Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon feels more playful than frightful.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon sets Luigi down in another house of ghosts, but this time the game feels less like an episode of Ghost Adventures and more like a Casper cartoon.
I played through the game's opening level, in which Professor E. Gadd gives Luigi the tools necessary to recover his newest ghost-capturing machine, the Poltergeist 5000, from the depths of the first mansion. Luigi must search within it's abandoned walls, armed only with a flashlight, for keys to unlock new rooms. Keys are often hidden in plain site but out of reach, and Luigi must solve puzzles in order to obtain them. Once Luigi gets the Poltergeist 5000, its back to ghost-sucking business as usual via a scheme almost identical to its Gamecube predecessor.
In the previous game, Professor Gadd gifted Luigi a device called a Game Boy Horror, a communication and GPS device that looked familiarly like a Game Boy Color. In Dark Moon, Professor Gadd proffers his latest invention and asks, "Look familiar?" before placing a 3DS-lookalike in Luigi's hands. Nintendo seems to be saying that its handhelds are more than just gaming hardware – they're objects connecting players to other worlds.
While Dark Moon reuses the mechanics of the previous game, it stands on its own as an excellent use of the 3DS' gyroscope and accelerometer. An "X" will appear when Luigi stands in front of set pieces he can interact with. This could be anything from a decorative vase to shake or a window to peer through. In the case of the later, the view switches to first person and players can secretly observe an area or cutscene by moving the 3DS around. This brings the game close to AR but not quite – Luigi can't affect what he is watching and only has one chance to view each cutscene.
As Luigi, I observed two green-glowing ghouls playing inside an old car in the decrepit garage, honking its horn and giggling. In an instant they were gone, and I was left staring into empty space. Several time these ghosts ran away from me before I could run to them on quivering legs. Luigi is still as nervous as ever, but this time ghost encounters feel less like a sudden ambush and more like a tame game of hide-and-seek.
The original Luigi's Mansion banked on these scares, translucent pixelated ghosts jumping out, screeching, and stalking our green-clad hero on his search for his missing brother. Luigi's Mansion had the surprise factor in its favor, and although Luigi is still terrified it feels like Dark Moon has replaced its frights with playfulness.
What truly disappointed me was the lack of commitment to the AR-like controls, which were used sparingly and seemed like a last minute tacked-on feature. The game could benefit from spending some time in first person mode with the 3D slider all the way up, with players treading carefully through the halls of their home as they hunt for ghosts through Luigi's eyes. Boo with their lolling tongues floating towards you in 3D may just be what the title needs to preserve its childlike sense of giddy horror.