Deep inside his laboratory in Evershade Valley, Professor E. Gadd is conducting paranormal research. His assistants are none other than the friendly ghosts of the valley (depicted by the presence of pupils in their eyes). One day, a big round shadow approaches a purple crescent crystal hanging high in the sky—the titular Dark Moon—and shatters it, turning all the ghosts “hostile”. So, in times like this, who you gonna call?
A fainthearted plumber who doesn’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity of ghosts, of course. Or rather, kidnap him using a teleporter that is implied to be poorly tested. Thus begins Luigi’s newest misadventure of comical misery, no thanks to one ditzy professor who doesn’t have much to offer in the way of motivation or pep talk.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is an adventure game that revolves around three tools/mechanics, all of which are tied to Professor Gadd’s “Poltergust” ghost vacuum that makes a return from the previous game. First and foremost is, of course, the vacuum that is controlled with the shoulder buttons. R for sucking in and L for blowing out. Its primary function is to suck in and detain ghosts, but also serves more purposes beyond that; it can tug on flexible objects (curtains, carpets, ropes), grab and hold moderately bulky objects (water buckets, rocks) and even launch some small objects that can be held, basically serving as a big “hand” for Luigi.
The other functions are the flashlight attachments. There’s the regular flashlight that is always on but doesn’t do anything beyond lighting up a short pace ahead of Luigi—unlike the first game’s flashlight, which could render ghosts vulnerable to the vacuum and can be toggled on and off. In Dark Moon, that function goes to the Strobulb, which can be used with the A button. Additionally, holding down A charges up the flash to about twice as big an affective arc and a bit more distance. It’s also used to activate small green light-sensitive panels created by Professor Gadd, as well as defeating small critters like spiders, bats and mice.
Lastly, there’s the Dark Light that can reveal invisible objects, used by holding down Y. When the light passes on an invisible object, there’s a small reaction in the form of “ghostly bubbles”. Cast the light on the object for a few seconds and the object will release the “Spirit Balls” that are keeping it hidden. If all Spirit Balls can be vacuumed up quickly, the object becomes fully visible and interactive again—and usually with some form of reward inside. Another major use is to cast it on golden paintings to take out the items inside. As one would expect, Dark Light can also reveal ghosts that are lurking around if you cast on them, but can’t expose them to the vacuum. Also, its usage is technically limited by a small gauge that depletes as the light is used (and overheats it for a second when it’s emptied), but it refills immediately when not in use, so it’s still practically limitless.
These three functions are all that is available to Luigi throughout the game. That admittedly makes the game seem a little too simple at first, but as I went on, it becomes apparent that Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is less about the number of tools available to the player and more about how many ways the player is made to use them in tandem to solve environment puzzles. In fact, the game is rather crafty at this and is really more about manipulating the environment than busting ghosts.
Unlike its predecessor, which was set in a single mansion, Dark Moon changes things up a bit by splitting the overall progress into various locations across Evershade Valley, and then splitting each mansion into different stages. Each stage involves completing one or more objectives given by Prof. Gadd, who chimes in through the “Dual Scream” device—three guesses what it looks like—whenever there’s a development in the story. Beyond that, the game doesn’t do much handholding with regard to how to get to each location or solve an obstacle. That part is left entirely to the player—try to tug on everything with the vacuum, flash various green light-receptors, scan every nook and cranny with Dark Light, or even scour every piece of furniture that can be examined.
At the end of each area, Luigi has to battle the “Possessor Ghost” holding a Dark Moon piece inside—and these bosses are honestly one of my favorite parts about the game. I won’t spoil how each of them work here, but I will at least say that there’s an overall good variety between how each of them are defeated. Each of them possess or control something with which they attack Luigi, and Luigi will have to knock them out of those objects, avoid their tackles, and then vacuum up a layer of their “skin”. Then, repeat the process two more times. In other words, they’re all classic 3-hit bosses.
There are several secrets hidden throughout each area to discover as you go along, too, and you do get various rewards for doing so. The most common type of reward is coins, bills (worth 5 coins) and gold bars (worth 20 coins). As you accumulate coins, upgrades for Poltergust will be unlocked, such as a longer Dark Light gauge. Although coins stop mattering after a certain limit when the final upgrade is unlocked, I still at least appreciated the response whenever I managed to find a secret stash.
There are three other unique secrets to discover as well. First is that each area holds a set of 13 gems in designated shapes and color. These can be anywhere—in furniture, in paintings or even some objects that may look like backdrops. The other is that in each stage of an area hides a Boo in specific invisible objects. Capturing all Boos in one area unlocks an extra stage which is sort of a time-attack mode with all of the area’s obstacles (like locked doors, etc.) removed. It does keep track of how long you take to capture all the ghosts, but technically doesn’t have a time limit. (I’m afraid I can’t say much about the gems as they’re much trickier to find and I have yet to find all in one area). Lastly, there are secret portals that transport Luigi to a small area with a timed puzzle challenge waiting, like collecting 8 red coins or looking for all invisible objects; these challenges usually award gold, but I’ve also gotten a gem or two from them.
Aside from its Dark Moon Quest, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon features a multi-player mode called “ScareScraper”. ScareScraper is where up to four players (in Luigi avatars of different colors) must clear floor after floor of a tower filled with ghosts. All three tools available in Dark Moon Quest are available here, although without any upgrades brought over. You can even start alone if you want to, but it’s naturally more efficient with more players. Each session begins by choosing the ruleset, difficulty and number of floors. If a floor is cleared within the given time limit, a bonus round called “Red Coin Scramble” occurs. Four red coins appear in random rooms, with 20 seconds given to get them all. If all four coins are successfully collected, a bonus roulette occurs, with 25% chance for each coin for players who managed to collect them. (For example, if two players managed to get two coins each, they both have a 50% chance of winning the roulette.) The roulette mostly yields temporary upgrades that last for the next floor.
There are three rulesets to choose from in ScareScraper: Hunter, Rush and Polterpup. Hunter is where you have to capture all the ghosts on the current floor; this is the closest mode of play to Dark Moon Quest. Rush is where you have to look for the gate to the next floor within a 30-second initial time limit; time extensions can be added with “timepieces” that drop from ghosts and furniture. This mode in particular benefits from having more players, as one can search for the gate while others extend the time. Polterpup is where you look for a given number of ghostly puppies on the floor by tracking their pawprints with Dark Light; it’s similar to Hunter, but not as hectic and relatively manageable even without a full party. Multiplayer is both local and online over the Internet.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon has more than enough exploration and brainteasers to go around. Keep in mind, though, that the single-player mode isn’t very long, even counting an hour or two where I was stuck or lost. Once you’re done with it, longevity will come from the game’s multiplayer mode.
Food for thought:
1. Due to the way each area is split into stages, going through the same locations again and again did get a little bit repetitive.
2. One thing I found confusing about secret challenge portals is that they’re active only in certain stages, even if you can access the location at an earlier point.
3. You can set up ScareScraper multiplayer through local wireless, online connections, and even Download Play (which only requires a single copy of the game).
4. Check the ceilings often. There are more than enough occasions where I missed a secret because I didn’t remember to look up.