One of the most important missions in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon involves normal household chores. Playing as the less-beloved Mario Brother, Luigi, I was given a vacuum and a flashlight, and I cleaned out the cobwebs in a haunted mansion. Moments earlier, I was reeling in ghosts with wild abandon—Ghostbusters meets Deadliest Catch. I faced ghouls who flaunted their superiority like a blow-up guy in front of a used car dealership. But at this moment, I was doing something I don’t even like doing in real life. I vacuumed until the house literally sparkled. I couldn’t have been happier.
Dark Moon hits that sweet spot between the pragmatic and the fanciful. Yes, you have to meticulously comb and scrub as if anticipating a visit from your ghost-bubbie. But it’s a freakin’ haunted house full of eccentric-millionaire surprises, like a fountain that sprays you in the face before revealing a secret room. It’s reminiscent of olden days Nintendo, when heroes didn’t need a market research-approved backstory for motivation. They had a princess to save, and though it might be fun to find out what happens when they do, the real joy came from wandering about a surreal and preposterous world.
The creative engine of Dark Moon is at least 12 years old, and it purrs like a classic car—a seductive vroom-vroom that’ll get you where you want to go with flair. The original Luigi’s Mansion was a 2001 launch title for the GameCube console, and it was a rare moment for Luigi to step out from Mario’s shadow. Luigi was cast into the darkness of a haunted mansion, creeping around corners with a flashlight, sucking up ghosts, and sweating uncontrollably.
Dark Moon, for the portable 3DS system, is no stranger to the schvitz, either. It has been a while since Luigi was last summoned by lunatic inventor Professor E. Gadd—a scientist who resembles a living Hershey’s Kiss—to a spooky parallel dimension. Gadd calls on the plumber after interlopers destroy the Dark Moon, a crystalline Lucky Charm that placates the local ghost population so that Gadd and the ghouls can pursue science together. King Boo, the chubby ghost villain from the last game, shatters the moon, ending the harmonious working relationship and forcing Gadd to retreat.
Luigi is theoretically braver than Gadd—taller, at least—but he’s still teleported against his will to a series of mansions so he can recover the pieces of Dark Moon. He shakes and moans as Gadd watches in delight. That might as well be the game’s soundtrack. Track 1: “Aaaaaaaaaaaah!” Track 2: “Guuuuuuuuuh!” Track 3 is the sound of Luigi’s own 3DS ringing when Gadd telephones to offer Luigi pointers. Gadd is obsessive about giving hints, to the extent that his calls inspire dread. Excessive help has become Nintendo’s recent calling card—“Leave ’em wanting less” appears to be the philosophy. Out of misplaced fear that I’ll walk away in disgust if I experience slight frustration, the game’s designers tell me everything.
They could stand to have more faith, as Dark Moon has plenty of allure without all the help. Luigi’s makeshift ghost-hunting gear is a peanut butter-chocolate combo that merges common household items with supernatural powers—the kind of fantasies dreamed up by a bored kid with an active imagination. Specters come in all shapes and sizes; there are plump yellow ones that spit bile, for instance, and flying tadpoles with see-thru brains. They all succumb to the suck of your Poltergust 5000, reeled in like wild bass on a fishing line. You stun the ghosts using a high-beam flashlight, switch on the vacuum to create an inescapable vortex, and pull hard. Often the beasts are so big that you’re dragged around the room, waterski style. As you gain control, yanking with all your might as you spiral across the carpet, fear is replaced by confidence.
When you clear a nightmarish library or creepy conservatory of all ghosts, the lights turn on, a fitting reward for your bravery. Cower no more—you can strut proudly in brightness. Marvel at your unimpeachable level of disinfection. The fanfare is kind of ridiculous—all you did was, say, capture three vain apparitions carrying mirrors (and in this particular case, the “room” that you clean is a graveyard). Still, there’s a real sense of accomplishment, in an insane context.
The triumph is fleeting. There are always darker lairs to explore or an inept toadstool friend to save. And there are puzzles in Dark Moon that require Luigi not only to handle himself with composure in frightening circumstances, but also to navigate the inner workings of a Rube Goldberg-type hydraulic pump. It’s a lot to juggle, and once again it’s a blend of the practical and the whimsical, as your goal is to replace lost pipes and aid the growth of a giant beanstalk.
So not only do you ensure that no stray cobweb depreciates the value of your mansions, you also become intimately familiar with their plumbing systems. Plus there’s some light landscaping and garage cleanup. The whole mansion glimmers as you, the landlord of this ghost-vomit cul-de-sac, gamely scout out your next fixer-upper.