Luigi's Mansion 3 Review
An enjoyable return for the ghost hunter
Fans might recall the Year of Luigi promotional events in 2013-2014, when Nintendo celebrated the character's 30th with various games, DLC, and promos focused on Mario's twin brother. At the time, the company mostly chose to supplement existing games, such as New Super Luigi U being an extension of New Super Mario Bros U. The only occasion when this character didn't have to share spotlight has been in the Luigi's Mansion series, but the franchise has been extremely dormant comparatively to Mario. But fret not, as Luigi's Mansion 3 finally makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch. Despite the very long wait, Luigi doesn't miss a beat, and this new entry offers up strong gameplay, great level design, and an ever-charming presentation.
The story is quite simple, as is to be expected. Luigi, Mario, Princess Peach, and some Toads are invited to visit the Last Resort hotel for a vacation. On the first night after the check-in, however, spooky events unravel in the halls and it's revealed that the hotel owner Hellen Gravely is working with King Boo to capture everyone and trap them in paintings. Luigi manages to escape, and teams up with Professor E. Gadd who was also tricked into coming to the hotel. The professor gives Luigi the series' staple device, Poltergust G-00, to help rescue everyone, while also capturing all the ghosts that have escaped from the professor's collection. Those ghosts have also stolen the buttons from the hotel's elevator, leaving Luigi with limited options on where to go. As you clear levels, collect coins and elevator buttons, you can return to the Professor to buy gold bones (revives if your health reaches zero), gem locations, and Boo locations.
To contend with the ghosts, Luigi has a full bag of tricks thanks to the Poltergust G-00 backpack vacuum, a device that fans of the series will be familiar with. As the camera is always fixed, the combat feels contained and satisfying; you must first stun the ghosts with a shot of light using the Strobulb, and then suck them in with the Poltergust. As the ghosts try to escape and drag Luigi around the room, you pull the stick in the opposite direction, and once a meter fills you can slam the ghost side to side a few times to deplete their health in chunks. Multiple ghosts can be caught in the suction, making it more convenient. These basic mechanics work for all ghosts you encounter, but of course there are many tricks up the game's sleeve.
Progressing through the different hotel levels, you'll encounter a few different ghost types, whose attacks and abilities vary from slams, to charges, to throwing things at you. They also have a habit of protecting themselves and their eyes, which makes them invulnerable to the Strobulb, so you often have to dispatch of their shields, sunglasses, and other objects. To that end, you can use the Burst, which pushes all enemies away from Luigi and often makes them drop whatever they are holding/wearing. You can also use a new Suction Shot, which shoots out a plunger with a rope at specific surfaces/items, which Luigi can then pull back and slam. Last but not least, you can summon Gooigi, a clone of yourself that is controlled separately. This gives the ghosts a different target to attack, leaving Luigi with a flanking opportunity.
With all of these mechanics and variables, the combat in Luigi's Mansion 3 is certainly varied and manages to avoid getting stale over the course of the game's adventure. At the end of most levels, you will also be facing off against a boss ghost, and these encounters are equally varied and entertaining, if a little bit predicable. Much like Mario games, you have to wait for the boss to go through their sequence of attacks, and wait for your opening. And while the game doesn't explicitly structure it that way, you end up needing about 3 attacks before capturing the boss ghost, which is all so familiar. The battles are nonetheless entertaining, but it would be nice if Nintendo could one day break free from this formula.
If there's a criticism to be made, it's that the controls feel awkward. Because of the game's fixed camera and 3D levels, there's no way to make it comfortable for Luigi to aim his vacuum in all directions. You often need to aim forward, backward, left, right, as well as up/down. That last bit is what causes an issue, as the controls can't simply let you stop aiming once you're facing left/right, as in traditional 2D games. So that means your aim stick rotates Luigi in whatever direction you're pointing. You're spinning in place - and there seems to be no better solution that Nintendo has found. You can, in options, change the aim to be more typical - which lets you aim in any direction as normal. However in that case, you lose the ability to aim up and down, which is often needed in combat and exploration. It's strange for a while, but you do get used to the default controls - and the game rarely proves to be overly difficult or demanding of precision anyway.
The structure of the campaign is largely linear and level-based, but this helps the game keep a good pace and provide lots of variety. Luigi will explore each of the hotel's floors, which all feature a unique theme and feel distinct. Like the bosses, it's best to experience these locations without any prior knowledge, but it can be said there's a disco level, a garden level, a desert level, and so on. Each location does a great job of centering its art and props around the given theme.
