Time Ex­tend

Why Luigi’s Man­sion 2: Dark Moon’s ghostly doll­house was all about the de­tails

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY ALEX WILTSHIRE

By the time Luigi’s Man­sion

2: Dark Moon came out in 2013, the strange­ness of fo­cus­ing an en­tire game on Mario’s over­looked sib­ling side­kick was long for­got­ten. Yet back in 2001, just be­fore the Gamecube’s launch, Luigi had barely de­vel­oped from his ori­gin as a pix­el­swapped Mario for a se­cond player. Sure, you were prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with his lazy, leg-flail­ing high jumps in Su­per Mario Bros

2. Maybe you had the mis­for­tune to ex­pe­ri­ence him in the ques­tion-and-an­swer mis­ery of Mario Is Miss­ing. But he hadn’t even landed a cameo in Su­per Mario 64, and in Yoshi’s Is­land, he was just a green baby.

Then came Luigi’s Man­sion, and how fit­ting that it was in part a de­con­struc­tion of how his was a life lived in the shadow of his su­per­star brother. Thrust re­luc­tantly into the role of hero, Luigi’s ghost­bust­ing pow­ers are en­tirely granted by the Polter­gust 3000 strapped to his back. He can’t even jump: when you press the A but­ton, he qua­ver­ingly calls for Mario. It forges Luigi a full iden­tity as that dis­tant se­cond fid­dle, a good joke told many times in the years to fol­low, from the Mario &

Luigi RPG se­ries to Su­per Mario Galaxy, and enough to power an unironic year of cel­e­bra­tion in 2013 so heady that it ex­tended into the fol­low­ing year.

As a re­sult, Luigi’s Man­sion 2: Dark Moon con­tains lit­tle of the gen­tle ab­sur­dity that the orig­i­nal had in spades. Luigi has by now be­come a bona fide lead, and is quite de­serv­ing of a ve­hi­cle of his own, even if he plays much the same role, all wide eyes and chat­ter­ing teeth. This time, though, he’s even more un­will­ing to be the hero. If Luigi changed in the years be­tween the re­leases of the orig­i­nal Luigi’s Man­sion and its se­quel, it was to be­come more lack­adaisi­cal. In Dark

Moon’s in­tro­duc­tory cutscene, he’s hap­pily sleep­ing in his chair at home when he’s quite lit­er­ally pulled into a story that doesn’t even con­cern him by a re­turn­ing Pro­fes­sor E Gadd, who’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ghost prob­lems again. Know­ing how well Luigi ex­or­cised them the first time around, he’s mak­ing him do it all over again.

It’s the setup for a broader com­edy than what came be­fore – one which is al­most en­tirely based on tak­ing great plea­sure in tor­tur­ing Luigi. Through­out, he’s faced with scares: ghosts jump­ing out from the scenery, re­volv­ing doors that send him fly­ing, stairs that send him tum­bling. His prat­falls are exquisitely timed, his un­happy at­ti­tude only giv­ing them greater spark. Ev­ery­thing that Mario has faced in ghost houses in­flicts Luigi here, but more so, since Luigi is so un­for­tu­nately grounded, un­able to gamely jump away.

Be­fore one of

the game’s bosses, Luigi hope­lessly stares at the floor, dread­ing what’s to come, and Pro­fes­sor Gadd throws him through his Pix­elshifter, a tele­por­ta­tion de­vice that pack­ages Luigi into bits and sends him dig­i­tally to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions across the five man­sions fea­tured in the game. Ev­ery time he uses it, Luigi gurns with trep­i­da­tion, and so he should: nat­u­rally, it’s a lit­tle glitchy and he usu­ally re­ma­te­ri­alises a few feet above the ground or with his foot stuck in a bucket. Poor Luigi, forced to be the hero and pun­ished for it. And the money he col­lects isn’t even des­tined for his own pock­ets, in­stead used to top up Gadd’s re­search bud­get. For Luigi there’s no re­ward, only strug­gle and threat.

This ad­ven­ture is a lot more uni­form than his first, which took the form of a kind of mini Metroid, al­low­ing him to stay in the man­sion for long por­tions, pro­gres­sively un­lock­ing doors across its floors as he found keys and abil­i­ties. In Dark Moon, the cam­paign is bro­ken into dis­crete mis­sions which set up its five man­sions in spe­cific ways, block­ing doors and pre­par­ing en­coun­ters. It’s a de­sign choice that per­haps fits bet­ter in the pocket, break­ing the story into 20- or 30-minute chunks of play and giv­ing you a rat­ing at the end that you can re­turn to and at­tempt to beat.

Be­yond prac­ti­cal­ity, though, that choice also em­pha­sises Dark Moon’s na­ture as a se­ries of mini tableaus for you to ex­plore. The orig­i­nal, of course, was also con­structed from tableaus set in the dif­fer­ent rooms of a

Res­i­dent Evil- like haunted house, but they were fo­cused on the por­trait ghosts it was the game’s ob­ject to cap­ture. In con­trast,

Dark Moon’s rooms are more in­di­vid­ual, the prod­ucts of a cou­ple of de­vel­op­ments that had risen in games in the 12 years be­tween

Luigi’s Man­sion and its se­quel.

DARK MOON’S QUAL­ITY AS A GAME ABOUT OB­SER­VA­TION IS HEIGHT­ENED BY THE NA­TURE OF ITS HOST PLAT­FORM

One is all-per­va­sive, build­ing on the orig­i­nal’s rudi­men­tary physics and mak­ing each space into a play­room. As a game about vac­u­um­ing, the abil­ity to suck and blow al­ways lay at the cen­tre of Luigi’s in­ter­ac­tion with the world, but Dark Moon fea­tures a lot more to push and pull around. Peel­ing wall­pa­per and posters are hid­den in most rooms, as well as ropes to pull on and other vac­u­um­able el­e­ments that Luigi hoovers up with a pop.

