The Best Substitute Ghost Buster- An Analysis of Luigi's Mansion.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
When it comes to the release of a new console, the launch line-up has always been a big deal. These are the games that are going to define the console. When it comes to Nintendo, some of their biggest games arrive at launch: Super Mario World and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for example. However, when the GameCube was released, fans were surprised that instead of getting a new game in one of Nintendo's popular franchises, they got an original title starring the less utilized Mario brother: Luigi. While some gamers weren't too happy with this prospect, Luigi's Mansion turned out to be one of my favorite games from Nintendo.
The story was simple enough, Luigi finds out that he won a sweepstakes and the grand prize was a mansion. Unfortunately, it turns out the mansion was haunted by ghosts that kidnapped Mario. After meeting with a local ghost expert, Luigi gets a modified vacuum cleaner that he can use to capture the ghosts.
The main objective of the game is to capture all the ghosts in the mansion and rescue Mario. Each room of the mansion is haunted by multiple types of ghosts. The trick is to use Luigi's flashlight to stun the ghost when they get close and then use your vacuum to suck them in. Boss and mini-boss ghosts require Luigi to do something extra to stun them before he can proceed to capture them.
The game is split between 4 areas, encompassing the four floors of the mansion. When Luigi enters a new room, the lights will be off and ghosts will appear to attack him. After a room has been cleared, the lights come on signaling that Luigi is safe. Most often the reward for cleaning out a room is a key that will unlock the next room Luigi has to go to.
There are several things I like about Luigi's Mansion, first is that the progression of the game is easy to get into, but has that "one more turn" feel to it. The rooms only take a few minutes to clear out and offer a quick way to see how far the player is. This was also one of the few games to attempt a Ghost Buster style of game-play. While the story isn't going to win any awards, there is one aspect of it that was done better than any other Nintendo game up to that point: character development.
Nintendo has always been good with designing game-play, but to be fair they've never gone far with developing their characters. For Mario and Link, besides knowing that they're brave, good guys, what else is known about them? With Luigi's Mansion, Nintendo gave Luigi some personality, and that is making him a giant chicken. Luigi for the majority of the game is terrified by the situation that he's in and the designers go to great lengths to show it.
As he wanders around the mansion, he has a look of terror on his face while trying to hum the theme song of the game (which gets stuck in my head easily.) Whenever Luigi goes to enter a new room for the first time, a zoomed in view of the door shows Luigi's hand trembling in fear as he reaches for the door. Now, granted this isn't Pulitzer winning character development, but it does give Luigi more personality then other Nintendo characters. This would also be used in later Mario games such as the excellent Mario and Luigi RPG series.
I also found the graphics to be very good and hold up well today. Mainly due to how well Luigi's model animates, from how he moves and reacts to the environment. While I was replaying this, I was also going through the first Gears of War on the 360, and I found Luigi's Mansion looked better to me then Gears of War.
Even with me gushing over the game, there are a few problems here. The main issues are that not only is Luigi's Mansion an original title, but it was also a launch title. Launch titles rarely use all the power and technology the console has to offer. Later games like Metroid Prime and Wind Waker got a chance to really show what the GameCube could do.
As the first game in the series there were several refinement issues. The length being a big one, the game is only a few hours long and other then playing through a harder version, not much replay-ability. Using the C-stick to move his flashlight around presented some navigation issues as it seemed to move differently then Luigi's movement.
In this regard, Luigi's Mansion reminds me of another original Nintendo game: Pikmin. The first game wasn't that long. With the sequel, the developers added in new Pikmin along with randomized dungeons to go through. From E3, it looks like Luigi's Mansion will get a second chance to shine with a sequel announced for the 3DS.
While many gamers were excited over the Ocarina of Time remake for the 3DS, Luigi's Mansion 2 may be the system seller for me.