Much as before, the camera is fixed, but you're still navigating 3D rooms with lots of nooks and crannies. With his vacuum, Luigi is able to suck in just about everything, which might turn into money, reveal secrets, expose secret passages, and so on. The exploration is so enticing because it's both ingenious and quick to do - you could spot a loose part of a wall, a knight's shield might be shaped just like your suction shot, or some drapery blows a little in the wind. There are many clever nooks and crannies to explore, it always feels unique, and because rooms are entirely self contained you rarely have to venture far to find the solution. The game even teases players with openings in the wall that Luigi can peer through to see the other side, or smart mirror reflections to see the room from another perspective opposite the player camera. The level design is rather great all around.
All of the combat abilities mentioned earlier also play into the puzzles and exploration. You'll need to suck up money and all sorts of items, as well as suck/blow on valves to turn them. The Strobulb will activate certain buttons, and the suction shot can loosen up objects by letting you drag them. The lesser used mechanics in combat are more often used in exploration - the blow function and Dark-Light. The former is again helpful in puzzles and interacting with things in the environment, while the latter reveals doors and items that are otherwise hidden. And of course, you've got Gooigi - a clone that can be summoned at any time. You swap between controlling Luigi and Gooigi, and during exploration he is used as a typical secondary character. The benefit is that Gooigi can pass through grates and walls, and does not take damage from traps. This lets the game present some typical 2-player puzzles, where Gooigi holds a door open, ventures on a dangerous path, and so on. Gooigi can't open doors or fight for very long (he has limited HP), and also dies to flame and water, but otherwise he's got the same abilities as the real Luigi.
Luigi's Mansion 3 is simply a perfect example where no mechanic goes to waste or feels like a throwaway. You get access to pretty much everything from early on, so again it keeps the game focused and the pacing strong, as there's never a need to retrace your steps like a metroidvania. You also always have a map to follow, and can teleport to the Professor at any time. Still, there are a couple of moments in the campaign that make you revisit levels for dubious reasons, which are now devoid of surprises and items, which feels like unnecessary padding. You can, of course, return later to any location in search of collectible items, and there are Boos that populate levels after you've cleared them, but this is all optional.
You can also dive into the game with other players. The campaign can be played in local co-op, with one player controlling Luigi and the other Gooigi. It works well, and lets you complete puzzles faster than doing it alone. But the big ScareScraper mode is the main offering, returning from Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, where players can explore 5, 10, or a random number of procedurally generated floors together. To clear each floor you need to either capture all ghosts or rescue Toads, within a time limit. The mode can be played online or locally, with up to 8 participants. Players can double-slam ghosts if they work together, and the map must be discovered as you go. Further, there are traps from which other players can rescue you, and special items to find like a map of the floor, extended time, hidden item reveals, and so on. ScareScraper is a fun and highly repayable multiplayer mode thanks to its randomly generated nature.
There are also a few competitive minigames for two to eight players across 4 Switch consoles locally, filed under the Scream Park section. The three included minigames here are Ghost Hunt, Coin Floating, and Cannon Barrage. Ghost Hunt simply lets players compete to capture the most ghosts on the same static map (a graveyard); it's good for a quick game, but most players will probably head into ScareScraper. In Coin Floating, opponents use a floaty in a pool and try to pick up coins; you can use the suck/blow functions of your vacuum to push yourself around the water. Of course, the water gets progressively covered in explosive mines, and hitting those makes you lose all the coins you've collected. And lastly, Cannon Barrage pits opponents in a match of trying to hit targets with cannon balls; you must recover the cannon balls from around the area, feed them into the cannon and shoot it with good timing to hit moving targets. All three of these modes are pretty entertaining for local competitive play.
Much like the game follows traditional Nintendo gameplay, it also does so in presentation. The art style very closely resembles that of other major Switch games, namely Super Mario Odyssey, though of course the colors are much darker and spookier. The game still aims at a very young audience though, so there's really nothing scary at all, apart from occasional mildest of jumps when interacting with some objects. The animations are great throughout. The game looks nice in both docked and handheld modes on the Switch, as its art does not try to push the technical boundaries of the console. The audio design is equally solid, with a nice soundtrack and the rare occasional voices of the characters being charming as usual.
Luigi's Mansion 3 is a good continuation of the series that manages to retain its unique sensibilities, while becoming very much a modern Switch title. The gameplay mechanics are tightly designed and help create both satisfying combat and great exploration, thanks in full to the very well designed levels. It's charming to look at and listen to, and with a few different multiplayer options there's plenty of content to enjoy both in the campaign and with others. It very much follows the modern Nintendo formula of boss design and other idiosyncrasies, so you're not going to be surprised by anything, but that doesn't take away from what is a great overall package - just in time for Halloween.