Naming your game is a delicate act. It need to tease as much as it informs, creating just enough of an air of mystery to make potential players wonder about specifics beyond the game’s basic premise. Sequels, especially those that follow years and years after their predecessors, are even trickier. Slap a number behind a name and people may think that they need to have played the first one to get in on the latest action.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon used to be called Luigi’s Mansion 2. The original title would have been appropriate. This new Nintendo 3DS game is very much a sequel, an expansion on and refinement of the 2001 Gamecube launch title’s ghost hunting goodness. Dark Moon is its own beast though, a special game as evidenced by a 20-minute demo offered up at a post-E3 2012 Nintendo event in New York City.
Once again, Professor E. Gadd is helping Luigi bust some ghosts. In this demo, unlike in the original game, Luigi isn’t exploring his own mansion but the professor’s. E. Gadd sends you in to take care of a ghost infestation with just a flashlight and a communicator shaped amusingly like a 1st generation Nintendo DS (the Nintendo DS Phat for those with long memories). After the little scientist chatters at you like an Ewok—the guy doesn’t even have Luigi’s monosyllabic vocabulary—it’s off to the mansion where your first task is to find the Poltergust 5000, the professor’s vacuum cleaner-slash-backpack ghost busting tool.
Once you find it in the mansion’s garage, it’s off through the mansion. Doors on the mansion’s first floor are locked, so it’s up to you to find keys. One’s attached to a rat that you have to chase to retrieve. (Dark Moon has happily added a run button, speeding up the pace nicely.) Another is secreted away on a ceiling fan, which you have to spin by sucking air through it with the Poltergust. You can use the 3DS’ gyroscope to explore each room, as much is hidden in wall cracks and the ceiling, but the same maneuvers can be done with the X and A buttons on the controller.
Before you start catching ghosts though, you have to find a new item, the stroboscope. This attachment is found in the mansion’s main hall and serves two purposes. You charge up a flash with the attachment by holding A and the shock is used to stun ghosts so you can catch them as well as open doors secured with photosensitive locks. In battles with ghosts, the stroboscope makes the tug of war sucking up of specters a tricky rhythmic challenge. I almost died figuring it out, a sign that Nintendo’s new game won’t be a pushover.
The game feels wonderful, with controls smoother than those in the original and a look equal to that decade-old Gamecube game. Shuffling through each room available in the demo and uncovering its secrets—like vacuuming aside a carpet to reveal a switch that opens a hidden safe flush with cash—is a delight. More upgrades like the stroboscope are promised later in the game, in addition to a variety of different mansions to explore as Luigi hunts for the Dark Moon, the game’s titular, still-unexplained Macguffin.
It’s more than just the feel and look that makes the game so special though. The small details of Dark Moon reek of attention and quality. In the front yard of the mansion is a tree with coins in it, and sucking on the branches with the Poltergust brings down the loot, but it also rattles some wind chimes that spookily clank in the quiet air. Craft and care make this game sing, even in a sample size.
Even with the Wii U out this fall, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is the most exciting first-party game on the company’s slate. It’s an aptly named game, familiar but still perfectly mysterious.