Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS, 2013)


2013 was the Year of Luigi, and with it came several games that put Mario’s oft-forgotten twin brother front and center. Much like the Left Behind DLC for The Last of UsNew Super Luigi U on the Wii U was an amazing example of what companies are capable of when they dedicate some real time and effort into their DLC projects, and it was one of the best titles that I played this year. I gave it an A in my review, and it’s a game that will challenge and delight any side-scrolling platformer fan.

While there have been other less prominent outings for Luigi, including Super Luigi Bros., which can be found within NES Remix 2, and the eShop exclusive Dr. Luigi, the game that most people will remember from Luigi’s year in the spotlight is this game: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (from here on out simply referred to as Dark Moon).

Developed by Next Level Games, who was also in charge of the excellent Punch-Out!! on the Wii back in 2009, Dark Moon quickly became one of the most anticipated games on the Nintendo 3DS. Being a fan of the GameCube original, I was very excited to see what kind of a difference twelve years would make.

20141119_luigis_titleThose years have been kind, because for the most part, Dark Moon is a success. Luigi carries around an upgraded vacuum known as the Poltergust 5000 (formerly the Poltergust 3000) — invented by Professor E. Gadd, developer of F.L.U.D.D. from Super Mario Sunshine — which among other things is used to collect ghosts, treasures, and pull drapes off of curtain rods. It can also function in reverse to roll up carpets, turn fans, and launch projectiles through the air. He’s also outfitted with a flashlight that can momentarily stun ghosts and open locked doors. One of the neatest additions to Dark Moon is the Dark-Light Device, a black light of sorts that can reveal invisible objects, hidden ghosts, and other clues.

Your Poltergust 5000 can be upgraded throughout the course of the game, but you’ll have it maxxed-out long before you reach its end. At first it feels like it all happens too soon, but you’ll quickly learn to appreciate this as it makes the act of catching ghosts and beating missions much easier and a lot of fun. Another new feature is the Surge mechanic, which rewards you with better treasure based on what Surge level you’re in when you capture a ghost. It’s very strategic and is an important timing skill to learn in order to get the best rankings.

Players are ranked from 1 to 3 stars on their performance in each mission, which takes into account how much damage you sustain, how much treasure you find (getting good at Surge timing really helps out here), and how quickly you complete them. I found the final component — the time one — to run counter to the spirit of the game, which encourages exploration of every nook and cranny of each mansion. I felt like I needed to memorize where all of the best treasures and ghosts were found in order to get each mission’s best 3-star ranking. For some of the longer missions, this became more trouble than it was worth, and while I found every Boo, I stopped short of 3-starring every stage.

20141123_dark_moon_amethystSpeaking of stages, yes, the singular mansion of the first game has been ditched in favor of several different ones, each possessing their own unique look, inhabitants, obstacles, puzzles, and other challenges. Each mansion is broken up into several distinct missions which have individual objectives to complete, including puzzles, collecting ghosts, finding rare gems, and capturing hidden Boos, which unlock extra levels in each mansion if you find them all. This gives the game a lot of replayability, and it will have completionists reentering missions multiple times to find everything they missed.

It works, but I would have preferred a more integrated structure, since the back-and-forth one in Dark Moon leads to a lot of loading screens, lengthy dialogue scenes between you and the Professor, and it slows the pace of the game down quite a bit. The stages themselves, however, are beautiful to look at. While the 3DS struggles to maintain a solid framerate, which can be anywhere from sub-20fps to 60fps, they are well-constructed, atmospherically lit, and contain all sorts of interactive objects. The 3D works particularly well, since so much of Dark Moon relies on the player being able to detect and locate ghosts in 3D space, so being able to see if a ghost is in front or behind you is critical.

