It’s 2018 and we have collectively accepted the cold truth that Luigi is Nintendo’s punching bag. He barely appears in Super Mario Odyssey, the first central Mario game on Switch, and had his soul sucked out of his body in a recent Nintendo Direct. If he isn’t absent or dying, he’s cowering in his brother’s shadow. But it’s the new port of Luigi’s Mansion for 3DS that epitomizes the lanky plumber’s spot in the modern gaming world.
Originally released on the GameCube in 2001, Luigi’s Mansion puts the less famous super Mario brother in the spotlight. A mysterious, haunted mansion has trapped Mario inside a painting, and it’s up to Luigi and a thick-spectacled Professor E. Gadd to save him. Luigi’s Mansion doesn’t play like a typical Mario game; the mechanics cross Ghostbusters with fishing game, sprinkling in environmental puzzles.
Luigi only has two tools at his disposal: the Poltergust 3000 and a flashlight. Pointing the flashlight at a ghost’s heart will temporarily stun it, allowing Luigi to begin vacuuming its ghostly essence into the Poltergust. The ensuing battle is not unlike an intense fishing game. Once the “tails” of the ghosts are caught in the Poltergust, the ghoul flails around the room to shake off capture. As they’re being reeled in, the HP counter begins to drain until they disappear in a swirl. Keeping up with their erratic movements while simultaneously pulling the analog stick isn’t too difficult, but provides enough challenge to grant a sense of accomplishment once finished. Successfully slurping up the ghost will turn the lights on in the room, indicating the area is now enemy-free.
Nabbing ghosts is satisfying; initiating the process to capture them is not. Luigi’s Mansion on 3DS employs motion controls for aiming the Poltergust. The analog stick can also adjust the height of the nozzle, and if using a New Nintendo 3DS, the C-stick on the right can also serve as an option. By default, the motion-sensitive mechanic is switched on, and it doesn’t translate well into a small screen. When it comes to boss battles or bigger ghosts, aiming while moving is often clumsy and frustrating. There are times when Luigi will have to chase objects, suck them up and stun an enemy, all while avoiding projectile attacks. The screen doesn’t convey a sufficient sense of depth, making it difficult to estimate the exact trajectory of aiming the hose. If I lowered or shifted my 3DS even a little, it immediately ruined whatever progress I was making.
At the same time, the game benefits from other aspects of the 3DS hardware. With so many rooms and ghosts to choose from, it’s now hard to imagine enjoying Luigi’s Mansion without the dual-screen setup. The maze of hallways and rooms would be a chore to blindly navigate without the map displayed on the 3DS’ bottom screen. Aside from spectral housekeeping, these are my favorite moments, exploring the mansion and unlocking new doors.
Because each room contains at least one ghost, there’s no shortage of lively characters that live within the mansion. Most of them reside within themed rooms, requiring varying degrees of puzzle solving on Luigi’s part to “reveal” the spirits for capture. The painter, muscle man, butler — they all have distinct personalities and dialogue that hint at how to best capture them. Interacting with a toy helicopter in the ghost twins’ nursery, for example, will provoke them to appear, starting a friendly game of hide and seek.
The addition of motion controls, amiibo compatibility and co-op mode in the new 3DS version reads like a teaser to whet fans’ appetite for the upcoming Luigi’s Mansion 3 on the Nintendo Switch. Limited screen space can make exploration and combat elements feel unwieldy, but despite its mechanical shortcomings, Luigi’s Mansion is still a refreshing, non-Mario addition to the current-gen lineup. The addition of an old GameCube favorite isn’t unwelcome to the 3DS family. It’s a perfect, leisurely timekiller, not a game to sit down and marathon.
In the end, the port is the Luigi of Nintendo projects: a fun, weird game that doesn’t quite get the love and attention it deserves.
Correction: An earlier version of this review said that motion controls were mandatory as opposed to the assigned default. The game’s motion controls can be turned off, and this review has been edited to reflect that.
Luigi’s Mansion was reviewed using a retail physical Nintendo 3DS copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.