A beautiful and charming game hampered by slow pacing and frustrating backtracking.
Dark Moon puts you in the shoes of Luigi, who is off to save his brother Mario from the clutches of a group of evil ghosts. Throughout the 15-20 hour story mode, you'll find out more about the ghosts and why they haunt the Evershade Valley that the game is set in, but you will probably not be too interested in the proceedings and will just want to go on to the next level. Luckily, the dialogue sequences that separate each level are kept short and sweet, while also providing some humor to keep you from skipping them entirely.
The gameplay itself is very hard to describe if you have not played the original Luigi's Mansion on the Gamecube, because it cannot be defined in terms of genre. It is a game focused on exploration and light puzzle-solving, and is only slightly spiced up with very little action. Each area of the game, or mansion, is divided into six or so levels, each of which you have to complete to progress to the next. Each level gives you a different task that will force you to visit a previously locked room in the mansion, or it will tell you to backtrack to previously explored areas. You do that in order to find a specific item that you will need to progress to the next level, or to find ghosts and capture them.
The latter objective is what you will be doing the most throughout the game, especially since you are often locked inside of a room until you clear it of all the ghosts. Catching ghosts is fun, but it does not require any sort of skill as the ghosts rarely (or ever) pose any kind of danger. The whole process involves you turning to a ghost, tapping a button to stun them with your flash light, and then holding the R button to suck up the ghosts. I have not gotten a single Game Over screen throughout my first play through of the game, and I doubt any of you will because the game is very easy. Once you clear the last level of a mansion, which task you with defeating the boss of the mansion, you progress to the next mansion. It is these levels that provide you with the only true excitement, as these can get hard and will require you to memorize their patterns and use different approaches to capture them.
At this point, the game may sound like a lot of fun, and I do believe that it is fun sometimes, but the truth is that this gameplay structure (enter world, clear six levels, clear boss, next world) does not work very well in Dark Moon because being forced to exit the mansion after each level makes exploration seem dull, even though it is the main focus of the game. This may sound like a small and personal gripe, but it is the sole reason why this game won't make you feel any sort of progression. The fact that you have to enter the same mansion six times in a row only to explore each individual room every single time just to check whether a room has changed from the last time you saw it truly makes exploration a chore, and you will probably be wanting to move on to the next mansion after clearing the second or third level because you have already seen most of what it offers.
Of course, you have the option of simply following the destination-marker on your map which tells you where exactly you should be going next, but you will still be forced to backtrack in order to be able to reach that marker, since the door to that main-room is locked or otherwise inaccessible. Still, this is not enough to break the game, but it is enough to keep you from playing the game for extended periods of time. Instead,you will probably play it in short sessions for about half an hour at a time to complete two or three levels before feeling burned out again and wanting to move on.
If you are like me and strive to fully complete most games, Dark Moon will start to drag on even more quickly, because you will be forced to check the whole mansion time and time again in order to find the hidden Boos and gems. The latter are fun to find since they occasionally require some puzzle solving and because you can search for them in any level of the mansion as they stay at the same locations.The hidden Boos, however, are the real problem because each level has exactly one Boo hidden somewhere in the mansion, and you will have to check each cupboard, each single interactive object or element in the environment scattered throughout the whole mansion to find it, and you better do it carefully so that you do not miss a single one, or you will need to go back through each single room to check again. It can take you hours to find a Boo in later mansions, because these areas can get really huge.
With all that being said, playing this game is still a worthwhile experience, but it definitely is not for anyone. It is very slow, and the only grain of excitement you will find here is from capturing ghosts and defeating bosses, which is often so easy that it cannot even be considered action. That would not be a problem at all if it had interesting puzzles to solve instead of forcing you to walk around and backtrack. If I were to compare the pacing of the game to anything, it is probably closest to a point and click adventure game. Trying to fully complete the game will give you the same kind of frustration that you get from being stuck in one of those same adventure games when you are forced to move your cursor over each pixel of the room to check whether you have missed an item or not that you might use to progress.
Aside from the Gameplay and Story, you have a very beautiful game here with lots of charm and a great style. The level design is great, each mansion has its own theme and it rarely feels like the developers have simply copied a previous room's design and pasted it in the next mansion. There was obviously a lot of love put into the game, and it is very much appreciated.
All in all, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a well-designed game in essence, but the structure of the game and its pacing are what keep it from being a must-have on the 3DS. Don't be fooled by the fact that this is a game about ghosts, because it is actually best played when you want to relax and cool down from a tension-filled day as it does not require much attention at all. The environments are so beautiful and immersive sometimes that playing the game almost feels like taking a slow, solitary walk. If you want that, you will enjoy Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon.