At Nintendo's Space World show last year, a brief clip of Luigi's Mansion was shown, and many were under the impression that it would be yet another Mario Bros. platforming game starring Mario's brother Luigi. But at E3 this past May, Nintendo let the proverbial cat out of the bag and revealed that Luigi's Mansion was in fact a new style of game from Nintendo, using one of its mascots to sell the idea. Eschewing the traditional jump-and-run mechanics from past Mario Bros. games, Luigi's Mansion is a puzzle game at heart with some interesting gameplay mechanics in tow.
Mario Bros. games aren't known for a deep and engaging plot, and Luigi's Mansion falls squarely in line with the series' tradition in this respect. After winning a mansion in a contest, Luigi contacts Mario and asks him to meet him at his new abode. Luigi makes the trek to his new home only to find that it has been overrun with ghosts. Upon entering the mansion, Luigi meets up with Toad who tells him that he arrived with Mario but has since been separated from him and does not know where he's disappeared to. Toad will act as a save point throughout the game, and you can return to him at any time to preserve your progress. Luigi then meets an odd paranormal researcher with one tooth who arms Luigi with a multipurpose vacuum cleaner and a flashlight. On a quest to find his lost brother Mario, Luigi must exterminate his new house of all the ghouls and trap them inside paintings.
Luigi's Mansion's gameplay may seem overly simplistic at first glance, but playing it is deceptively complex thanks to the multitude of functions the vacuum is capable of. Its most basic use is sucking up anything and everything in its path. This means ghosts, coins, curtains, books, garbage, steam, and anything else that is located in each room. This interactivity is the crux of the game's puzzles. One of the GameCube's analog sticks is used to control Luigi's movement throughout the room, while the other is used to control the direction he points his flashlight and vacuum. Before Luigi can move on to the next room in the mansion, he must eliminate every ghost. Some ghosts will outright attack Luigi, while others will hide inside objects. Luigi can use the vacuum to pull curtains aside or rattle objects, such as end tables, to get the ghosts to show themselves. He may also walk up to objects and give them a good shake by pressing the A button. Even if you don't find ghosts hidden in every object, thoroughly searching each room will reward Luigi with hearts, gold bars, and other power-ups essential to making progress and keeping him alive. You may go into a first-person view by pressing the X button and play from that perspective if you choose, but capturing ghosts in this view can be difficult. Pressing the Z button on the right shoulder of the controller will cause Luigi to crouch, but there's no indication yet as to what purpose crouching might serve.
Once a ghost has been flushed out of its hiding place, Luigi must stun it with his flashlight. Once a ghost is stunned, Luigi can then attempt to suck it into his vacuum. To do this, you must first fire up its sucking action by pressing and holding the R button. Once a ghost is engaged with the vacuum, it will do anything to get away. This is where quick reflexes come in handy. Using both analog sticks on the GameCube controller, you must keep them both pointed in the opposite direction of the ghost at all times to maximize the vacuum's sucking power. This is easier said than done as the ghosts will jet from one side of the room to the other rather quickly or will erratically fly about the room challenging your hand-eye coordination. Making things all the more difficult, ghosts will drop banana peels while being captured, and these will cause Luigi to slip and fall when he steps on them--which, in turn, causes him to lose health and drop coins. If Luigi loses too much health, he will shrink and will be unable to use his vacuum until he collects more power-ups. The points awarded for each captured ghost are dependent upon how long it takes Luigi to capture it. If he takes too long, the ghost will break free. Once a ghost has been captured, it will drop coins, hearts, and keys to open new rooms. If a key is found, a 3D map of the mansion will be displayed showing you where the key can be used. You may access the 3D map at any time by pressing the Y button, but opening doors without knowing where they lead can cause damage to Luigi, thanks to trap doors located throughout the mansion. In addition to its sucking action, Luigi's vacuum can perform several other functions as well. Luigi can suck water and fire into it and then expel it by pressing the L button. One boss that was shown asks Luigi to suck up balls with the vacuum and then use them as a projectile weapon. Representatives from Nintendo of Japan stated that the vacuum will have many more uses as well but were unwilling to divulge what they might be.
From a graphical perspective, Luigi's Mansion is a virtual tech demo of what the GameCube is capable of, and it looks great. Luigi is the most accurate representation of either of the Mario Bros. yet. With flowing curves and dozens of facial expressions to express his fright, Luigi truly comes alive. Each room looks so convincing that it's easy to mistake the graphics for being prerendered. There are so many effects going on at once that it's often impossible to keep track of them all. Luigi's breath is visible in cold areas; particles of dust can be seen floating in the air when Luigi points his flashlight at the camera; marble floors and mirrors reflect the rest of the room; and the lighting and shadows are some of the most impressive yet found in a console game. While the ghosts resemble those found in the popular Ghostbusters movies from the '80s, they showcase the GameCube's ability to do convincing transparency effects in multiple hues. While most 3D games give you active control of the game's camera to avoid getting stuck behind walls, Luigi's Mansion uses walls that go transparent and gradually dissolve to give you a better view. While it falls a bit short of 60 frames per second, Luigi can erratically whirl his flashlight around the room casting shadows from every object with no slowdown whatsoever. The game's graphics aren't perfect, however. Some of the textures can be a bit blurry, and some edges appear jaggy at times, but this is honestly nitpicking the game.
The speech used in Luigi's Mansion is similar to that found in Banjo-Kazooie and ICO in that characters babble in an indiscernible language. The tunes featured in Luigi's Mansion aren't from any other Mario Bros. game, but they're catchy nevertheless. Sound effects are equally good, and the game's auditory experience on the whole is on par with the game's graphics.
Many have criticized Luigi's Mansion for fear that the gameplay will become redundant after a brief amount of time. But after playing it at several trade shows, it's only made us want to have our own copy of the game all the more. Its seemingly simplistic game mechanics mask a game with plenty of nuances, inventive puzzles, and advanced control techniques to keep players happy throughout. While Luigi's Mansion likely won't scare most players as Nintendo hopes it will, it's a surprisingly fun game that plays as well as it looks. Look for more on Luigi's Mansion when the GameCube launches in Japan September 14.