Luigi’s Mansion 2 can be defined as much by what it’s not as what it is. It has a ghost-wrestling gadget, but it’s not Ghostbusters. It has charmingly wonky cartoon haunted houses, but it’s not Scooby Doo. It’s set in Mario’s world, but it’s hardly a cheery platformer. It riffs off all these things and more across a span two to three times that of its precursor, twisting them into new forms and playfully inverting existing ideas.
That subversion starts in the very first mission. Armed with a spectre-sucking vacuum cleaner, the Poltergust 5000, and a multifunctional torch, Luigi may take centre stage in this tale of mending a broken MacGuffin, but it’s the story’s five new mansions that are the real stars here. Each is packed full of character and is a little bit alive, brimming with rattling cupboards, billowing curtains and eerie wrought iron gates. They’re not all simple estates, either: one is built around a giant malevolent tree, while another is set in an abandoned factory awash with sand and clockwork.
But they are all haunted, and that’s where the punchy new combat system comes into play. As in the GameCube original, the idea is to stun your spectral foes, then fire up the Poltergust and wrestle against them until they tire enough to be captured. The difference is stunning a ghost now requires a strobe flash into their eyes. Press A for quick, weak blast; hold it and you’ll charge up a wider flash, possibly blinding multiple spooks to be wrangled in one go. It’s a gamble, but one that often pays – capturing multiple ghosts in a single slurp reaps a greater cash reward than a lone one.
It’s a tense balance in all the right ways, one only improved by the aptly named Tension gauge. While a ghost’s stamina counter will drain for as long as you’re able to keep the Poltergust’s nozzle trained on them, consistently tugging in the opposite direction fills the meter. Tap A and your vacuum will surge into a higher gear, depleting a chunk of ghostly vigour and, if timed to coincide with finishing off a foe, adding a gleaming bonus to the reward at the end. As the meter lengthens through upgrades – paid for with the gold you collect – a delightful pressure builds, teasing you to see how long can you hang on without being hit and losing it all in order to earn the biggest payout.
Indeed, collection and the exploration it entails are the driving force behind much of Luigi’s Mansion 2, and there are plenty of nooks in need of a ‘suck at it and see’ approach. It helps these stately homes are all rickety old gems, rendered worlds in miniature by the 3D effect. They’re broken up into 5-30 minute missions, and across the story’s 12-15 hours it remains irresistible to keep peeling away the dust sheets to see what’s beneath. Next Level consistently finds new things to show you, with missions taking you to wings of the mansions you’ve not yet seen, or forcing you to forge new paths through familiar settings. And while the wealth of interactive elements – a nursery of sinister jack-in-the-boxes here, a strip of loose wallpaper there – is so well animated that an exploratory nudge or slurp is often a reward in itself, some result in flurries of bank notes filling the air to be satisfyingly sucked up.
Your total gold haul at mission end feeds into a ranking system, with three stars reserved for masterful play, and it’s from this that challenge is derived. The combat learning curve is shallow, and it’s rare that any one ghost will pose a threat to seasoned players. That, along with regular health pickups and the resurrection item stashed in each level, meant we didn’t see the game over screen till the very end of the third mansion. Things do toughen up later when you’re swarmed with foes, but peril here is often illusionary. However, that’s by design: dying means starting a mission from scratch.
It’s better to think of Luigi’s Mansion 2 as a haunted house ride, and there’s a lot here to see. Hidden away in each mansion is a set of gems and tricksy Boos, the latter revealed with your final bit of kit, the Dark Light Device. This renders invisible objects visible and thwarts illusions, making them spew glowing blue orbs to be siphoned from the air. It’s used in combination with the other tools as part of a greater focus on gentle puzzling, which will see you making fiery torches with balls of webbing, floating under makeshift balloons and firing timorous Toads over pools of water.
Despite handing you the full toolset early on, Next Level continues to find new ways to use it. Ideas are repeated or borrowed from familiar sources, but rarely without a contextual shift to make them seem new. Reanimated suits of armour are cliché, but they don’t feel that way when you’re using them to set up an elaborate fuse to burn a massive spider from its web.
Similar feats of imagination make unlocking the next room something you’re anticipating right up to the final boss. The only time the otherwise-taut pacing sags is around the middle, notably in a mission where you repeat a ‘follow the ghostly footprints’ scenario in a known set of rooms, so used to the stream of novelty have you become. Yet any such moments are quickly washed away by new areas filled with fresh wonders.
It’s similar with combat – even in the last mansion you’re being pitched new spins on familiar opponents. Green ghosts are the weediest breed but also the most entertaining, picking up all manner of stuff to make you deviate from the strobe and hoover formula. Sunglasses must be yoinked from faces with a Tension meter tug, say, while spades are makeshift masks-cum-weapons.
But despite the twitchy combat and compulsive collecting, it all comes back to those creaking mansions. Highly polished under their grime and cobwebs, the treats awaiting in their dark rooms prove Luigi’s subversive series still has the capacity to thrill.