Poor old Luigi. He never seems to have that much luck. Having been relegated to also-ran in most of Nintendo's biggest games, he must have jumped at the chance to star in his own game, but even winning a mansion in a competition he never entered was far from a lucky break, as was the case in the original Luigi's Mansion. Instead of making a lovely holiday home, it turned out the house was actually infested with ghosts - and unfortunately for Luigi, ghosts are one of the roughly 5,439 things he's scared of.
But Luigi made a key mistake. As every shirker knows, if you don't like doing something, don't do a good job of doing it when you're asked. Having cleared the ghosts out of the mansion single handedly (with the help of his trusty vacuum cleaner), who else should paranormal researcher Professor E. Gadd turn to when the ghosts he researches start to run amok? Usually kept under control by the power of a mysterious crystal, known as the Dark Moon, the game opens with the crystal getting shattered, scattering pieces across the Evershade Valley. With the ghosts now back to being their mischievous selves, the Professor calls in the help of everyone's favourite plumber, who has to hunt down the pieces, capture the ghosts, and restore order to the Evershade Valley.
Unlike the original, Luigi's Mansion 2 has been divided into missions, each of which set you a rather specific objective in the mansion. In some, you may have to suck up 40 cobwebs with your vacuum cleaner, while in others, you're tasked with hunting down something of great importance - whether it's the sight of some highly paranormal signals, a clock handle, or even better, a dark moon piece. Handily teleported inside thanks to E. Gadd's newest invention, it's up to you to explore the haunted mansions, as you search for secret corridors, solve each mansion's puzzles, and slowly move from room to room, and corridor to corridor, as you go face to face with their resident ghosts.
But it's how you do this that makes Luigi's Mansion 2 stand out - especially if you haven't played the original. Armed with nothing more than your trusty torch, a vacuum cleaner known as a Poltergust, and some highly stoked nerves, you may not seem like the most deadly of ghost busting machines - but you've got a few tricks up your sleeve. Or technically, in your vacuum. Although most rooms don't have any ghosts in them, (and even in those that do, they won't always be visible, fading in and out of view), should you find any spooks, all you have to do is press A to make your torch flash, which stun any ghosts in range and instantly make them visible. All you have to do then is press the R Button quick enough, and you'll whip out your vacuum cleaner, and suck the ghosts inside. Of course, they won't go without a fight - but unlike the somewhat awkward controls on the Gamecube version, things here are a lot simpler. With a counter above their head showing how much HP they have left, all you have to do is move the Circle Pad away from the ghost to draw them in. Do it well enough, and you'll also start charging a meter, which, when its charged, lets you press B to unleash a sort of super suck, tearing off a chunk of their HP, before banishing them to a life inside your cleaning apparatus.
But the vacuum cleaner plays a much greater role in Luigi's Mansion that just sucking up ghosts. In a past life, Luigi must have been a freelance cleaner, because so much of your time here will be spent vacuuming anything and everything, just to see what happens. Piles of dust, cobwebs, coats, tablecloths, suits of armour, toilet chains, picture frames - if you can see it, you can vacuum it, and as these are haunted mansions, not everything is always as it seems. Look closely, and you'll find loose pieces of wallpaper, which may hide switches, safes, or even better, bars of gold bullion and coins, which you can collect to buy Poltergust upgrades. If you see something at the same height as Luigi, the chances are you can interact with it in one way or another, whether by vacuum, or physically by pressing X. Whether you're wobbling pots to encourage ghosts to pop out, or discovering hidden areas and revolving walls, the houses in Luigi's Mansion are packed full of secrets waiting to be discovered.
The further you get through the game, the more tools you'll add to your burgeoning ghost hunting arsenal. One of the more useful is the dark light torch, which helps highlight ghosts, and, more importantly, objects that have been made invisible. Often, these invisible objects are key to some sort of puzzle in the mansion - but actually finding them in the first place can be something a challenge, as, well, they're invisible. Sometimes, it can be obvious something's missing - a floor mat in front of a blank wall can often hint that there should be a door there, for example, and sometimes, you'll be able to hear a clanking, or rattling in a room, that'll help you hunt down a hidden pot, but often things are a lot more subtle, to the point where you end up walking around every room, shining your dark light torch everywhere in the hope you'll find something. Unfortunately, though, this can lead to problems - sometimes we've been stuck for ages, trying to figure out where to go or what to do next, only to discover we've missed something that was invisible in the first place.
