I think we can all agree that the world is a pretty bleak place at the moment. If you’re anything like me, the current global pandemic is a pretty much permanent source of anxiety and even switching onto the news fills me with a sense of dread. Luckily, in a sort of twisted silver lining, all this self-isolation and social distancing means I’ve got a new found well of free time with which to treat my anxiety by playing fun video games.
Just like putting on a Pixar film or watching a warm-hearted family movie from your childhood, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is pretty much everything that the nervous wreck in all of us needs to help just calm down a little. It’s bags of fun, not really all too difficult and has more charming moments than it has any business having.
The series has always held a special place in my heart because the first game in the series was actually the first console game I ever owned back as a young kid in 2002. As a late comer to the console party, I was cursed to only be able to play N64 or Playstation at friends’ houses until one lucky Christmas me and my brother were given a Gamecube with Luigi’s Mansion. It’s a strange game to be quite honest – it’s a sort of half Mario Brothers ghostbusting game and half resident evil parody, complete with short cutscenes of doors opening whenever you go into a room. That being said, I loved it and couldn’t wait to see what 17 years had done to the series.
Frankly, not a huge amount has changed. You still play as a terrified Luigi searching through a huge building looking for his brother who’s been captured by a gang of goofy and comedic ghosts. The game begins with a ludicrously pixar-esque opening where Mario, Peach, Luigi and some Toad servants (I’ve never really understood the labour relationship between the toads and Princess Peach), are going to stay at a fancy hotel. Quickly things go south thanks to the intervention of King Boo, who seals the gang away in magical portraits, leaving Luigi to save the day.
The game itself is mostly a mixture of puzzles and combat, which is all done with Luigi’s ghost-catching machine, the Poltergust G-00, which is basically a vacuum and flashlight which can stun and then suck up any of the mischievous ghosts that he comes across whilst exploring the hotel. Unlike his jumping and running brother, Luigi can only flash his light to stun ghosts and suck up and shoot out various objects that he comes across. You’d think this would not result in a huge amount of varied gameplay but the devs actually do a really good job of taking these mechanics to their extreme. This isn’t just blowing on fans and shooting objects at switches to open doors but far more creative. In a plant based floor Luigi has to power up and then suck up a grass strimmer which he uses to cut the overgrown foliage that is blocking his way forwards. Later in the level, you’ll need to suck up water buckets and use them to grow giant plants which can be climbed and used instead of staircases.
Fighting the ghosts themselves generally follows a formula of stunning them with the flashlight, then whittling down their health by sucking them up with the Poltergust but the game mixes it up just enough so it’s not boring. Certain ghosts can’t be stunned until their sunglasses have been vacuumed off and others can only be attacked from behind. However, it’s the boss ghosts where Next Level Games have really focused their creativity.
You’ll find yourself battling an enormous animated T-rex skeleton, in a rubber ring battle in a pool against a mechanic in the basement and fighting a possessed piano in the concert hall. Each boss comes with their own mechanics that have to be worked out and wrestled with before they disappear into the depths of Luigi’s vacuum. It’s reminiscent of the old N64 Zelda games which would introduce mechanics in the level, before having them culminate in a boss battle testing all you’ve learnt. It’s tried and true game design and probably why the game feels so comforting to play – it’s video game comfort food.
This isn’t all to say that the game is perfect, in fact, it’s actually really flawed. Throughout the game you’ll collect tons and tons of money from ghosts and hoovering up nic-naks you find in the hotel. The disappointment is that this is only used in a single shop which contains a mere three items and only one of which is actually useful. It means you spend the whole game ransacking this hotel looking for money which you never actually need to spend and essentially ends up being a gameplay dead end. Using the hoover to suck up dollar bills floating through the air like a weird Nintendo Crystal Maze finale feels great but it quickly loses its luster when there is no reward for doing so.
Also, to say that the story is barebones is being generous. Mario games aren’t usually known for their in depth narrative but after Mario Odyssey, which actually has a pretty interesting story to tell, it’s a disappointment not to get anything better than “bad guys kidnap someone, hero saves the day”. Don’t expect to find out anymore about who the ghosts are, who they were and what they want because frankly, the game isn’t interested in telling you. It’s a touch disappointing as I certainly remember the original Gamecube game delving slightly deeper into the backgrounds of the ghosts and why they wanted to side with King Boo. The only moment of narrative surprise comes during the credits when everyone makes friends and decides to rebuild the hotel together over the course of a montage. It’s a suitably pleasant ending to the equivalent of an animated summer family flick
The game is split into 15 different floors which are accessed by hoovering up special boss ghosts who drop golden buttons. Said golden buttons can be plugged into the hotel’s central lift which ferries you between the different levels. The levels, along with Luigi himself, are the star of the show and provide a huge range of puzzles, bosses and environments to potter through.
The hotel itself is as absurd as you’d expect from a Nintendo game. The first few floors follow the “hotel” theme somewhat loosely: VIP suites, a mezzanine and a hotel gift shop but the game quickly abandons any semblance of realism in favour of just letting the designer’s imaginations run wild.
Floor 10 contains a literal Egyption pyramid, complete with sandy dunes, that Luigi can hoover up to reveal treasure and secrets with a boss ghost who resembles Cleopatra. In fact, the level itself plays out like something from Indiana Jones with Luigi trying to escape rooms filled with sand and ancient traps designed to take out grave robbers before taking on the pharaoh herself.
Another absurd moment is floor 12 which opens straight out onto a wooden pier sticking out into a single giant room filled with water.The rest of the level plays out as a major boss fight on a giant ghost ship against a pirate shark ghost who you have to suck the eye patch off of before you can damage him.. It’s all as ridiculously over the top and cartoon as you’d expect and all done with the same glee as a Saturday morning kids show.
On top of the crazy levels, the other factor contributing to this game’s overwhelming charm is Luigi himself. The game is full of little moments where he gets scared and freaks out or has a little moment of terror while scaling the outside of the building. To say the animation is incredible is an understatement, Luigi absolutely brims with character from the way he walks, fights and interacts with the environment and you genuinely see countless different expressions animated on his face. A written explanation really won’t do it justice – so go and check out some videos to see for yourself and see him in action, it’s fantastically done and impossible not to find yourself copying his weird noises and mutterings.
As I said at the start, the world can be a pretty bleak place and I think games like Luigi’s Mansion have an important role to fill. Okay, it isn’t pushing the boundaries of artistic endeavour but what it is doing is giving you a thoroughly charming and most importantly – FUN game. I don’t think anyone would argue that Ratatouille or A Bug’s Life are among the greatest films of all time but they are universally loved because they provide that warm friendly feeling which we all sometimes need. Luigi’s Mansion is a great game for that exact reason. Sometimes you just want to turn off your brain and do something that leaves a smile on your face which this game does constantly. If you’re feeling the strain of self-isolation I couldn’t think of a better place to spend it than catching ghosts with our friend in green.