Luigi himself is wonderfully animated, and you get a believable sense that he really doesn’t want to be there! He’s the reluctant hero, and that comes across in his nervous vocalizations, terrified facial expressions, and hesitant body language. The ghosts that you encounter throughout each mansion are distinct, fun to defeat, and really stand out against the mansion backdrops. While most of them are pretty easy to figure out, they can become downright diabolical when they start working in groups against poor Luigi.

In terms of controls, they’re pretty good, but because there is no standard dual-analog control for the 3DS, you have to physically be facing a ghost in order to shine your flashlight at them or use your vacuum. In more heated encounters where you are against several different enemies at once, the control scheme can become a hindrance and a noticeable limitation. There are also buttons you have to press and hold to run, look up, and look down, so there is definitely a steeper learning curve with Dark Moon‘s controls than most Nintendo games. It makes me think that it would be amazing to see a Luigi’s Mansion game on the Wii U.

The music in Dark Moon is understated, but quite brilliant at the same time. It’s more ambient than the typically melodic fare of Nintendo titles, but it suits the game’s mood perfectly, and the first time you hear Luigi humming along to the music while you’re exploring is one of those moments that elevates the soundtrack from just “being there” to selling it as a truly integrated and necessary component to the experience.

Speech is limited to short phrases and in the case of Professor E. Gadd, unintelligible gibberish that sounds oddly similar to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. In-game sounds are nicely done and provide each environment with creaking floorboards, clanging chandeliers, and other spooky noises that bring each mansion to supernatural life.

Each mansion culminates in a boss fight, and while some of them intelligently blend the action with inspired puzzle design, others are simplistic or overly long and tedious. One in particular, which happens about halfway through the game, can be a test of one’s patience, and ultimately feels out of place. Plus, if you lose a life, you have to do it all over again from the beginning, and most of the boss stages have an introductory area that you need to get through first before the fight begins, which adds a little insult to injury.

The game also contains several escort missions, where you have to rescue various Toad Assistants and get them through different obstacles to the exit. While I generally don’t like escort missions, I found these to be a lot of fun and had me thinking about each stage in different ways. I think Dark Moon is at its best when it challenges you with its puzzle design, rewarding the player with satisfying “Aha!” moments. If another Luigi’s Mansion is made, I would love to see more cooperative traversal missions like these.

dark_moon_3_starDark Moon‘s campaign mode will take most players around 10-15 hours to complete, and likely at least double that to 100% it. Not only that, but a new multiplayer mode known as the ScareScraper is almost an entirely different game in itself, with different modes and challenges that encourage teamwork with other players. It’s a fresh new way to experience the Luigi’s Mansion formula, which when you consider that the series is known so much for its single-player qualities, this really stands out as a highlight.

All in all, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a worthy follow-up to the 2001 GameCube original, with a wealth of content, variety, and replay value. While there are some things about it that I didn’t particularly enjoy, such as the overly heavy focus on collecting, level structure, certain boss encounters, and an inconsistent framerate, it is one of the more unique titles to be found on the 3DS, and definitely worth a look if you’re in search of a more challenging and cerebral experience.

  • Visuals: B
    Nicely modeled environments, colors, and excellent character animation. However, an inconsistent framerate and dull menus tarnish its overall visual presentation.
  • Sound: A
    A wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack with solid voice samples, crisp sound effects, and a wealth of convincing environmental audio bring each mansion to life. Headphones are definitely recommended!
  • Story: B-
    Nothing groundbreaking, but the simple story about recovering the Dark Moon pieces and returning the ghosts to their former state keeps things interesting enough through to its end. The dialogue sequences are numerous and overly lengthy at times, though.
  • Gameplay: B
    There is a lot to do in Dark Moon, and the game gets a lot of good mileage out of a few well-defined systems. Exploration, discovery, puzzle-solving, and escorting NPCs are all very satisfying. Mission structure makes things a little slow, however, as it breaks up the overall flow of the game. 3-star requirements tend to be vague, and some boss encounters feel like they could have used another design pass as well.
  • Controls: B+
    Controls are responsive and are surprisingly robust and natural in most situations once you get used to them. Capturing ghosts feels great, but without dual-analog on the 3DS, certain encounters and situations can be more frustrating than they need to be.
  • Value: A
    Completionists will have their hands full finding everything and obtaining all 3-star rankings, and the ScareScraper multiplayer mode is nicely integrated and will keep players coming back for more.