In fact, puzzles make up a lot more of the gameplay in Luigi's Mansion than you may expect. While there aren't any phenomenally challenging brain teasers, here, you'll regularly come across tasks that ask you to apply a bit of practical thinking to your situation. Whether you're sucking up a log, holding it over a fire, then strolling over to a big patch of ice to melt it; stretching a string from a spider web to a nearby flaming torch so it can act as a fuse; or holding a bucket under a leaky pipe in order to collect enough water to water a flower, the solution to most of the puzzles is to simply do what you'd do in real life - which is pretty cool.
At one point, everyone's favourite mushroom man Toad even gets involved, in his own, special way. Faced with a set of lifts that work on a pulley type system, where one goes up and the other goes down, you need to figure out how to lift the lower one up. The solution? Toad. Walk up to him and press the R Button, and you'll suck his fat little head into the end of your vacuum cleaner so you can carry him around. Position yourself correctly and hold the L Button, and you'll fire him out into the upper lift, where his gargantuan weight will weigh it down enough for you to retrieve the item you were after from the lower one. Genius.
With so many hidden passages, creaky doors, and invisible objects, amongst the game's mansions, it'd almost be a disappointment if Luigi's Mansion 2 wasn't also bursting with collectibles to be discovered. Every mansion has been incredibly put together, with so many nice touches, and so many Nintendo-esque secrets waiting to be discovered, you'll be coming back to it for days. Gold spiders drop down from the ceiling, and turn to cash if you zap them; ghosts vanish through walls, leading you on. It has that Nintendo charm in spades. Although the game's divided into levels, each mansion also has thirteen hidden gems for you to find, many of which are well off the beaten tracks, and will take every ounce of your obsessive cleaning skills to discover. Meanwhile, each level also houses a Boo, whose taken it upon himself to hide in an equally fiendish way. With incredibly cheesy names (ComBooter?) the Boos are only visible to your dark light torch, which makes them even harder to find than the gems...
And then there's the game's co-op mode. Supporting both multi-card, and single-card download play, you and up to four friends can come together to hunt down some ghosts across five floors of madness. With three modes on offer - hunter, which sees you hunting down a set number of ghosts on each floor, Rush, which has you, er, rushing to find a hatch before you run out of time, and Polterpup, in which you have to give chase one of the slippery ghost pups - the game even comes complete with its own Resident Evil style call system, which lets you shout out one of four pre-set Luigi-isms on each direction of the +Control Pad, letting you tell your friends if you're in trouble, or if you've found something. Far better than a competitive multiplayer mode would have been, the fact this supports single-card download play is yet another mark in its favour.
Yet the game isn't without its flaws. While the mansions are both expansive and packed with secrets, it's also impossible to save mid-level. Almost get to the end, and run low on battery, and you've got no choice but to quit out and lose everything you've done so far in the level. It's a frustrating decisions for a handheld game, especially when the levels take upwards of half an hour. Meanwhile, the lack of any sort of hand holding or hints with regards to the puzzles may lead to you getting stumped a lot more usual. While a tutorial helps you get to grips with the basics, there's absolutely nothing in the way of prompts to help you past any of the puzzles - so if you can't find that invisible thing you're meant to be using, or if you can't figure out how to get somewhere, you'll likely end up stumped, unless you go online and look for help. It's a bit disappointing - especially for a Nintendo game. While none of the puzzles are so obscure you're guaranteed to need help, there are a fair few that'll take you a while of thinking to twig, and at least having the option to turn on some sort of prompts would likely help the game appeal to a wider audience.
But for all its flaws, Luigi's Mansion 2 is very much a Nintendo tour de force. With hours of gameplay (we're on 20 hours so far, and we're not even close to finding all the collectibles), five mansions that are packed full of great touches and secrets, a vacuum that's much easier to use than it ever used to be, some intriguing puzzles, and a great multiplayer mode to boot, Luigi's Mansion 2 is a must have for anyone with a 3DS.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS