I’m not going to deny that I have a little bit of a soft spot for Luigi. The ‘other brother’ has been the constant underdog, living in the shadows of his far more popular brother, rarely getting the time he deserved in the limelight. Luigi was designated to only being the play-thing of ‘Player Two’. This over-shadowing was to the point that for a while, in the UK and US at least, Luigi was simply an alternate colour palette version of Mario.
This changed with the release of Super Mario Bros 2, both the UK/US re-skinning of another game AND the super-hard Japanese true sequel (later released as ‘The Lost Levels’). These both gave Luigi his own personality and his own abilities, making him able to jump higher and further than his brother, but making his controls a little bit more slippery to give a further feeling of challenge to playing as the Green Machine. This arguably made Luigi a lot more fun to play as, forcing the player the re-assess every move they do, and every jump they make, so as to not slide into a pit inadvertently. I personally think, in fact, that it was a shame that Luigi returned to being just an alternate colour palette in Super Mario Bros 3.
However, everything changed for Luigi in 2001/2002 (depending on your region) with the release of Gamecube launch title, Luigi’s Mansion. Despite all the love for Luigi, it was always going to be a bit of a risk making the first game from the Mario universe on the new console one that didn’t even star Mario himself, so it was an incredible thing that Luigi’s Mansion was an excellent game. It dispensed with the usual platforming set-up of previous games in the franchise and instead was a more exploration based set-up (you couldn’t even jump, for instance). This let to a quite critically acclaimed, although short, adventure with everyone’s favourite underdog.
The basic premise of the game is that Luigi received a letter stating that he had won a competition that he did not even enter, and that his prize was a mansion. Instead of the standard human suspicion that most people would experience at this news, Luigi arranges to meet Mario at the mansion to celebrate. When Luigi arrives he discovers that not only did Mario arrive before him, but that he has been kidnapped by the ghosts that haunt the mansion. After being rescued from the ghosts that try attacking him, by a completely crazy scientist no less, Luigi grudgingly decides to save his brother from the ghosts that haunt the mansion.
The scientist involved is Professor Elvin Gadd (shortened to E.Gadd), and he has been investigating the mansion as it apparently only appeared a few nights before the beginning of the game. He arms Luigi with two of his inventions to aid him on his quest both to save Mario and to help E.Gadd investigate the mansion. The first is the Poltergust 3000, a vacuum cleaner capable of sucking up ghosts, and the other is the Gameboy Horror (see what Nintendo did there?), a communication device.
The Poltergust 3000 is your only proper weapon in Luigi’s Mansion, and is tremendous fun to use. When a ghost appears, Luigi has to firstly shine his torch at it, which causes the ghost’s heart to appear. Then he has to use the Poltergust in an almost game of tug-of-war to reduce the ghost’s hit points down to zero and suck them up. The number of hit points as ghost has depends on the ghost itself, especially as there are special Boss fights (in which the technique to defeat them differs each time) and also Boos dotted around the mansion too.
Now, the Gameboy Horror basically fills in the other list of items needed in games like this. It is a communication device between E.Gadd and Luigi, a map of the mansion, shows where items are in the mansion, and allows Luigi to locate the Boos hidden throughout the mansion. It also sits in the corner of the HUD (heads-up display) throughout the entire game displaying your statistics such as how many coins you have collected. Rather cleverly, or at least I thought so on the first play-through, the Gameboy Horror very strongly resembles a Gameboy Color in it’s design.
The biggest aspects of genius in Luigi’s Mansion come with the subtle touches that have been added to enhance the overall experience that can be very easy to miss. They are only little things, but all come together to create a totally unique game from previous titles in the Mario franchise. For instance, Luigi is not the brave protagonist that Mario is, so he does get very scared wandering through the mansion. This comes through in various ways such as a slight hesitation of the hand reaching out to open a door, or the fact that Luigi hums or whistles the music of the mansion at increasing volume when he is scared.
The game itself plays like a dream, even now, with the controls still as responsive as they have always been (i.e. slightly clunky to add to the slight undertone of simmering tension in the game), and the visuals still standing up quite well against the decade of time that has passed since it’s debut. Also, at times, it does give some genuine scares with ghosts appearing left right and centre. Altogether the fact that the game can still be enjoyed greatly now, despite it’s short length and other flaws, is a testament to the quality of the game upon it’s initial release.
Also, what with the incoming release of the sequel for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld this month (a sequel that everyone had given up wishing would happen, and took us all by surprise at E3 2011), it’s clear that Nintendo haven’t forgotten about such a great title (even if it took 10 years to make a follow-up), and from what I have seen so far it looks to be improving on the original in every way. Most importantly in the length, with Nintendo confirming that there will not only be multiple mansions to explore but also a local/online multi-player mode to master as well. Furthermore, Nintendo themselves have stated that 2013 is the ‘Year Of Luigi’, so I hope to see a lot more from the ‘Other Brother’ as the year rolls on.
What do you think of Luigi’s Mansion, and are you excited for the upcoming sequel? Drop me a response in the comments, or tweet me @reubenmount.