Overall: B



Backlog Blitz: The Games of November 2014


November can be a painful, evil month for gamers. With publishers wanting to take advantage of the holiday shopping season by getting big titles out to market, and retailers offering deep discounts on even the newest games, giving in to temptation is easy. And give in I did, as weakness overcame me this month on a number of hard-to-resist deals and new releases.

Anyway, even though I dropped quite a bit this month — and recovery in December looks bleak — I still managed to finish several games, including my pick for Game of the Year.  I was a bit bummed, however, that my spending total was the highest it’s been since January. The format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-10, $195.75 spent):

  1. MW_WII_CVR SHT_3MadWorld (Wii, $10.00)
    After getting into the Bayonetta series from Platinum Games, I began picking up some of their other games. Last month it was Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and this month it’s this stylish black and white action game for the Wii. I know close to nothing about this game, but I’m guessing it was highly influenced by Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m looking forward to checking it out after I’m done with The Wonderful 101.
  2. The Humble Jumbo Bundle 3 (PC, $5.75)
    The folks at Humble Bundle continue to offer up some of the best deals in gaming, to the point where it’s almost criminal. This particular bundle contained the following titles: Always Sometimes Monsters, Blackguards, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Full Mojo Rampage, GRID, GRID 2, Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy, Insurgency, KickBeat Steam Edition, and Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure. I’ve heard so many good things about that Euro Truck Simulator series, so I’m curious to check that one out soon!
  3. WiiU_HyruleWarriors_BoxartHyrule Warriors (Wii U, $51.00)
    I have to admit that this was one of my more haphazard purchases of the month. I’ve been on a third-person action game kick recently, and the thought of playing one featuring a bunch of Legend of Zelda fan service seemed like reason enough to pick this up. Something tells me that this will be much cheaper soon, just because it’s one of those games on the fringes, but oh well, I’ve heard it’s good fun with near-limitless content.
  4. Bundle Stars: Lego Super Heroes Bundle (PC, $15.00)
    Bundle Stars is another bundle provider who puts out some really nice collections from time to time. I really enjoyed Lego City Undercover on the Wii U earlier this year, and so I’ve been looking for a reason to check out more games in the Lego series. This appeared last month and included the following: Lego Batman, Lego Batman 2 DC Super Heroes, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Asgard Pack DLC, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Super Pack DLC. It’s not that inexpensive in bundle terms, but it’s still a good deal at about $5 per mainline title.
  5. ssb_wiiu_boxSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U, $60.00)
    Nintendo strikes again with their big release for the holidays. I’ve admittedly never been much of a Smash Bros. fan or player, but this one seemed a lot more interesting to me, and given that it’s been a long time since I’ve played any sort of fighting game, I figured now would be a good time to ease myself back into a genre I once loved in the early/mid-’90s. I also picked up a Yoshi Amiibo, which you can check out in more detail HERE.
  6. The Humble Crescent Moon Games Mobile Bundle (Android, $8.00)
    Humble got me not once, not twice, but three times this month. This second one contained so many games that I have no idea where to start. At this point I feel like a collector of Android games since I rarely ever play them to completion. This bundle contained: 2-Bit Cowboy, Aralon: Sword and Shadow, Blocky Roads, Clash of Puppets, Exiles: Far Colony (Alpha), Mines of Mars, Neon Shadow, Paper Monsters, Pocket RPG, Ravensword: Shadowlands, Relic Rush, Shadow Blade, Siegecraft Defender, Slingshot Racing, Space Chicks, The Deer God (Alpha), and Topia World Builder. Whew! 17 different titles in total. I think my Android library is about to eclipse my Steam library, which is a little scary to think about.
  7. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS, $20.00)
    Black Friday is always a day where I like to stay home. I just don’t like crowds who are going nuts over cheap, no-name TVs and throwaway DVDs. This time, however, I wandered out later in the weekend to see what was left, and this was one of them, which was about the going price at most of the online retailers as well. Living in Oregon means no sales tax, so it’s nice to get things for the actual advertised sale price. I put a decent amount of time into the first game, but plan on really sinking my teeth into this pseudo-sequel.
  8. diablo_3_ps3Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PS3, $15.00)
    This is the other Black Friday weekend deal I picked up, which was an even better deal than Curtain Call at a very nice $25 off. Perhaps this is a bit of a shocker, but I’ve never played any of the Diablo games on PC. I’ve heard very good things about the console port, so I’m very excited to finally see what this is all about.
  9. The Humble Weekly Bundle: Zen Studios 2 (PC, $6.00)
    I love pinball games, with Zen Studios’ Plants vs. Zombies table is one of my recent favorites. This second pinball table bundle from them is full of good stuff: Base game and Civil War Table, Captain America Table, Excalibur Table, Deadpool Table, Doctor Strange Table, Mars Table, Marvel Pinball Vengeance and Virtue Pack, Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force Pack, and Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within Pack. I like what I’ve played of the past Star Wars tables, so I’m hoping the ones included here maintain that level of quality.
  10. Sega 48-Game Mega Arcade Pack (PC, $5.00)
    This was part of a Black Friday deal on It’s been priced this low before, but not for a while. Not a bad deal at all given that it’s normal price is a very steep $70. These games have been part of past collections, but the emulation used in Steam seems quite good, and includes some decent visual options and save states. Included are the following: Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Comix Zone, Ecco the Dolphin, Gain Ground, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, VectorMan, Crack Down, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, Space Harrier II, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Bonanza Bros., Columns. Ecco Jr., Eternal Champions, Fatal Labyrinth, Galaxy Force II, Kid Chameleon, Ristar, Super Thunder Blade, Alien Storm, Bio-Hazard Battle, Columns III, Sword of Vermilion, Virtua Fighter 2, Ecco: The Tides of Time, Decap Attack, Flicky, ESWAT: City Under Siege, Golden Axe II, Alien Soldier, Gunstar Heroes, Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole, Light Crusader, Shining Force, Shining Force II, Shining in the Darkness, Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Sonic 3D Blast, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, ToeJam & Earl, and ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Sadly missing is the fifth Genesis pack, but at this price, it’s impossible to complain without sounding ridiculous.

