Nintendo’s most cowardly hero prepares to celebrate Halloween with the best graphics on the Switch.
It’s Halloween this week but, alas, the days of dedicated horror games being released to coincide with it are long gone. There’s plenty of live service games that will have Halloween promotions, but they’re not intended to scare, only fleece you of your money via microtransactions. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the exact opposite to that, a wonderful single-player and co-op adventure that’s entirely self-contained and effortlessly charming from beginning to end.
Obviously, Luigi’s Mansion 3 isn’t really scary – it only has a seven age rating, after all – but there’s a few funny jump scares and if you’re arachnophobic some really nasty looking spiders. But in general the tone is that of a horror-themed kids’ cartoon, with Luigi in a constant state of mild terror as he tries to save his friends from King Boo and his army of ghosts.
Not only is the tone similar to an animated movie but the game features what is arguably the best graphics on the Nintendo Switch. They’re not just technically impressive, with great use of lightning and destructible scenery, but they’re wonderfully animated too, imbuing Luigi and the ghosts with such a sense of character that it overcomes any small disappointments in how the gameplay is pitched.
Luigi’s Mansion is a peculiar franchise. It started off as a launch title for the GameCube in 2001 (recently remastered for the 3DS) and was a very simple game that worked like a sort of family friendly take on survival horror, as you sucked up ghosts with a high-tech Hoover and solved simple environmental puzzles. In truth, it was little more than an extended tech demo and might have been forgotten if not for its 2013 sequel on 3DS. Luigi’s Mansion 2 was a far superior effort, by American developer Next Level Games, and deepened the experience with more complex puzzles and much more variety in general.
This sequel is also by Next Level but since some people do (bafflingly) prefer the original it works as something of a compromise between the two. Although one change we’re immediately happy with is that instead of taking part in five different mansions the game takes place in a single high-rise hotel. This starts off relatively sane, in terms of floors dedicated to ordinary rooms or shops, to incorporating a dinosaur exhibit and a pirate cavern. Some floors are just elongated boss battles, while others are more puzzle-orientated, which helps to avoid repetition.
The process for catching ghosts remains largely the same as always, as you surprise them with a flash of Luigi’s torch and then suck them up and try and pull in the opposite direction to which they’re moving. This can take multiple attempts with stronger ghosts, but you can also now slam them onto the floor, from one side to another, in imitation of how the Hulk dealt with Loki at the end of the first Avengers.
There’s a wide range of additional abilities on top of that, including a new area of effect move that also doubles as a small jump; a plunger for sticking to flat surfaces, that you can then pull by sucking the rope at the end; and a ‘darklight’ torch for discovering otherwise invisible objects. There’s also the fact that your vacuum cleaner can blow as well as suck, although surprisingly the water and fire effects from the previous games don’t return.
The most important new feature is Gooigi, a doppelgänger made of green goo. Although he dissolves in water, and can only survive a couple of hits, he can fit through grates and iron bars like the T-1000 from Terminator 2. He’s not only used for some of the game’s cleverer puzzles, where you alternate control between him and Luigi, but another player can take control at any time in co-op – using either a simplified Joy-Con control system, a Pro Controller, or two Joy-Cons together.
Thanks to the peculiarities of the GameCube and 3DS, Luigi’s Mansion has always had slightly odd controls, even though what you’re doing is fairly straightforward. Here, the left analogue stick moves you around while the right one turns you around and aims up and down. As simple as that sounds it seems needlessly fiddly at first and takes a while to get used to. You can also aim up and down with motion controls, which works well, but weirdly only vertically, which makes aiming the plunger irritatingly difficult.
These issues aren’t serious, but they do harm the game’s accessibility to new players, although luckily the amazing visuals are likely to convince them it’s worth persevering with. Well-furnished rooms can be reduced to a mere shell by the end of a particularly intense battle, as you smash ghosts into tabletops and food, clothing, and anything else that isn’t tied down goes flying.
Breaking things is, of course, immensely entertaining, but every room always has at least one major secret, whether it’s fake walls or something more complex involving turning valves or bath taps with your vacuum cleaner. The bigger puzzles though, that are needed for story progression, are rarely as complex as in the second game and we couldn’t help but be disappointed by that.
There are some good ones, with one of the floors containing multiple film studios that gets very clever, but we were disappointed it never raises to that same level again. Most of the time the puzzles are more on the level of a Lego movie game, where as long as you keep your eyes open, and keep thinking about the full range of abilities at your disposal, there’s nothing that will give you pause for more than a few minutes.
Often it seems as if all the amazing environmental detail and destructibility is going to waste, as none of it ever really has anything to do with the puzzles or combat; even though the level of detail goes all the way down to tiny ice cubes and pots of paint whose contents you can splat against the wall – but which only come up once in the whole game.
There’s a sense that Luigi’s Mansion 3 is pulling its punches, both in terms of its complexity and the general difficulty level, with more than one of the boss battles undercutting themselves simply by being too easy. We don’t think that’s a mistake but instead Next Level trying to make it more like the first game, but for us at least that seems a backwards step. At the very least you should immediately turn off the hints that will otherwise spell everything out in game-spoiling detail.
The main story lasts around 15 hours but there’s plenty of post-game content after that, as every floor has a set of gems to collect and hidden boos and other rare ghosts. There’s also an online multiplayer mode for up to eight players and a fun four-player mode that can be played online and off. So not only is the game not necessarily single-player-only but there’s plenty of value for money on offer.
If we seem a little down on certain aspects, it’s only because we had hoped this would be the definitive entry in the series and the game to elevate it to a status alongside Nintendo’s other top tier franchises. It’s not quite that good but it is still an absolute joy to play through. And even if it doesn’t offer any seasonal scares the big cheesy grin you’ll be wearing the entire time is a more than welcome alternative.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: 31st October 2019
Age Rating: 7
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