This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon.
I think mature video games and me are having a bit of a time out. It's not them, it's me; the sound of gunfire was starting to feel like the text message ringtone of my life and the message was always "Ow, I'm dead" or some variation of such.
I started playing Defiance, but I found it's unvarying shooter action, erection-whitheringly dull to play for more than an hour or so. If there's one thing that reliably gets on my tits, it's clumsy made-up swear words. Hey, lady with the Chippendale writing desk for a forehead, you seem fine with using English words all the rest of the time, what have you got against saying "shit"? It's a nice convenient syllable ideal for spontaneous expression of dissatisfaction and particularly handy for describing MMO shooters based on Syfy original series no-one watches! What the fuck is "shtako" supposed to mean? It's a fucking six-lane pile-up of the vocal cords.
And I don't think I can face this Injustice thing right now either, 'cos I haven't yet drunk enough lighter fluid to have entirely forgotten about Mortal Kombat vs. D.C. Universe. I felt like playing a game where the main character is less physically fit than me for once.
Well, turns out Nintendo was happy to oblige with Luigi's Mansion 2: Dark Moon on the 3DS. The original was a GameCube launch title somewhat maligned, but it seems no Nintendo property can escape being sequelised forever. I think I see how the Nintendo flowchart works. Question 1: Are you an entirely original property? If yes, sod off! Question 2: Has your franchise gone unacknowledged for a long time, or are you Pokémon? If yes, welcome aboard the uncomfortably sharp edges of the good ship 3DS! Hope your audience likes having sore palms (masturbation joke in there somwhere)!
Thanks for reminding me of the GameCube though, this is what gets me of Nintendo hardware of late. The GameCube had a lovely controller actually designed to be held by human hands controversially. But since then, all their controllers and handhelds have been harsh rectangles and prolonged use of the 3DS always leaves my hands looking like I've tried to wear a pair of sandwich toasters as mittens. Not that I want two videos in a row to start with me widdling all over Nintendo hardware. I mean at least they still make games machines rather than dedicated social media interfaces that run on money!
But yes, the game. Let's not waste too much time establishing things. Luigi gets called in to suck up a bunch of ghosts because he sucked up a bunch of ghosts before and they couldn't be bothered to retailor the vacuum cleaner harness.
Of the two, Luigi is the Mario Brother I would much rather have unblock my S-bend. As the principal face of the company, Mario has long been in character lockdown, incapable of showing any expression or action that might alienate a potential customer. They're afraid to show that Mario doesn't like peas in case they lose the entire pea-loving demographic.
But being less important, Luigi is the Mario Brother permitted to have an actual personality, albeit a varying one. In Mario Galaxy, he's earnest but accident-prone. In Super Paper Mario, he's the most amazing human being who ever lived. And of course in Luigi's Mansion, he was a coward whose every individual body part jiggled like a tit on a walrus. In Dark Moon, he's more a put-upon everyman and what I like is that he constantly conveys personality in a thousand sublte ways, from the way he adjusts his backpack for comfort to his nervous humming along to the background music. You see, there's far more to Luigi than some well-maintained facial hair, lovely as it would be to imagine gently brushing my skin under romantic firelight.
In contrast to other games in which Luigi is basically just Mario suffering some kind of identity crisis, this Luigi cannot jump and can barely run. He's got a vacuum cleaner and a flashlight and so for once must employ those technical skills that must have served the family plumbing business well, before whatever catastrophic toilet accident stranded the two brothers in this bizarre mushroom-obsessed dimension. Essentially, this is a game of running down the list of options until you provoke a reaction like an uncalled electrician looking for the busted fuse:
- Step 1: Push it
- Step 2: Shine a light on it
- Step 3: Shine the other light on it
- Step 4: Give it a suck
- If it responds, continue sucking
- Dig in your heels and suck it until your moustache stands on end, you beautiful man
It makes for a reactive explorable world with a solid core mechanic that ramps up naturally as the ghosts keep on growing in number and strength. When you latch on to a ghost's backside, you must be alert to when to suck with all your might and when to ease off to allow yourself to dodge other ghosts who might be trying to double-team you unexpectantly in the rear. Gosh, it's getting awfully hot in here!
In accordance with the Nintendo policy that's served them very well so far, the plot is basically a retread of the first one, but the gameplay has evolved in good directions. A more appropriate title might have been Luigi's MansionS (to follow the Alien sequel naming convention) since there are several, each with a handful of missions.
If I have a problem with this, it's my own obsessive instinct to meticulously search every room of the house in every mission in case those curtains in room 3A will disgorge money again or in case the optional ghosts are hanging about there. Incidentally, it was disappointing to discover that finding all the optional ghosts in the mansion only unlocks a secret time trial level. I thought it was going to be some 'this is how you get the true ending scenario', but oh boy another chance to look around the same place I went to five times, nudging every fucking potplant. All my Christmases have come at once.
Even the constant streams of money that the game throws at you for poking the skirting boards lack a purpose once you've gotten the paltry five upgrades. I could think of a lot of things I would have spent the money on. For example, in situations where I am tasked to escort little frightened Toadstool people who run around squawking like geese at a peepshow, getting in front of my suck-pump while I'm trying to inhale cum- I mean ghosts, and getting their heads caught in the pipe, I wish I could have bought then some fucking Ritalin! But then I'm not Luigi who interacts with the Toads with touching, almost fatherly concern, a far cry from Old Mister "Let's condem Yoshi to a bottomless pit for the sake of a double jump" Mario!
So yes, after all that, I quite liked Luigi's Mansion 2. See, Nintendo? If you'd stopped cocking about with your hardware gimmicks and concentrated on making games with character and polished core mechanics, then I wouldn't have to keep hitting you!
I even had fun with the co-op random dungeon mode which has the best kind of co-op gameplay, in that you can play it entirely by yourself. Okay, I did play a quick online game, but I found the gameplay turned quite antagonistic quite fast with four multicoloured Luigis all fighting over who gets to suck one ghost, which was disturbing 'cos I thought I was having that recurring dream again!
Brother from another mother: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Yeah give Luigi shit for being scared but I bet you've never had to wring ectoplasm out of your facial hair
And now to go inhale some spirits of a different kind