Games finished (+3, $104.00 value):

  1. TF2-EApcSLP03Portal (PC, $10.00, 2 hrs.)
    For some reason, I got it in my head that it might be a good idea to “train” myself to play mouse/keyboard games right-handed. As a southpaw, I’ve always had to rebind my controls every time I want to play something like a PC FPS. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s just annoying enough that I will usually go the lazy route and play with a gamepad. While it was going OK, I realized that I rely on my left-handedness too much for other PC-oriented tasks, like Photoshop and other art/drawing applications, so I decided to stick with what has worked for me all of these years. I was going to help train myself with this game, and although I didn’t play it right-handed, I went ahead and played through the entire thing yet again. It’s still one of the most tightly constructed FPS puzzle games, but wow is it short if you know what you’re doing!
    Overall: A
  2. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, $60.00, 20 hrs. and counting)
    As I mentioned in this post’s intro, this is my Game of the Year, and I played some excellent games this year. Problem is most of those games came out in 2013 or earlier, such as Grand Theft Auto V, Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World, and Volgarr the Viking. I can’t get over how beautifully executed this game is, and it will be remembered as one of the best games on Nintendo’s most challenged console to date.
    Overall: A+ REVIEW LINK
  3. luigi_dark_moon_boxLuigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS, $34.00, 15 hrs.)
    This game took me forever to finish. I started it back in June, but for some reason, it never really hooked me. I appreciated it for what it was and for how it improved upon the GameCube original, but there were aspects of its design that I felt held it back from being a truly great and classic Nintendo title. Still, like the works of Studio Ghibli, even a “just OK” game from them is better than what most other companies produce, so it still managed to be a memorable adventure with lots of replay value for those who like collecting stuff and racing against the clock.
    Overall: (Review Forthcoming)

