Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
The last time I admit to being extremely wowed by the way a game looked, it was the first Luigi's Mansion on the Gamecube. There was something about—as cheesy as it might sound—the way Luigi's hands looked and moved in the close-ups that really struck me. That was how games should look in that new generation. Much better than the hands in Shenmue (which were touted as one of the strong points of animation for the way-too-expensive-to-produce "classic"). Beyond just the striking visuals, I admit that like every other little brother that played games, I played a lot of Luigi in various Super Mario titles, so I was happy when he got some recognition… beyond Mario Is Missing!, of course.
This time, Luigi's getting his freak(-ed out) on with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for 3DS. There isn't just one castle to search around, but a total of five areas that need Luigi's prowess with a flashlight—a special flashlight—and of course the sucking and blowing (with the vacuum cleaner that captures ghosts, ya pervs). Every one of them is crawling with spirits, hiding keys, gems, and who knows what else (well, I know, but I'm not gonna tell ya that much), all of them blocking Luigi's way to finding and piecing back together the Dark Moon; which apparently makes ghosts all friendly and Casper-like. Professor E. Gadd was hanging out with them like a boss before it was destroyed.
If you haven't played it before, the controls might seem a little complicated: buttons for sucking and blowing (yeah, I said it again), a button for each type of flashlight, opening doors and checking out items that might contain cash—for some reason—and to look up and down. It can feel unwieldy even when you've gotten used to it, but the layout is placed well enough that it only takes a second to get back on the wagon. Collecting enough money will power up your hardware—in a set order, so no customization that way—and through the Vault you can examine the different types of ghosts you've caught along the way. And some of the ghost designs are really badass, so it's worth glancing through and seeing the detail the devs put into them.
The whole game is broken up into smaller quests, focusing on a task that will lead to the next step in finding Dark Moon pieces. Doors need keys, puzzles line every room, and the fate of everyone suffering from these ghost attacks (you and the Professor, primarily) is in the hands of Luigi, the guy who's terrified that the wind might blow the laces out of his fingers as he ties his shoes. The length of each quest is spot-on for a portable game, usually between fifteen minutes and a half-hour, so no quest individually take up too much time. It makes for easy "pick up and put down", which is important… especially for the battery of the 3DS.
And the whole thing is gorgeous to look at. Seriously, it's one of the prettiest handheld games I've seen yet. The 3D isn't the primary focus, but really pops with few stray details blocking the camera's view, so everything is clear without any eye strain. As dingy as each location might be, each one is detailed right down to the drawer handles in shiny colors and clear intent. With the "one wall removed" sitcom style of setup, everything is made so clear with the near-stationary angles of everything, and exploring is made enjoyable.
I know it was the style of the first Luigi's Mansion, but the fake speech from E. Gadd and other noisy characters does get on my nerves some. There's only so much time I can take written dialogue and "Guu… suuku-suuku… yabbo-yabbo!" leaving his not-moving, single-toothed mouth while leading the poor plumber into harm's way. I don't know if full dialogue would bring anything—honestly, I doubt it would—and it might be a minor complaint, but it does get annoying sometimes. But beyond this Nintendo version of Simlish, the music can get eerie at times and the sound effects are so fitting that I look around the room to make sure what's around me.
There's even a multiplayer mode called the ScareScraper, where you and up to three friends can romp around a tower intent on clearing certain objectives under the time limit. And it's not four people limited to who's around; there's world online play as well and it's a blast. Sure, you can play a limited version with a few people who don't have the game themselves and the full version with people that do, but playing it online with strangers any time is a cool addition to the mix. There is a handful of different floors, with goals like "defeat the boss" and "capture all the ghosts" to keep things interesting.
I swear, though, I've become more and more frustrated with some glitches in controls… sometimes my vacuum just won't work or the flashlight won't even turn on. I've even had to reset my system because in the waiting room to continue a game, the game locked up completely! Not good, Nintendo. It's disappointing that such a fun online mode with real potential is hampered by glitches and forced me to drop out and back into a new game.
Connection problems aside, I've really been enjoying the hell out of this new Luigi's Mansion. The whole thing is damn fun, especially for people like me who have fond memories of the Gamecube original. It's a good thing I didn't expect online play from the get-go, but that irritation is the only major downside. The rest is scary-good.