Luigi steps out from the shadow of his famous brother, only to once again find himself cast into the shadowy halls of haunted dwellings, where legions of spirits wait to spook the hesitant hero. When the Dark Moon floating over Evershade Valley is stolen, the colorful poltergeists infesting the area begin causing mayhem, prompting Professor E. Gadd to summon Luigi’s assistance in getting his paranormal research back on track.
Rather than tackling one large mansion, Luigi will be transported to several locations, dispatched from the Professor’s bunker via a device that pixelates and transports him through security cameras, ala Tron.
The handheld release offers a stage layout for each area, where Luigi will accomplish small tasks toward recovering the pieces of the Dark Moon hidden within each, which feeds a quicker action based style of game versus a spiraling haunted mystery.
Dark Moon seeks to streamline the business of busting ghosts on the go, with short stages than typically run ten minutes – though there were a few times I missed a completely obvious solution to a puzzle and spent up to thirty minutes wandering around in the dark. For the most part puzzles are fairly obvious given the limited possibilities for solving them – though each area offers several rooms, the specific goal for each stage will create a linear path that keeps you from wandering too far off course.
Armed with his vacuum cleaner, the Poltergust 5000, Luigi nervously wanders the haunted halls and rooms of these locations to suck up spirits. And while Luigi still uses his flashlight to stun ghosts, this time around players hold a button to charge the light, which goes off like a flashbang to temporally stun them. Once stunned, the Poltergust will latch on to however many ghosts are stunned, and a wrestling match ensues as they frantically pull Luigi around the room. This is also the moment a ghost’s health points become visible and the Poltergust’s gauge begins filling – so long as players pull in the opposite direction with the 3DS’ analog stick. Once filled, players can zap a ghost’s health down quickly, or get shaken off by the spirits if the gauge isn’t filled in time.
Ghosts won’t go down without a fight, with each color variant possessing a unique defense. Green ghosts will use objects within a room to block Luigi’s light, forcing players to wait for a window of opportunity when they let their guard down. Larger red ghosts will slam the ground, while yellow ones spew hazardous ectoplasm. Purple ghosts will attempt to trap Luigi within their gelatinous bodies while blue ones will throw objects, and another purple variant will simply spook Luigi to interrupt his attacks.
Dark Moon makes a small attempt to shake up this formula at times, but largely depends on deploying these spirits in different groupings throughout each area.
The effect is quite a bit like wrangling tricky fish. Player’s will often find themselves contending with several ghosts at once, approaching from different angles – so you might lock on to one or two only to have another smack you before achieving success. There’s quite a dance that goes on trying to clear a room that is filled with several variants or even multiples of one type.
That action priority creates a game favoring quick bouts of such play versus more unique encounters, and any major break from the formula is largely reserved for boss encounters, where spirits will possess objects and Luigi will have to force them out before using the Poltergust to weaken them.
Dark Moon still finds Luigi nervously poking around darkened rooms, shaking cabinets and opening drawers to search for items, and using the Poltergust to interact with the environment. There’s still a great sense of play from simply interacting with the environment – using the Poltergust to turn cranks or suck up drapes is instantly accessible and delightful.
Discovery is offered more through the darklight though, which players can shine to reveal hidden objects.
Focusing the darklight on hidden objects will draw out spirit orbs that players can suck up to return the item in question to reality – including paintings that might produce items or trapped Toad assistants. Each stage possesses a hidden Boo that players can search out, furnishing an extra objective to the more straightforward task assigned.
The smaller sections of each stage leave less space to wander, or more over, make finding and using objects more direct. Luigi will find cash scattered throughout each area, which builds toward upgrades the game assigns to his equipment, extending the gauges for his Poltergust and blacklight – there’s no shortage of cash crammed in every corner of this game. Replenishing Luigi’s health is also a priority for searching every inch of the environment – hearts tend to vanish quickly during boss battles and ghost filled rooms. Players can gain a second chance at life by finding a golden bone within each stage, which will cause a ghost dog to revive Luigi once during each stage.
Dark Moon is very arcade-like, with Luigi clearing rooms while moving toward critical points of discovery, which in-turn involve clearing rooms. While the early moments of the game offer a few twists on the formula, the game establishes its shtick and then sticks to it like glue. And while that formula works rather well, it also paints the game into a corner, wherein the surest way to curve the difficulty is to simply increase ghost strength and sprinkle more of them within the final rooms of a game that kind of smacks players upside the head with a sudden spike in difficulty toward the end.
It’s certainly one way to go, but wants for more of the clever energy the game opens with.
The one break from the formula that could use some work are moments where the game wants players to target and fire projectiles, either by directly firing at a target or by flinging one object into another. This doesn’t come up often, but when it does, frustration merges with confusion as to why timed targeting was the deviation of choice here.
Nintendo’s increasing love affair with online multiplayer shines rather brightly within Dark Moon, perhaps making the best use of the ghost busting formula established here.
Players are able to enter the ScareScraper with up to four friends, either locally or online, choosing a set amount of floors in which to clear ghosts, track down ghost dogs, or simply search out the exit before time runs outs. All four players are free to explore each floor separately, stumbling into one another throughout rooms where sucking up ghosts becomes a rather addictive party game and everyone constantly uses the dpad to make Luigi say one of four greetings. The nature of the core mechanics really click with the time based multiplayer options, enough that I find myself favoring the multiplayer sessions over the single-player adventure.
The famous “Mario?” button has been replaced within the single-player game, with Luigi now able to say four different pronunciations of “Hello?” to your heart’s content.
Though segmented to deny a larger mansion exploring experience, stages do manage to produce fairly complex scenarios at times. Since Luigi can’t move objects from room to room without the aid of a portal that instantly points you in the obvious direction, the primary mystery often boils down to wondering how many ghosts you’ll fight in an upcoming room before gaining the key to unlock another.
As with the original, Dark Moon is in possession of wonderful mechanics in search of the means to develop further during the exploration, which makes for a terrific initial experience that gets familiar a little too quickly and can’t seem to help walking in circles toward the end. The game finds plenty of strength in Luigi’s awkwardly charming nature, but the segmented nature of its stage design limits an attachment to environments the player is simply passing through with short visits. But on the flip side, those same elements feed one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve found on the 3DS to date.