And with that, we head into the final weeks of 2014. It’s been a fun journey filled with some of the best games I’ve ever played, with some big ones set to hit in 2015, including the next Legend of Zelda, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Uncharted 4. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Time to start saving up those pennies! Have a great weekend and see you next time.


Review: Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014)

I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: Bayonetta 2 is my Game of the Year for 2014. No other title in recent memory has captivated and entertained me as much as this one has, and that’s saying a lot since (a) I only started playing the Bayonetta series about a month ago, and (b) I usually don’t care for third-person brawlers like God of War and Ninja Gaiden.

Not only that, but I didn’t really love the first Bayonetta, either. Yes, I gave it a B+ in my review, and I enjoyed its style and deep combat system, but there were a number of things I didn’t like, including the lengthy on-rails shooter stages, boring mini-games, flat colors, and endlessly wordy cinematics. While some of those things have carried over to its sequel, they’ve been stripped down and polished to a brilliant shine, resulting in a game that delivers a perfectly paced experience from the heavens. Or hell, if you prefer.


The fact that we even have Bayonetta 2 in our hands is a bit of a small miracle. With Sega not able to take care of publishing duties this time around, Nintendo was the only company willing to step in and take a chance on it. Announced as a Wii U exclusive back in September of 2012, it immediately angered Xbox and PlayStation supporters. I remember being floored by the announcement, at first confused by the Wii U being its one and only home, but then excited that Nintendo did something that surprised so many people. As a company known for publishing mostly their own E-rated games, having the sultry Bayonetta grace their new system definitely made a big impact. Most importantly, though, it gave the Wii U a serious action exclusive that can’t be played anywhere else.

Over two years have passed, and the wait was so worth it. From its opening moments, Bayonetta 2 exudes quality. The first thing that jumps out at you is the new, brightly vibrant color palette, replacing the dark, muted tones of the original. Everything pops and shines beautifully, with stylish cinematic sequences and an in-game framerate that does its best to maintain 60fps. It drops regularly due to the sheer amount of on-screen detail and chaos, but in my opinion, it’s not bad enough to be a detriment to gameplay.


There is no screen tearing or v-sync issues to be found here, which was one of my biggest gripes with the first game’s graphical presentation, even with the superior Xbox 360 build. As a result, each frame of Bayonetta 2 is complete and an absolute treat for the eyes. The same qualities carry over to the free version of Bayonetta that comes packed in with its sequel.

Speaking of that pack-in, it’s not just a simple port, and includes extras like the Japanese language track, Nintendo-themed costumes, faster load times, easier difficulty settings, and better performance. By all accounts, it’s the definitive version of Bayonetta until a possible remaster is ever developed. The inclusion of the original game not only adds value, but is also helpful for Wii U owners who have never played the first one, giving them an opportunity to see how it all started, and provides a baseline on which to compare its sequel.


And make no mistake, Bayonetta 2 is superior to its predecessor in every conceivable way.

Gameplay is sublime and feels even better than the first game. It’s the core of what the series is known for, and Platinum Games has taken what worked so well nearly five years ago, and has made it feel even more responsive, exciting, and fluid. New features such as the Umbran Climax, which takes Bayonetta’s attacks and powers them up like a string of fighting game super moves, gives encounters an even more impactful and visceral feel than before. They’re so crazy that they can sometimes obscure the action, so be careful: They can be a double-edged sword if you are playing to achieve perfect playthrough status.


