This review originally appeared in E103, November 2001.
Back in 1984 Nintendo launched the Family Computer. The intention was to bring parents and children together with accessible games for all the family. There was a certain amount of propaganda involved in this, of course, but the sentiment held true for many titles. But Nintendo’s talk of returning to such a ‘golden age’ with the GameCube is resolutely endorsed by its launch titles. Luigi’s Mansion, in particular, screams accessibility, but more importantly, offers depth beneath the sumptuous visuals.
Though the game stunned audiences at E3 with its graphical flair, many complained of a shallow game dynamic. Sucking up ghosts was a novel idea, but it soon became repetitive. Fast forward to the present and all that has changed. Luigi’s one-dimensional vacuum cleaner has taken on a more menacing sophistication. Ghosts are no longer merely sucked out of the ether, but are reeled in like fish with a heavy rotation of the analogue stick. The torchlight, too, stuns apparitions and provides moments of panic between targeting phantoms with the beam and then turning on the suction to dispatch them. Fill a room with several foes and the action becomes furious, fearful and fun.
During Luigi’s mission to rid the mansion of its denizens and find Mario in the process, the full panoply of haunted house rooms must be searched. But in a marvellous example of Nintendo imagination, every room has its own personality, both in terms of object interaction and ghost presence. Enter the nursery and the rocking horse must be disturbed to agitate the sleeping baby. Teddy bears are thrown your way, but rubber balls sucked onto the end of the vacuum’s nozzle can be propelled in the tot’s direction – providing an opportunity to draw the nipper in for final elimination. It would be cruel to spoil such moments by revealing the many ways in which the spectres can be caught, but the creativity and ingenuity is staggering.
Add to this the enhancements Luigi receives to his vacuum and the gameplay opportunities only increase. Suck in miniature fire, ice or water elementals and the vacuum can be put into reverse, blowing the gas or liquid and effectively providing a new way to approach the game and trigger events. There are many secret doors and entrances to discover, too. Indeed, all the room furniture must be examined to reveal hidden bonuses and mysteries. Mirrors don’t just act as impressive visuals, but highlight ghostly presences, reveal hidden switches and even work as transporters to the lobby area. The attention to detail has also been lavished on the sound. Luigi’s progress through the house is accompanied by his own nervous humming of the theme tune, but all the expected creaking, weather effects and spectral groans and sighs are expertly done.
Churls might moan about some of the well-worn motifs in the game. Collecting hearts for energy and keys from chests for doors are hackneyed, but they only act as symbols for navigating the game space rather than gameplay elements in themselves. It is Nintendo’s ability to constantly surprise and reward while maintaining the wonderfully creepy atmosphere that keeps you playing on. The desire to explore just one more location before switching off never really goes away.
Fears Luigi’s Mansion was going to have a short lifespan have been put to rest. Though it’s no epic, it will take longer than you expect to complete. Thankfully, the number of times that you laugh, flinch, and have your breath taken away are numerous enough to warrant at least another jaunt through the creaky house.