What is it about that Nintendo keeps coming back to it? The game maker has no shortage of weird series in its history (especially Japan-only fare like ), but is that odd confluence of a popular mascot—an underdog, but still—getting center stage in a slow, puzzle-filled adventure series.
The results have always been solid—and even gorgeous—but never the stuff of a blockbuster. That may still be true with this year’s sequel, . Like previous entries, it revolves around a slow-and-scared Luigi picking through a haunted mansion. And once again, its slow, thoughtful, and silly gameplay, which revolves around Nintendo’s wimpiest character ever, doesn’t immediately shout “mainstream cultural phenomenon.”
In a gaming world with more justice, this be Nintendo’s late-2019 blockbuster, a copy-for-every-kiddo delight that you can’t help but tuck into every Christmas stocking (or, this week, every trick-or-treat bag). is by no means a perfect game, and it stumbles over its own clumsy, Luigi feet often enough to merit some nitpicking. But it’s arguably the most “Nintendo” game I’ve seen from the company in years: one that oozes a sense of playfulness in every direction, from how you interact with its spooky environs to how those aesthetics rival the world’s best kid-friendly CGI films. Close your eyes and imagine a handsomely drawn Nintendo game manual from the ’80s or ’90s coming to life in your imagination, all animated and living and breathing.
At its best, that’s .
Does Luigi need rent control?
As proof of how monumentally stupid the Mario Brothers are, the duo packs up a bus, invites Princess Peach and her entourage of Toads, and drives to stay for free at some mansion they’ve otherwise never stepped into, with a host they’ve never heard of, simply because they were invited. (Can’t they already crash at the Mushroom Kingdom? Wait, where do Mario and Luigi live, exactly? And how does Peach feel about that?) The game’s opening menu plays into this fakeout by showing a gilded, shining mansion in the distance, but things almost immediately turn spooky.
The master ghost in charge of this hotel, Helen Gravely, has conveniently also invited Luigi’s previous ghostbusting ally, a squat old researcher named Professor E. Gadd, as part of her diabolical plan. Gadd and Luigi are the only two hotel visitors who didn’t get captured by ghosts, so the game goes from there. Luigi must use the existing E. Gadd ghostbusting arsenal, amped up with a few new gizmos, to save his friends while capturing a range of ghosts big and small. This requires picking through everything from massive lobbies to modest bedrooms, and from themed halls taken out of amusement parks to tucked-away sewers to find secret paths and puzzle solutions.
Like in the original , players start out with a backpack-mounted vacuum cleaner and a flashlight. The flashlight has a “burst” button that can stun ghosts or activate objects in the otherwise moodily lit mansion, and the vacuum cleaner can either suck or blow many of the objects scattered around. See a shelf covered in detritus? Vacuum all of it up for possible bonuses. Notice that a ceremonial sword is wobbling in a wall display? Inhale it with your vacuum, then blast the blade at whatever looks like a “target” in that room to reveal a secret door. See something in a parlor or bedroom that rotates, like a fan or a spinning magazine rack? Aim Luigi’s reticule and make that spinner spin.
The main returning mechanic is that you defeat wimpy ghosts by flash-stunning them, then sucking them into your vacuum cleaner. A basic system always applies: wear down ghosts by sucking them in, then whip them around the room like you’re slamming down a sack of potatoes. Repeat for multiple ghosts (or do that two or three times for a stronger foe). It’s a delightful system to return to, mostly because of how interactive and malleable every room is in this mansion. Imagine if the default kill-a-Goomba move in Super Mario games usually resulted in the shattering of tables and explosion of cleaning supplies on nearby shelves. It adds a cartoony tension to every new room you enter in the mansion. What’s going to cartoonishly explode in a mess of tiny objects and wacky physics? Where’s a good nook or cranny for the game to hide some bonuses to inhale with your back-mounted Poltergust 5,000?
Plunge into new control options
A major part of the new game’s joy is its expansion of the control suite. Simply put: the series has enough Luigi actions to make this adventure feel mechanically robust.
Returning maneuvers from other games include a “hop” move, which sees Luigi blast his vacuum cleaner in a way that both jolts him into the air and breaks certain environmental objects, and a “spectral analysis” flashlight, which Luigi can shine to reveal hidden objects. The latter is at its best when the game puts mirrors in a given hotel room; this looks lovely, by the way, since the game truly double-renders its scenery when a mirror is in a scene, then applies solid lighting and perspective tricks. You’ll always want to peek at mirrors, because they’ll often reveal a hidden path on the other side of the room, or in the case of the spectral analysis power, they’ll show objects on the floor or wall that you don’t see in non-mirror mode. You’ll want to shine your purple-prism light at that spot to make it appear on your side of the mirror.
The game’s wholly new maneuvers are even more delightful. The first lets Luigi launch a plunger from his vacuum cleaner, which can stick to certain objects (but not all of them). You have unlimited plungers to launch, but when you shoot a new one, the last one stuck in the world vanishes. (It’s a “ghost” plunger, or something like that.) Each plunger has a convenient rope attached to its wooden handle, which the Poltergust can easily grab onto. There’s only so much a vacuum cleaner can do to believably pick up or manipulate heavy objects, so this maneuver opens up the possibilities of what Luigi can conceivably grab, open, shut, and slam—and how much further his reach is from objects in a given puzzle-filled room.
And the second addition is freaking Gooigi. Say it with me: “Goo-ee-jee.” That rhymes with Luigi, looks like Luigi, but it’s made of ectoplasm. Once you discover Gooigi, you can swap back and forth between it and its human alternative with the click of a button. Or, you can hand it to a second player and turn the game into a co-op adventure of sorts.
More verbs mean more fun
Gooigi can get places that the meatsack version of Luigi cannot: through any sort of metal grate and material, in particular. (There must be some sort of grid or lattice for the goo to pass through; Gooigi isn’t quite at the T-1000 level of seeping through the tiniest cracks.) Gooigi can also withstand the kinds of metal implements that might otherwise harm his human companion, particularly spike traps. But Gooigi has its own crucial weakness: it melts at the slightest touch of water. It also has pretty low health compared to its human form, but bringing a harmed Gooigi back online doesn’t take long.
This busy-yet-pleasant juggle of abilities is what the Luigi’s Mansion series has been missing for years. Think of a classic adventure game from the Lucasarts ’80s and ’90s fold (like, ya know, ), and then think of the list of verbs beneath the game image, always available so that players can juggle a decent spread of puzzle possibilities at every step. By going in a similar direction, each new room feels less rote, less predictable.
As the mansion’s later levels open up, Nintendo’s designers do a pretty remarkable job of playing with momentum by way of a sort of accordion-squeeze of level density. Meaning: it’s easy to get caught up in vacuuming every corner and toying with physics possibilities, since the designers have ensured that nearly every visible object can be affected. Thus, some later levels will have larger, longer, and more ornate chambers that connect the smaller puzzle rooms. These have been built with a lack of manipulable objects—and thus, an understanding that you don’t to be OCD about their every corner. Take in the gorgeous rendering of stones, metals, fabrics, and other materials. Marvel at the lighting and particle effects, which Luigi’s always-shining flashlight makes apparent. Breathe for a second, instead of vacuuming.