothes this out before its release. Another issue is depth. When the 3D is up, telling where a ghost is relative to Luigi was easy. However, when in 2D, the game’s depth perception was a tad harder to grasp, leading me to flashing to the side of a ghost rather than spot on. This might have been a problem due to the game’s camera angle which takes advantage of the system’s 3D depth. Also, having to rotate the 3DS to adjust the camera around did not really help.

Filled with similar puzzles, interactive environments, and evolved gameplay, Dark Moon felt like what it should be: Luigi’s Mansion 2. With new diverse mansions, new challenges revolving around new power-ups, and new hilarious animations, this already feels like a classic. I just hope they polish it enough so its frame rate issues are fixed. Shame this did not make the Halloween season, but we can have some belated scares in early 2013.

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