Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon review: Ghouls' Gold

Ghost busting is a lucrative job. I don't know how much money Luigi makes as a plumber, but it can't be as much as he gets for vacuuming up ghosts. The spectres of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon are positively stuffed with coins, cash and gold bars. (And so is the furniture – the mansion's owners won't notice if you pilfer an ingot or two, right?) Granted, it's terrifying work, but it's got to be better than playing second fiddle to the world-renowned Mario every day of your life.

As with most jobs, however, the problem isn't really the money. It's the grind. How many houses can you de-spook before supernatural elimination loses its luster? The answer, I've discovered, is right around five.%Gallery-177411%

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon once again casts Luigi as the unwilling assistant of professor Elvin Gadd, a bizarre little old man who speaks in pseudo-Japanese gibberish and looks like a distant relative of Captain Olimar. It seems the usually friendly ghosts of Evershade Valley are wreaking havoc, and the cowardly Luigi is the only one who can save the day. Professor E. Gadd (get it?) charges Luigi with restoring the Dark Moon – a sky-bound gem that pacifies the local undead – which was recently shattered into pieces by an unknown villain.

Why Luigi? Because it's fun to watch him get scared, of course. And Luigi is scared of everything. Ghost pops up? Panicked. Lightning crashes? Startled. Door slams? Terrified. Light breeze rolls in? Quaking in his adorable boots. Dark Moon drips with charm, from Luigi's constantly visible fear to the delightfully "spooky" music, which skews much closer to Alfred Hitchcock than Akira Yamaoka. And yes, just like in the GameCube original, Luigi hums along to it, and no, it never gets old.

In order to reclaim the Dark Moon pieces, Luigi ventures into several haunted locations, ridding them of pesky ghosts with his trusty spectral vacuum, the Poltergust 5000. Snaring a ghost with the vacuum is a bit like fishing. First, they have to be stunned with the flashlight, after which you can "hook" them with the vacuum. Then it's just a matter of pulling in the opposite direction, occasionally tapping A for a power boost, until the ghost is sucked up and trapped. The chief attraction of this process, for me at least, is that it both looks and feels like Ghostbusters, with each phantom desperately trying to escape the vacuum's "stream" until they're inevitably sucked into an electric vortex. It's tough to deny the appeal.

Outside of hunting ghosts, Dark Moon is basically an adventure game, tasking Luigi with solving various puzzles to open new pathways or locate essential items. Like any good vacuum, the Poltergust can be equipped with different attachments, and these aid in exploration. A flash bulb activates special sensors, while the "Dark-Light Device" reveals invisible objects. The vacuum itself is used in interesting ways too. Luigi can suck up rugs to uncover hidden switches or spin the rotors of a propeller to turn a crank, for example. The Poltergust can even be used to grapple onto certain objects, allowing Luigi to pull chains or dangle from ropes (or tug on the trunk of a stuffed mammoth).

Dark Moon's locations, from gloomy mansions to deserted mines, are essentially interactive haunted houses, and they serve as one of the game's strongest assets. Each is filled with traditional, kid-friendly horror tropes: animated suits of armor, exaggerated asymmetrical angles, massive cobwebs, convenient peals of thunder. They're also rife with secrets, including plenty of hidden rooms and strange devices (even the the tried-and-true bookcase secret passage), and these are always fun to discover.

Unfortunately, as entertaining as it is to wrangle ghosts and explore Dark Moon's creepy environments, the game's mission structure begins to drag after a while. Each location offers a contiguous open world, but Luigi's goals are all broken into separate missions, each one generally letting him delve further into the level. Between missions, Luigi returns to E. Gadd's secure bunker to move the story along before choosing his next mission and venturing back in.

The mission structure makes sense for a portable game, splitting it into discrete chunks that can each be played in 30 minutes or so, but it also leads to repetition. You retread the same corridors and rooms over and over again, searching for various MacGuffins – keys, machine parts, etc. Even the story often repeats itself, confronting Luigi with the same kinds of obstacles in multiple missions. You'll frequently find yourself looking for keys (or key items) to open massive, foreboding doors. If you already have a key, something is going to steal it and you'll have to get it back. It gets old.

Capturing ghosts becomes stale as well. Even though there are several different kinds of ghosts, each with slightly different attack patterns, the process for catching them never really changes – stun, snare, repeat. Later ghosts have more health, but upgrades to the Poltergust come quickly if you're diligent about gathering money, and even stronger ghosts are relatively easy to snag.

Boss battles tend to shake things up, at least. These are basically puzzles unto themselves, forcing Luigi to exploit the environment in some way – using nearby torches to burn down the webs of a giant spider, for example.

Boss fights aside, it's hard to avoid the feeling of tedium as Dark Moon wears on. The game seems to recognize as much, offering fewer and shorter missions in the second half.

Recent reviews

Sadly, multiplayer only reinforces the feeling. The three modes randomly repurpose Dark Moon's environments and challenge up to four players to rid a mansion of all its ghosts, race to find an exit or track down mischievous spectral dogs. Unfortunately, the random environments rob multiplayer of the well-crafted charm seen in the campaign.

Each mode is cooperative, but there's really no incentive for players to work together. In fact, the multiplayer time limit often makes splitting up the most effective strategy, as it allows the team to cover more ground quickly. With cooperation deemphasized, it boils down to the same ghost-catching you've already been doing, except there might be another player doing it with you. The inability to communicate online – apart from a few pre-programmed voice clips – makes local play the more appealing option. Either way, it's not likely to keep you coming back for more.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a bit like Luigi himself: charming, goofy and utterly affable. The core mechanic of catching ghosts is solid and exciting, and the environments are absolutely worth seeing and exploring. It's got heart, but after trudging through all five of its locales, you may wind up feeling a little like a bedraggled, battle-worn ghostbuster yourself.

This review is based on an eShop download of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for 3DS provided by Nintendo.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.