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Palipilino earned the Donor badge

10 days ago

Palipilino finished Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
Whenever a sequel gets made for a popular yet seemingly standalone game, it's bound to become a topic of interest. Because while many games are released with the explicit understanding that it is (or will be) part of a series, some, like 2001's Luigi's Mansion, don't really give the indication that a follow-up should be expected. For 10 years, it was a unique, one-off title which was totally at home on the Gamecube, fitting in along with lots of other unique first party offerings. So it's fair to say that, when Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was announced in 2011, it drew a fair degree of discussion. Not only was this an unlikely sequel, but it was released over a decade after the original. And while such a length of time would obviously indicate a new console, it was surely unexpected that LM2 would become a handheld game on the 3DS, let alone that development would be handed to frequent Nintendo collaborator Next Level Games. In a way, Dark Moon was everything that the original wasn't, and that statement isn't just limited to its development history.
It was clear that, with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Nintendo wanted to focus on building on the experience of its predecessor, and "building" is the operative word. In Dark Moon, the game is split up into multiple different mansions, each one offering a different theme and presentation. This certainly allows for a greater degree of variety in room structure, and exploring each room is just as satisfying as ever. The game is very light on even mild frights, and it doesn't quite have that same softly eerie personality as either its former or latter entry, but the level design is as good as ever. Exploration is once again at the top of the priority list for this game, and solving puzzles while working your way through each corridor is plenty of fun. And the game looks good, too. This is a handheld game, after all, and while Next Level Games have always been rather proficient animators, the fact that Dark Moon looks as good as it does as an early-era 3DS title is an achievement of itself. This game holds up surprisingly well as a handheld, and even though the game probably needs another analog stick, it is still impressive how smoothly Luigi's Mansion 2 handled the transition from home console to the 3DS.
Of course, while the transition was great on the aesthetic and mechanical side, it's entirely less impressive in regards to the actual gameplay. Presumably, as a handheld game, the focus was to shift Dark Moon from a semi-open ended, exploration based game to a mission based one. It's understandable in theory, as presenting a game in bite-sized pieces for on-the-go gaming has been a trend in handheld gaming for years, but for LM, it doesn't really work. One of the best things about the Luigi's Mansion series is the immersion and atmosphere, but in a game where you're constantly getting returned to the bunker to select a new mission, it's easy to get pulled out of the experience. Couple this with E. Gadd, who's constantly interrupting you to give you mostly unnecessary hints and dialogue, and it goes from a game with the option of being playable in short bursts, to feeling like the only way to play it is in short bursts. The mission structure, which is supposed to be quick and enjoyable, becomes tiring, and the joy of exploration is quickly dulled because you know that it's never too long before another mission briefing or unneeded interruption.
Time management is not something Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon does well, and that's evident in the game's nearly dozen hour playtime. It feels like 1/3 of this game could be cut without losing all too much. And while it's nice that you can skip past cutscenes and dialogue pieces, that doesn't fix the game's poor pacing. And this feeling is exacerbated by the occasional backtracking and lack of enemy variety. The mansions are designed well, and especially the final set of missions have a lot of great moments, but they aren't dense enough to be subjected to the amount of repetition the game puts them through.
With the release of Luigi's Mansion 3, it's likely that Dark Moon will become a bit of a black sheep in the franchise, and it's understandable why. Perhaps it was the concessions for a handheld title, but Luigi's Mansion is a series that focuses on open-ended exploration and atmosphere, and LM2 doesn't really provide either. It's impressive in a way, then, that this game is as close to being good as it is, given its structural limitations. Level design is great, and the base gameplay of Luigi's Mansion is always going to feel fun, but there's too many speed bumps here for the game to carry the momentum of those things to the end credits. Maybe, sometime in the future, a mission-based LM game will be released to outstanding acclaim, and be the game this one always wanted to be. Stranger things have happened, after all. But if that game is to work, it'll have a lot to learn from this game about what doesn't.

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