Release date: October 31st, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Back in 2001, when Nintendo launched the GameCube console, the star of its launch lineup was a new IP from the Mario universe, in the form of the first Luigi’s Mansion game, a side-story where Luigi ends up in a mansion with a darker, horror-type setting, tasked with fighting off ghosts to rescue his friends. This first game is considered by many to be a masterpiece and a very innovative game for Nintendo’s first-party series, and is still enjoyed by many (including myself) today.
Fast forward 18 years, and here we are in 2019, when Luigi’s Mansion 3 is announced to release on Halloween of this year, following up the 2nd game which was released on 3DS in 2013. This being a Switch release, they shared that there would be a number of new features to the gameplay which utilized some of the Switch’s control and gimmick features, but also updating it with new modes and other modern gameplay elements for new audiences.
Let’s delve into who Luigi’s Mansion 3 offers for new players in 2019 as well as veterans of the series.
In the visual department, Luigi’s Mansion 3 offers easily the most technologically advanced visuals from the series to date, with clothing textures and most all other kinds of textures or animations looking very modern, almost like a newer animated movie, and keeping the cartoon-ish aesthetic that Nintendo is known for in their Mario games and characters. The overall art design is also fairly well done, where most of the rooms and floors end up being pretty unique throughout, keeping your time with the game visually appealing for most of the time you’ll spend with it.
One of the major downsides here is one that seems to plague many of Nintendo’s first party games lately, and that is the performance on the Switch hardware, which ends up having an extremely unstable and variable frame rate with performance randomly dropping in many of the typical scenes you’ll run into, both in docked and handheld modes. This is very jarring, though it happens less in this game than it did in the recent Link’s Awakening remake, but it’s still a little annoying overall.
The audio in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is pretty similar to what you heard in the previous two games in this series, with some slightly spooky background music that you’d usually hear out of an animated children’s show about Halloween, and otherwise a very similar sound design to the previous games. Luigi expresses vocal shock and fright fairly frequently, despite there really not being much of anything even startling here, and he speaks more actual words here than probably any Mario character to date. The items and pickup sounds are exactly what you’d expect out of a Luigi title by now, with Mario coin sounds and character/enemy voices consistent with every other Mario game to date and it all sounds good for what it is.
The gameplay is where LM3 really starts to shine, as the new mechanics are generally all very positive additions for the series and make for enough new changes to warrant spending your time here.
The first big change is that the story features an element where Luigi gets a new addition to his vacuum weapon that allows him to make a malleable slime version of himself called “Goo-igi” who has a host of new abilities that Luigi does not have, and you can switch between both the normal Luigi and Gooigi to solve puzzles and fight enemies together. Not only does this mechanic make for a great refresher for the single player campaign, but it also allows you to play the entire game in co-op with a friend using a 2nd controller.
Despite the co-op being a lot of fun and making many puzzles less cumbersome and more fun, some of the puzzles towards the end can still get fairly annoying, with the game giving you no hints as to what you should be doing, and when one or two failures on some puzzles make you have to watch an entire long cutscene again to even be able to attempt the puzzle/fight again, (which is unfortunately an oversight that’s been present in the LM games since the beginning,) it’s sad they haven’t learned to fix that by now after 18 years.
Otherwise, the co-op is about what you’d expect, and it’s much more streamlined and fun than controlling both Luigi’s yourself, and these new co-op abilities and puzzle-solving mechanics are often quite clever and make the puzzles generally a little tougher than anything you’ve encountered in the previous games, which is a nice touch, especially in a game which otherwise has just attempted to dumb everything else down almost to embarrassing levels of simplicity and lack of challenge, which brings me to my next major point.
Besides the puzzles being much more complex than in the previous games, everything else present in the game is generally so easy and so dumbed-down that it feels like it is almost a children’s game, which is likely what Nintendo was going for, to some extent. This seems to especially be a trend with Nintendo, but is also creeping it’s way into many other developers and games out there, which has some major negatives and a few positives, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time. If they had separated the easier combat and exploration into a separate selectable difficulty level, that would be a different story, but being forced to play something this unequally weighted as the standard gametype is a little frustrating.
This dumbing-down makes the game feel extremely unbalanced, since the combat and exploration is generally so linear and simple that when you end up getting to some of the complex puzzles, it’s a jarring jump in difficulty and complexity that can leave you a little confused as to where such a sudden jump came from, and this is an issue that was also very present in the 2nd LM game, and even though they did improve the frequency of the checkpoints in this game over the previous one, some of the placement of checkpoints is still questionable and leads to a lot of waiting and repeating things just to get back to where you were.
For example, I never died once in combat throughout the whole game until the very final boss, as most of the combat is so simple and so much easier than in previous LM games that it feels like you’re almost cheating your way through most of them. On top of that, you can just buy a number of items that instantly revive you, even if you were to die, which makes it feel like there’s even less threat than before. There’s also very few locked doors or real non-linear exploration here, as your path is almost always very limited and straight-forward, where the previous games had more of a survival horror-ish complexity to the exploration that is sorely lacking here.
This brings me to another related negative side here, in that the level design gets very tiring and a bit boring after a while, where after you get to around the halfway point of the game, the levels get to be very obviously bloated and stretched out in fairly annoying and frustrating ways that just make you sigh and dread all the monotonous backtracking you’re going to have to do to unlock your next floor.
Even though the environments generally look unique from each other, you’ll start re-treading some of the exact same puzzle solutions and also dealing with the game stringing you around after you’ve technically completed a floor, then it makes you go back to two previous floors to actually unlock the next one instead of just letting you progress normally. This starts to feel tiring when it’s repeated so many time and becomes clear that they were just adding backtracking to extend the length of the game just for the sake of it feeling longer without adding much enjoyable content.
As far as overall content in the package here, they’ve also added two multiplayer modes outside of the co-op campaign to LM3, including the ScareScraper mode from the 2nd LM game, and both are pretty welcome additions and can add a decent amount of extra gameplay, though they will ultimately also get fairly tiring after a little bit of time spent with them, since there are fairly limited stages and gameplay variety within each one.
Overall, the campaign will likely take somewhere around 12-15 hours or so to complete, with some extra gems/hidden items to go back for later if you so desire, though they don’t really add much besides some concept art in the menus. And, again, a few of those hours will be spent with some annoying backtracking that just tends to stifle the feeling of progress through the game, though they are required to complete it.
As previously mentioned, the lack of anything very scary or startling in general here also cheapens the feel of the whole experience compared to the first two games as well, with everything just feeling more like a children’s movie than something that still has any traces of survival horror or adult appeal in it.
Despite its leaps forward in gameplay and visuals, it’s hard to call Luigi’s Mansion 3 anything besides “decent” or “just OK.” It failed to really keep me captivated for its fairly long length and made me have to push myself to keep playing after about the 2/3 mark, which is something that shows some major flaws with pacing and level design in general.
New players will probably have a blast with the game, especially when playing co-op, but for series veterans, and especially those who prefer the first Luigi’s Mansion, this game may have a bit too many flaws to justify a $60 price tag for you.
Do some research and find out which camp you may fall into, and hopefully you’ll make the right decision for yourself, but for myself, I would personally place this closer to a $20-25 purchase. Then again, most people who are into Nintendo’s first-party franchises will probably have already bought this on launch day, if their fanbase is any indication, but to those a little more cautious, maybe do some extra thinking before picking this one up at full price.