Many of these lit­tle se­crets con­ceal money – a hid­den shelf stacked with notes that flut­ter into his noz­zle, say – and some are the be­gin­ning of causal chains of ac­tions to solve. Blow the wheel to lower the lamp into the fis­sure to dis­turb the golden bats, which will drop gold bars if you flash them with your torch. Other puz­zles al­low you to progress along the crit­i­cal path: weight­ing puz­zles that re­quire you to pick up and de­posit ob­jects to progress, puz­zles that in­volve fir­ing ob­jects into po­si­tion. There are sim­ple el­e­men­tal puz­zles, light­ing fires so you can ig­nite logs to melt ice, or you might find bal­loons you can in­flate to make Luigi float. In the tra­di­tion of so many lat­ter-day Nin­tendo games, few ideas are used more than a few times.

Ev­ery room is dif­fer­ent, the puz­zles re­tain­ing a light touch be­cause the world so read­ily re­sponds to Luigi’s ac­tions, filled with car­toon-pro­por­tioned ob­jects that wob­ble and trem­ble and bil­low dust as he vac­u­ums. It’s a plea­sure to ex­per­i­ment, test­ing ev­ery piece of fur­ni­ture and ev­ery hang­ing ob­ject to see if it’ll do some­thing, cran­ing the view up and down to see if there’s any­thing hid­den there. It might have been made by Van­cou­ver-based Next Level Games, but this is a Nin­tendo game through and through, a re­ac­tive play­ground that’s burst­ing to re­ward you for pok­ing around in its cor­ners.

The puz­zles also man­age to avoid feel­ing ar­bi­trary be­cause they’re so themed to the rooms, from the din­ing room and garage of the first man­sion to the draft­ing of­fice and ware­house of a clock factory later on. The de­tail­ing of these spa­ces is the first plea­sure, with many fea­tures spe­cific to each space, but notic­ing them is im­por­tant be­cause of the Dark-Light De­vice, a torch which can re-ma­te­ri­alise ob­jects that Boos have hid­den. It pays to make out the dusty shadow left by a miss­ing dresser, or the ap­par­ently out-of-reach chest that proves you can get over a miss­ing gantry.

Dark Moon’s qual­ity as a game about ob­ser­va­tion is con­sid­er­ably height­ened by the na­ture of its host plat­form. With the 3DS now at the end of its life, it’s clear that its take on stereo­scopic 3D was ul­ti­mately ephemeral, de­spite be­ing built into its hard­ware. It’s a point that even Nin­tendo con­ceded when it launched the 2DS, which lacks the auto-stereo­scopic screen. But that

isn’t to dent what 3D can do in the right hands. OK, it didn’t cre­ate new forms of play, and it wasn’t about thrust­ing ‘wow’ mo­ments into play­ers’ eyes as things jumped out of the screen. The best stereo­scopic games in­stead present worlds to look in on, with scenes with depth that you feel you can reach into and touch. Fire

Em­blem be­comes a game of table­top minia­tures; the Hyrule of A Link Be­tween

Worlds be­comes a land of solid ob­jects, rather than flat planes.

In that way,

Dark Moon’s man­sions are lit­tle doll­houses, with each room a hand­held scene to ab­sorb and en­joy for its in­tri­cate con­struc­tion. As Luigi steps into deeper rooms the cam­era snaps for­ward to them, help­ing the man­sions’ over­all struc­tures make spa­tial sense as build­ings, even if each room is re­ally its own self­con­tained vi­gnette. And just to re­ally un­der­line it, Dark Moon also fea­tures the abil­ity to peek through win­dows and cracks into ad­join­ing rooms to watch the ghosts per­form lit­tle an­i­mated skits, and there’s even a se­ries of 3D ‘pho­to­graphs’ to look at and zoom into, find­ing clues re­lat­ing to the story.

As with so much about Dark Moon, the orig­i­nal got to stereo­scopic 3D first, mak­ing the doll­house an in­deli­ble part of Luigi’s

Man­sion’s whole premise. But since 3D TVs were so rare in 2001, the fea­ture wasn’t re­leased with the game. There’s a gen­eral nag­ging sense in Dark Moon that its best fea­tures were, in fact, all there in the orig­i­nal. And the most im­por­tant of them re­ally are: the feel of tug­ging the ghosts into Luigi’s Polter­gust; the way the lights come on in the room when you’ve de­feated them all; the steady sense of mas­tery of the man­sions as you clean them out.

But Dark Moon does so much to build on, com­ple­ment and sup­port these orig­i­nal fea­tures. It helps that in all the time be­tween orig­i­nal and se­quel, there had still been noth­ing else quite like it. Just as Luigi ma­tured in that time, so Dark Moon was able to iso­late just what made his first game so dis­tinc­tive. It’s a de­light to re­dis­cover that the an­swer is so sim­ple: the plea­sure of peer­ing into, and play­ing with, a world of lit­tle spa­ces.

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3DS’ stereo­scopic ef­fect helps de­tails stand out, from flap­ping wall­pa­per to show­ers of notes, flur­ries of snow and clouds of dust

The man­sions open out as you find keys to un­lock doors, but they’re not the only hin­drances

Ghosts of­ten hide in scenery. In­ter­act with it to flush them out, then shock them by tap­ping A to flash your torch and then suck them down

Look out for things that move with gusts of wind; they may re­lease wads of money or open se­cret lev­els

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