Controls are intuitive and responsive, with a heavy focus on dodging enemy strikes. Well-timed dodges will make the player enter what is known as Witch Time, which will slow down the action, temporarily make Bayonetta invincible, and allow her to build up her score and combos. The Dodge Offset technique also makes a return, which allows you to continue a combo string even after you dodge, as long as you’re holding down an attack button. Additional moves, weapons, items, costumes, and accessories can be purchased from your pal Rodin, found, or alchemized to further deepen your already robust arsenal.

The Angel Attack minigame has been completely removed, and the drawn-out driving and flying stages have been replaced by shorter, more focused sequences, one of which conceals Bayonetta 2‘s most famous Nintendo easter egg.


Long-time fans of Platinum Games will be right at home with the scoring and ranking system here. Most of the game’s Chapters are broken down into multiple Verses, and each Verse is given a rank based on your combo, time, and damage results. Achieving a full combo, fast time, and zero damage in a Verse will result in a Pure Platinum ranking, the game’s highest award. For hardcore players, getting Pure Platinum across all of the game’s difficulties — including the highest Infinite Climax setting where Witch Time is disabled — will be the ultimate goal.

For many other players, experiencing the game’s story, characters, enemies, and environments will provide more than enough entertainment. While the story itself will give continuity error and plot hole seekers a lot to sink their teeth into, it does a decent job of building characters relationships and motive. Unfortunately, like Bayonetta 1, many of the cinematic cutscenes are still overly wordy, and more often than not, I found myself rolling my eyes at the awkward dialogue and unnecessary exposition, complete with forced cursing.


On the flipside, the action cutscenes are stylishly executed and a lot of fun to watch. They are all done in-engine, with the more highly detailed models rendered in 30fps, and gameplay versions output in 60fps. Quick Time Events (QTEs) are still a part of these sections, but they have definitely been toned down from the first game, and feel less intrusive as a result.

As before, sound effects play a big part in Bayonetta 2‘s gameplay, and in conjunction with bright visual indicators, cue the player in on when an enemy attack is being delivered, prompting you to dodge. Some of these attacks are easy to avoid, while others require near-superhuman reaction times. Focusing on these is key to Pure Platinum rankings, and your survival in general. One of the most rewarding feelings in this game is focusing through all of the insanity around you, and in a zen-like way, successfully finishing a Verse perfectly.


The music in Bayonetta 2 is as atmospheric and kinetic as the game itself, and like its predecessor, delivers a memorable selection of tunes that span a number of different styles. One of the highlights is a great upbeat version of “Moon River”, which is simply a perfect song selections for Bayonetta. Unlike “Fly Me To The Moon” from Bayonetta 1, “Moon River” is sparsely used, having a greater impact when you do hear it.

In closing, I had a blast with Bayonetta 2, and continue to do so, weeks after finishing it. There is just so much to do, find, collect, and conquer here, and it will keep action fans busy for a long, long time. It’s not only one of the best action games to be found on the Wii U, but is without a doubt one of the best action games ever made.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Vibrantly beautiful colors are a major improvement over the first game. Animation and special effects are big and impressive, including the new Umbran Climax and returning Climax finishers. No screen tearing, but performance overall is a bit worse than before. Story is OK, but like Bayonetta 1, it won’t be winning any writing awards.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A
    An excellent soundtrack brings the world of Bayonetta 2 to life, with lots of variety and different styles. Sound effects are helpful and impactful, and both English and Japanese voiceover tracks are included, even though the dialogue itself can be very long-winded.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A+
    Perfect, responsive, and refined controls make this one of the most exciting and intuitive games I’ve ever played. Lots of secrets, collectibles, post-game challenges, and online play will put the most experienced players to the test.
  • Value: A+
    The first game is included for free, and not only completing, but mastering all the game’s difficulty settings will take any player a very long time to achieve.

Overall: A+