I was late to the Luigi’s Mansion party. When the GameCube first released the game didn’t strike me as something I was particularly interested in playing. I felt like it was silly to have a Mario game without Mario as the staring character. Oh, so foolish I was at that age. A few years later one of my cousins was playing the game at a birthday party or Christmas dinner or something and after seeing the game in action, I realized I had missed out on something pretty great and decided to order my own copy of the game. I quickly fell in love with the mansion’s many quirky ghosts, the game’s terrified protagonist, and of course that catchy theme song. When Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon came out, I made sure to jump on that one right away.
If you asked me which Luigi’s Mansion I preferred, I would always say the first one. If you asked me why, that would be harder to articulate. I might attribute it to the fact that the portrait ghosts seemed less memorable in comparison to the original game. I might say that I didn’t like how the mansions were disjointed due to having more than one as well as the fact that they were entered and exited like levels in other Mario titles. But at the end of the day, something about Dark Moon just felt off when I played it. Although I enjoyed what the game brought to the table mechanically, I never ended up finishing it.
During the buildup to Luigi’s Mansion 3, it seemed that this game could very well be the ideal blend of the two titles which preceded it. The “mansion” of this game was in fact a hotel, once again putting Luigi in one massive setting rather than splitting up the action between segmented levels. But rather than being mechanically simple like the first game and only relying on a couple of key skills, Luigi’s Mansion 3 appeared to be bringing in more techniques than ever before. The apparent blend of both styles certainly made me excited for the game, but after playing about halfway through, does it live up to my expectations? Let’s talk about the ways in which the latest entry in the Luigi’s Mansion series builds on what has come before.
LUIGI’S MANSION: A DEMONSTRATION OF VERISIMILITUDE
I think the “magic” of Luigi’s Mansion comes down to the concept of verisimilitude. This can also be described as “internal consistency.” It’s the idea that the fictional world within the game is cohesive and feels like a real place that the characters within it could inhabit. It’s the difference between a dungeon that’s just a series of traps and monsters with no context and a dungeon that’s the decaying crypt of a forgotten god whose rivals installed security measures to keep the god from escaping. When a setting has verisimilitude, the overall concept gives you a clear vision of how all the pieces make sense in context.
The original Luigi’s Mansion did an excellent job of building a location with verisimilitude. The mansion feels like a real place thanks to the fact that most rooms have a clear practical function and are fully furnished. The way they connect to one another and affect one another helps too. Shutting off the breaker in the basement makes the rest of the house dark. Falling through a hatch on the second floor can put you into a different room on the ground floor. The ghosts are family members or individuals who worked for the family living at the mansion. All of these elements work together smoothly to create a location that feels like a real place.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 similarly creates a location with verisimilitude. I’m 8 floors into the game at this point and even the silliest floors have a clear idea and purpose which helps them to make sense in the context of the location. It may seem ridiculous to have a floor in the game which is based on a medieval castle until you see that, in Medieval Times fashion, the castle features an arena for watching live performances while chowing down on some old-timey grub. One floor is the hotel mall and the ghost who haunts it works security for the different stores. Even the little details help the hotel to feel like a realistic place. While some treasure chests are still present in the game, often “treasure” is contained in suitcases, objects which make perfect sense to be laying around in the context of a hotel. Suck up a sofa cushion and you’ll probably find a few coins that fell out of someone’s pocket. These details work together with the roles of the ghosts and the structure of the mansion to create a setting which feels like a real hotel, even if that real hotel also has deadly spike traps or haunted pianos that try to crush your skull.
DARK MOON: MECHANICAL COMPLEXITY
What the second entry in the Luigi’s Mansion series did well was to bring some mechanics to the game which made it feel like more than just a tech demo. In the original Luigi’s Mansion your options were limited: you could suck with the vacuum and you could blow with the vacuum, with the possibility of some fire or water added by absorbing an elemental ghost into the Poltergust. There wasn’t much to find in any given room except for money, and money had little value outside of determining the quality of your ending when the credits rolled.
Dark Moon improved on all of these points. Luigi’s flashlight was upgraded from a simple on/off toggle by including the Strobulb, which allowed Luigi to charge the light and then unleash a big flash against nearby ghosts. This also served as a way to activate switches in the environment. There was also a blacklight function added to the flashlight which allowed Luigi to see hidden objects in the environment, including invisible enemies. Particularly challenging puzzles in a given room would yield collectible crystals which served as a greater achievement than simply collecting dollar bills, but that didn’t mean the money lost its value. Luigi could use that money to purchase useful tools for his exploration, giving it a gameplay effect rather than simply being an afterthought.
All of these mechanisms are present in Luigi’s Mansion 3, and once again they are used effectively to make the game mechanically rich and fun to play. I learned the hard way to make a point of doing one lap around each room with the blacklight on, just to make sure I wasn’t missing any hidden objects in the environment. Often this led to the discovery of a crystal I had missed or a large amount of money that I could use to purchase useful upgrades like golden bones (for saving my bacon when I mess up) or gem finders (when I wasn’t smart enough to figure out where crystals were located). Gem finders often led me to discover entire sections of a floor that I missed on the first go-around, further revealing the value of trying every tool in your arsenal anytime you explore.
LUIGI’S MANSION 3: AN ELEGANT COMBINATION
I’ve discussed now the way in which Luigi’s Mansion 3 captures what was special about each preceding game. Like the mansion in the first game, the hotel offers a degree of verisimilitude that holds the world together and makes it interesting to explore. Each room of the hotel feels like a real place because of the attention to detail, the furnishings, and the characters who live and work within it. Mechanically, Luigi’s Mansion 3 takes what Dark Moon introduced to the series and continues to use those mechanics in new and interesting ways. The game presents challenges that make any given room more complex than it appears to be at first glance, and you’re rewarded for exploring the environment and trying out every tool in your arsenal.
These concepts, taken separately, made each Luigi’s Mansion title before 3 enjoyable in its own way. Combined together into a single experience, they create a powerful first impression as you experience the early hours of the game. Now if Luigi’s Mansion 3 was only the sum of its previous parts, it would be a good game but one that felt iterative and eventually became stale. Fortunately, by touching on what already existed we are only touching on one part of the Luigi’s Mansion 3 experience. In my final review of the game, I will discuss the way in which the new mechanisms improve upon the series as well as my thoughts around the overall structure and pacing of the game, the story and characters, and any other relevant details. Look forward to that in the next week or two, and I will do my best to remember to link it here when I’ve completed the review.
For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Luigi’s Mansion 3. How do you feel it compares to the previous games in the series? Do you agree that it brings together the best parts of both, or did you have a different experience with the first and second entries? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!