There are two kinds of people in this world; those that like Luigi’s Mansion, and people who hate fun. The first Luigi’s Mansion was apparently not well received when it originally came out since it wasn’t a sequel to Super Mario 64 and had some big shoes to fill. Luigi’s Mansion is not even in the same genre as Mario 64 so those comparisons only came up due to the fact that Mario platformers were previously released as launch titles for Nintendo consoles, and this likely lead kids to assume that Luigi’s Mansion was a platformer because it was a Gamecube launch title.
The Gamecube did eventually get a Mario platformer with … which apparently also had a bunch of people who didn’t like it because Nintendo fanboys are just unpleasable it seems… and also it’s kinda been close to two decades since it’s been released. This means that plenty of people have had time to examine Luigi’s Mansion on its own merits and many have rightfully concluded that it is a good game. Of course I always liked it to begin with and lost count of the amount of times I played it as a child, but what prompted this review was me playing through the 3DS port a few weeks before this was written.
My overall opinion is that the original Gamecube version is better for a few reasons. The key reason is that unless you have the 3DS circle pad pro, you are forced to use the gyroscope controls to aim the poltergust 3000. This makes aiming feel awkward and unnatural and it has resulted in many deaths that could have been easily avoid if I were playing the Gamecube version. I will give credit to the 3DS version that I would at least imagine it playing better with the circle pad pro and that I may revisit it after buying one myself, it’s still kinda shitty that one needs to pay extra just for the game to control the way it did back in 2001.
There are a few decent additions to the 3DS version that may make it worth playing over the Gamecube original if you use the circle pad pro though. While there isn’t any new levels or anything, the game does feature the Hidden Mansion mode from the PAL release of the original game that was not in the US or Japanese releases of the Gamecube version. The gallery also allows you to re-fight every portrait ghost whenever you want, while also awarding a gold frame as a reward for your performance (the original also had this but you could only fight each portrait ghost once and thus getting all gold frames was far less feasible or likely). The game also added achievements and co-op if that is an incentive. Everything else is virtually the same, so this critique will apply to both versions.
I think the most interesting thing about Luigi’s Mansion is how no one expects a genuine horror experience out of it, yet it still tries as hard as it can in setting up a creepy atmosphere. There is no blood, no gore, no jump scares, no death, or anything else that people usually associate with horror games. There are also no survival horror mechanics (although they did originally have a time limit for how fast you had to play through the game ala Splatterhouse 3), but the sound and visuals still go out of there way to create an unsettling atmosphere. I wouldn’t describe the game as “scary” by any means but it’s still easy to tell that this isn’t just another Mario game, yet it never comes across as overly edgy or try-hard.
The controls are quite limiting compared to most Mario games, which creates a sense of vulnerability that amplifies the somewhat creepy tone of the game, but it also isn’t anything tedious like Resident Evil’s tank controls (at least not in the Gamecube version). Speaking of Resident Evil, did anyone else think it was amusing how this game referenced the overly long door opening animations yet gave the option to skip them and thus rendered them pointless?
The music is one of the more underrated aspects of this game. The way how most of the tracks are a variation of the main theme, and how Luigi will just hum the main theme without any music in lit up rooms to signify a lack of danger. The way that you have a soothing yet also depressing piano rendition playing in outside locations, and how it starts to slow down when you lose health. It is clear that a lot of thought and effort went into this game’s presentation, and it really helps this game stand out.
Gameplay wise, Luigi’s Mansion is a solid title. The core mechanics of the game are based around sucking up ghosts with a modified vacuum cleaner known as the poltergust 3000, and to explore the various rooms of this mysterious mansion that Luigi was given in a contest he didn’t even enter. The goal is to find Mario who went missing and was trapped inside the house because he didn’t have a magic vacuum cleaner to suck up the ghosts with.
The game is known for being a bit on the short side. This means that there isn’t that much content to go after (duh) but also that the existing content has been perfected and there were no particularly annoying spots. Each portrait ghost has a unique personality and there is a sense of satisfaction with every room that is cleared, every hidden treasure that is found, and every boo that is collected. The game may be short, but it is fun and I can’t think of any major criticisms of the base game.
I would criticize the 3DS version in basing the challenges around how fast you can vacuum up portrait ghosts simply because some of them were clearly not made with speed running in mind. The fight against Slim Bankshot for instance, requires you to wait a good 40 seconds before you can even collect the flying billiard balls to shoot back at him (it makes more sense in context) which means that every time you retry you need to wait through an additional 40 seconds.
I don’t think I can name many major criticisms of the base game though, and I would highly recommend playing it if you have not done so already. It’s not only a fun game, but it’s also a unique one. And yeah, I will need to check out the second game, but I have heard it wasn’t as good. Hopefully I will be wrong though.
This review was originally posted to my Patreon on April 15th of 2019 for patron only viewing. You can read my reviews one week before they are posted on Guardian Acorn if you pledge $1.00 or more to my Patreon account. New reviews are are posted every Monday. You can also follow this blog if you would like to be kept up to date on my stuff, or you could follow me on any of my social media pages (listed at the bottom of the page) and could stop by The Guardian Acorn Discord chat if you would like to talk to me and my homies.