Games

'Luigi's Mansion 3' Is Hardly Ambitious, But Hey, It's Really Fun

I had an existential crisis about collectibles while playing Luigi's latest adventure, and yet, I carried on.

by Patrick Klepek
Oct 28 2019, 2:00pm

Image courtesy of Nintendo

The last thing I expected while playing Luigi’s Mansion 3, the latest sequel to the GameCube cult classic where Mario’s overlooked brother vacuums up ghosts, was an existential crisis. But as I watched dozens of dollar bills fly into the air for the umpteenth time and my finger instinctively pressed for the suction button, hoovering these beautifully rendered dollars to my virtual bank account, I fell into mild panic: Why am I doing this? Why am I spending so much time on these useless collectibles? Which, okay, perhaps an unfair quadrant to exclusively dump on Luigi’s Mansion 3, given how many other games also do this, but Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the first time in a while it felt like the pointlessness was so front and center. Panic grew over my honest, emotional response: I like collecting this useless garbage.

There is money everywhere in Luigi’s Mansion 3. Dollars stuffed into drawers. Golden bars hidden behind a set of curtains. Everywhere you turn, every object you interact with teems with currency. The action you engage with the most in Luigi’s Mansion 3, more than fighting ghosts or solving puzzles, is sucking up and collecting money, lots of money. It gives the impression that dang, money must be pretty valuable, and the player should collect as much as humanly possible. It is not. This is not true. Money is virtually useless in Luigi’s Mansion 3, outside of buying extra lives and trackers for—you guessed it—even more collectibles. There is no skill tree to upgrade with cash, no features to unlock. It is, largely, pointless.

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Except that’s not really true, and my moment of crisis only underscores what, truly, has always been the appeal of Luigi’s Mansion, going all the way back to the original game from 2001: the sheer joy of discovery, the unexpected delight of poking and prodding at a tightly contained space and seeing what surprises the level designer has hidden. Whereas other long-running franchises tend to get ambitious in the very specific direction of large, open spaces, Luigi’s Mansion has resisted this urge and, much like Super Mario Odyssey, turned its attention towards an ever increasing density that rewards curiosity.

When I attended a press event for Luigi’s Mansion 3 earlier this year, Nintendo said the player should feel like every room in the game— every room—should hide a secret for them to discover. I believe them. You pull on an innocuous object, like a poster, only to reveal a hole that Luigi can peer in, revealing another secret in another room around the corner. The best discoveries in Luigi’s Mansion 3 are nesting dolls, a clue towards a much larger puzzle.

There’s technically a story driving Luigi’s Mansion 3, in which the Mushroom Kingdom crew takes a vacation to a fancy hotel that’s actually a ghost trap and only Luigi can save the day. It’s a dressed up excuse for Luigi to walk around a bunch of rooms where the first question isn’t “What object can I interact with?” but “What object can’t I interact with?” It’s a game where players are exploring carefully crafted, beautifully lit doll houses—and tearing them apart, piece by piece, turning a place of beauty into a pile of trash, eating up the good trash and leaving the rest. Creating the wreckage, by accident and on purpose, is what’s always made Luigi’s Mansion so delightful, and this third entry umps the ante considerably. You can tear this hotel to pieces, if you’d like, and the game will only smile.

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Your main point of interaction, as always, is the Poltergust (now called the Poltergust G-OO), essentially a fancy vacuum that also has the potential to suck up pesky ghosts. One button sucks in air, another button pushes it out. In a lot of ways, it plays like a dual stick shooter with some surprisingly clumsy controls. (I’ve always had trouble aiming in these games.) Tapping a flashlight on and off will stun most ghosts, which puts them in a state where the Poltergust 3000 can slam them into the ground, chipping away at their, uh, ghost health? Don’t think about it too much. You can also fire a plunger, which lets you pull on larger objects, tear down parts of walls, and more.

The biggest addition to Luigi’s Mansion 3, a game that’s otherwise pretty modest in terms of genuinely new ideas, is Gooigi, a slimy manifestation of Luigi that can slide through objects like sewer grates and fences, gaining access to otherwise locked areas. You can’t control Luigi and Gooigi at the same time, but you can have them work in tandem, i.e. they can both attach plungers to an extremely large object at the same time, letting them move it. The pairing leads to some of the game’s more delightful puzzles. In one section, Luigi operates a camera aimed at a movie set, while Gooigi is the one wandering around the set. Given how marquee the presentation of Gooigi is within the game, it’s actually surprising the amount of times the game goes through long stretches where you basically don’t use him; far and away, the duality of Luigi and Gooigi produces the most satisfying brain twisters.

So much of Luigi’s Mansion 3 is staring at a room, causing chaos, and examining what’s left. In Luigi’s Mansion 3, what you’re examining is, weirdly, gorgeous. I regularly found myself in awe just looking at the game. There was a moment where, while playing the game in handheld mode, I genuinely believed a high-res CG cutscene was playing out, so I dropped the Switch on the couch, while I scribbled down a note. In actuality, the game was patiently waiting for me to pick up and keep going.

The lighting in this game, my god. The way the moon’s light casts into the hotel from the outside, the way disco lights casually bounce around the room in a pseudo dance club. And character models are stunning, to the point that I want to make a pointless Pixar comparison because it might clumsily explain how the game can strike you as a polished work, as if you’re being given the chance to wander around a Luigi’s Mansion TV show. The rooms, and even the mansion itself, are tiny by 2019 video game standards, but the game smartly takes advantage of that more compact space by making what’s there look positively stunning.

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At times, though, it can feel like the visuals are there to distract from the game’s unyielding repetition. There’s just not much to do. Yes, there’s a decent amount of puzzles that are clever and interesting, especially in the back half of the game, but it’s not enough. Yes, there’s a fair amount of combat against a variety of spectral enemies, but the vast majority of combat is too simplistic. All the player does is zap with a flashlight, tap on the Poltergust, smack ‘em around a few times, and move onto the next one. The lone bright spot here is the game’s abundance of tricky, funny, and surprisingly difficult boss battles, like a dancing piano who wields music like a weapon, or a stomping skeletal T-Rex whose stomps reveal their own weakness. These fights were such a highlight that I was rushing through the next area to see what was in store.

And so, a tremendous amount of whether you will enjoy Luigi’s Mansion 3 is contingent on how much you enjoy its core conceit: exploring a space largely for the sake of exploring the space. How many times will you enjoy hoovering couches and newspapers and breaking lamps? For me it was enough—though sometimes just barely. There’s no sense of progression for Luigi or the Poltergust, no new features or tricks to unlock. How you start the game is, basically, how it ends. It’s a game where I enjoyed thoughtlessly sucking up money for no purpose outside of the act itself, a conceit compelling enough to get me to the end.

It took me a little under 15 hours to finish Luigi’s Mansion 3, a count buffered by getting hung up on a mid-game puzzle I suspect others will not. Had I not been playing for review, in which I was burning through the game, I suspect I might have had an even better time. So much of the game is built on repetition—again, a repetition the game sees as a strength, not a weakness—that it’s only understandable to occasionally get exasperated by shotgunning the game like a can of beer. It’s likely to have been a more enjoyable game enjoyed at a more leisurely pace.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is not ambitious, and it’s not reinventing what came before it. It is not a game trying to convert anyone—is what it is, happily. When the credits rolled, though, there was a sense of “I think I’ve had enough.” I’ve enjoyed the Luigi’s Mansion games to this point, but the next time around, you’re going to have to offer me a little more to do, Luigi.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you know why Nintendo won't let Luigi jump in these games, his email is patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).

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