After being Mario's sidekick for more than a decade, Luigi has finally been given the chance his fans have cried for. Starring in his very own 3D game for the first time, Luigi has become the Peter Venkman of the 21st century by taking up the mantle of a ghostbuster in Luigi's Mansion. An extreme departure from what Mario Bros. games have been in the past, Luigi's Mansion features some refreshing ideas but fails to match the classic status of Mario's adventures.
The story in Luigi's Mansion is adequate enough, but there are few if any twists or turns. After receiving a strange letter from his brother Mario, Luigi heads out to meet him thinking he's won a mansion in a contest he doesn't remember entering. Upon reaching the mansion, Luigi is greeted by a short, bald scientist named Professor E. Gadd, who explains that the mansion only appeared a few days earlier and is overrun with ghosts. Professor Gadd goes on to explain that he met a fellow with a red cap shortly after the mansion appeared and hasn't seen him since. Luigi, realizing the fellow in the red hat is Mario, sets off for the mansion after Gadd equips him with a flashlight and the Poltergust 3000, a modified vacuum cleaner that can be used to trap and exterminate the ghouls.
Controlling Luigi is fairly simple, but it takes some time to get accustomed to it. The left analog stick controls his movements, while the C stick controls the direction he points his flashlight and vacuum cleaner. It's the same control scheme that is found in most modern first-person shooters, and after a few awkward moments you'll be swinging Luigi's vacuum around with precision. Opening doors and examining objects is accomplished with the large A button. The Z button is used to check inventory, the X button is used to view Luigi's ghost-sensing Game Boy, and pressing the Y button brings up a 3D map of the entire mansion. Learning to accurately aim the vacuum is one thing, but sucking up stalwart ghosts with it is another. To catch a ghost, it must first be stunned with Luigi's flashlight. Once stunned, its heart will appear, which is the cue to commence with the sucking. Pressing the R button will make the vacuum suck air and begin to bring the ghost in for capture. But it won't be snared without a fight. Ghosts will pull Luigi around the room as he attempts to snare them, but holding the analog stick in the exact opposite direction of the ghost will make the process easier.
The Poltergust 3000 has more than one use. It can also be used to shoot objects or spray a variety of ammunition such as fire, ice, and water by pressing the L button. If you press the left shoulder button all the way in until it clicks, the vacuum will fire a projectile. The elemental ammunition is also put to good use for solving puzzles throughout the game and for taking out enemies with special elemental ratings. As mentioned earlier, a ghost's heart must be seen before the ghost can be captured. But it's not always as easy as illuminating the ghost with a flashlight. That tactic works for the majority of drone ghosts located in the mansion, but there are 23 special ghosts in the house that must be snared in more ingenious ways. This is where the puzzle elements of the game come into play. Some ghosts require Luigi to perform special tasks before showing themselves. One particularly buff ghost must be drubbed with a heavy bag before being captured, and another must be struck with billiard balls before it's vulnerable. It's essential for Luigi to search every last nook and cranny of each room, because items can be hidden virtually anywhere. At the end of the game, you are rewarded for how much money has been collected, so finding every last coin, gold bar, and jewel is worth the time. Luigi's Mansion progresses in a completely linear fashion. Once Luigi exterminates a room of ghosts, the lights will come on, and more often than not, a chest will appear with a key inside. The 3D map will then automatically appear to show you which door the new key opens. This same process repeats until the end of the game. If Luigi's Mansion were as long as most Mario Bros. games, the lack of gameplay variety would be an issue. But just when things start to become tiresome, the game ends.
While nowhere near as groundbreaking as Super Mario 64 was in 1996, Luigi's Mansion still manages to usher in a new generation of video game graphics. The most obvious change from the norm is the camera system, which gives you a cross-sectional view of the mansion. The game is always played from a side angle, and as Luigi moves deeper into the mansion, walls will dissolve to give you a clear view of the new area. The camera works well when Luigi is hunting ghosts or is venturing from one room to another, but during the game's boss fights in wide-open areas, it can make things more difficult than they should be. Luigi's Mansion is a virtual textbook of video game special effects. First and foremost is the real-time lighting. There has never been a video game that tops Luigi's Mansion in this regard. Luigi's flashlight will cast shadows on, around, and behind every object in the room, and when lightning strikes outside, his shadow will skirt along the walls and drape over chairs, lamps, or anything else in the room. Particle effects are also put to good use to show dust floating in the air, dirt kicking up from Luigi's feet, and his warm breath in one of the game's many frigid environments. The physics system is nothing to scoff at, either. Everything in the game reacts accurately to Luigi's vacuum--cloth will stretch, frost hanging in the air will be sucked into it, and flames will get snuffed out if the nozzle gets too close. It's the little things such as these that show the attention to detail that was paid while creating this game and that set it apart from the majority of the early GameCube offerings.
There are a few problems with the graphics that should be mentioned. The GameCube has been heralded for its texturing abilities, but most of the textures in Luigi's Mansion are low resolution and look muddy and pixelated when viewed up close. This is understandable considering the impressive variety of textures in each room, but it can be distracting nevertheless. In true Nintendo form, the graphical emphasis is placed on the lead character. Luigi is made of plenty of polygons and is expertly animated right down to his vacuum hose, but it doesn't leave many stray polygons for other things. The result is cramped environments filled with angular objects. When the game engine does happen to draw a lot of polygons, the textures have a tendency to shimmer. Other slight issues include an occasional flickering shadow and glitchy reflections when entering rooms. These graphical issues wouldn't be nearly as noticeable if the rest of the game didn't look so consistently good, and the last thing those who play Luigi's Mansion will complain about is its visual prowess.
The auditory aspect of Luigi's Mansion is impressive from a technical standpoint but lacks the attention to detail that was paid to the game's visuals. The game has one primary theme that plays continually, save for during the game's boss fights. Luigi hums along to the tune constantly, and his voice changes depending upon his physical state. If he's near death you can hear desperation in his voice, and when his health is full he whistles along in a cheery tone. There is no voice acting included in the game. Instead, the characters speak in gibberish similar to that found in Banjo-Kazooie, while text appears in bubbles. Sound effects are especially crisp, and the sound quality overall is what you'd expect from a flagship game for a new piece of hardware. More songs and some voice acting would be nice, but the game's relatively short length prevents the audio from becoming monotonous.
Luigi's first solo excursion has flashes of brilliance and is fun while it lasts, but the short amount of time it takes to complete it makes it a hard recommendation. There is some incentive to play through the game a second time, but even that can be done within an average rental period. If you're a serious video game collector or just want a game that will adequately show off your new console, Luigi's Mansion is worth picking up. But for everyone else, a trip to the local rental shop should suffice.