It’s been said before, but I have to say it again - Mario’s emerald-clad younger brother has always lived somewhat in his shadow, ironically well away from the limelight. While he debuted as a playable character back in 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2, he has been largely relegated to spinoffs and lesser-known titles. All that changed when Luigi’s Mansion materialised for the Gamecube in 2001 and he was thrust into his own horror-themed adventure.
The game begins with Luigi searching for a mansion he has purportedly won in a contest, despite his not remembering having entered it. It looks decidedly spooky however, and upon taking a quick look around, he finds himself the subject of mocking by talking portraits, and is subsequently set upon by the resident ghosts. To the rescue comes Professor Elvin Gadd, who may be familiar to those who have played Super Mario Sunshine, wielding the Poltergust 3000, a modified vacuum cleaner capable of sucking up the spectres and clearing the mansion.
As it is bequeathed to our humble hero, he is tasked with finding special ‘portrait ghosts’, special spirits that have escaped the confines of paintings and returning them to their canvas prisons. Gadd also mentions having seen a certain red-hatted plumber enter the mansion and never return, which serves as another objective during Luigi’s quest.
Luigi’s flashlight can be blinked on and off, rendering most ghosts vulnerable to capture if caught within its beam. You then have a precious second or two to suck it up, yanking the control stick in the opposite direction to the spirit as it desperately tries to flee. Repeat this enough times within a room, and the lights will come on, preventing any more ghosts from appearing and usually revealing a key or some other reward.
As the bulk of the rooms in the mansion’s five floors are locked, acquiring these keys is vital to progression. They’re not always in the most obvious of places, however, so be sure to check each room thoroughly. There’s also plenty of money and treasure hidden around the areas for some undisclosed reason, so collect as much as you can to increase your overall score, which influences the ranking you receive at the end of the game.
Every so often you’ll come across one of the portrait ghosts, who usually have a particular trick or puzzle associated with making them appear and exposing their heart, which allows them to be captured. Luckily Gadd has provided Luigi with the GameBoy Horror, which provides information on items around the mansion and crucially the ghosts themselves after scanning them in a first-person perspective.
However, there are darker, more malevolent forces at play in the mansion. The nefarious Boos appear to be behind all the recent events, after Luigi unwittingly lets them out in huge numbers. I say huge numbers. I mean fifty. There are fifty. Of course, it’s now your responsibility to track every single one of them down, but Boos are a little more tricky than the average ghost. They like to hide in rooms that have already been cleared, and can only be caught by disturbing their hiding place. Be quick though - they have a nasty habit of flitting through walls into other rooms, making them that much harder to contain.
While initially you have just the Poltergust 3000 at your disposal, you’ll come across elemental medals throughout the game that bestow new powers upon your most vorpal vacuum, allowing it to expel beams which vary depending on what kind of special spirit was last sucked up. These powers are instrumental for solving puzzles and defeating certain kinds of ghost, so be sure to get to grips with their use.
As with most Mario titles, the sound work is impeccable and extremely catchy, although a tad repetitive at times. The graphics are nothing spectacular, but the mansion is very atmospheric and it’s clear that a lot of attention has gone into asset design to set the scene so well.
Unfortunately it is that repetitiveness that prevents Luigi’s Mansion from being a standout title. Although it’s a short adventure that will probably last you about six hours or so, the environments all start to look very similar after a while and particularly at the end traipsing through rooms you’ve already seen several times for that last Boo definitely feels like a chore. The boss battles, while thematic and unique, offer little oomph and left no lasting impression on me.
It’s a shame too because the core mechanic is so good - it’s so different from anything we’d seen previously in the Mario franchise, and inspirations were clearly taken in 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine. The game did receive a sequel in the form of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on the 3DS, which continued to develop the vacuum mechanic further, which I do plan on getting around to at some point in the near future.
Luigi’s Mansion was a great outing for the character, and it was nice to see him get the starring role alongside an interesting new mechanic. It’s a very gameplay-focused title, concentrate on the novel controls and you’ll have a great time. I might even recommend it as a very dilute introduction to the survival horror genre at a push if you have young children or are of a nervous disposition yourself.