In a medium overloaded with huge and hyper-violent experiences, it’s an absolute delight to encounter a game like Luigi’s Mansion 3, a small but painstakingly architected adventure that engages us with its creativity, innovation and individuality.
Mario’s oft-overlooked sibling, well known for his timid demeanour, has been invited to stay at a luxurious hotel with his friends. But once they arrive things immediately begin going to pot. The hotel’s villainous proprietress has a grudge against Luigi. She captures his friends, freezing them in paintings scattered throughout the hotel, which, it turns out, is absolutely crawling with ghosts. Luigi — brow furrowed from fright, teeth chattering wildly — sets out to find and free his pals and get to the heart of the hotel’s mysteries.
The hotel is broken into more than a dozen small floors, each composed of a handful of rooms. It’s a relatively small world compared to those of most games, but each location is bursting with details and secrets, making it surprisingly easy to spend half an hour or more on just a single floor. You’ll want to inspect each piece of furniture and every painting, check behind curtains and under bedclothes, and even take time to peer into mouse holes and cracks in walls to uncover riddles and discover an array of collectibles and rare ghosts.
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Exploration is all the more appealing because each floor and room has a theme and style all its own. There are VIP suites, a restaurant, a garage, a theatre, and more, each loaded with its own set of secrets and surprises. And it’s all wrapped up in gorgeous graphics and audioscapes, including fantastic fabric physics, realistic lighting effects and wonderfully spooky music and sounds. It’s one of the prettiest games yet made for Switch.
A big part of the fun is figuring out how to put Luigi’s extensive arsenal of goofy gadgets to effective use — essential to noodling out solutions to the game’s myriad puzzles. He’s equipped with a black light flashlight that can reveal hidden features in paintings, as well as a strobe light that can stun ghosts in their tracks, letting him use a vacuum cleaner to grab hold of their spectral forms and begin sucking them in, Ghostbusters-style. The vacuum can also be used to hoover up sheets and tablecloths as well any money Luigi happens to find. In some situations you can use a reverse flow function to create air gusts that push objects around, or use a suction cup with a rope to latch onto physical objects.
Perhaps the most interesting tool in Luigi’s arsenal, though, is a summonable gooey green clone cleverly dubbed Gooigi, who can be controlled by you or a second player in cooperative play. Gooigi can do anything Luigi can do, and more. His goopy nature means he can slip through bars and grates or squish himself through the hotel’s pipe system. He can also cooperate with Luigi, using their combined strength to tug heavier objects or adjust switches simultaneously. It brings a whole new dimension to the Luigi’s Mansion experience.
The real excitement, however, comes upon encountering boss ghosts. Each one is a memorable character unto him or herself, from a demented cook to a forlorn TV director. And each one is a puzzle to be solved, requiring creative use of Luigi’s abilities and gizmos to weaken and eventually capture. The solutions can occasionally be devilishly tricky to work out, but — understanding that most people who play will be kids — Nintendo’s gamesmiths have included a helpful contextual hint system that players can call on for situation-specific tips. I’m not shy to say I used it more than once, and found it infinitely preferable to searching out hammy user-created walkthroughs on YouTube.
In addition to the lengthy single-player mode, Nintendo has also included a local/online cooperative mode for up to eight players as well as a handful of competitive Mario Party-ish mini-games, which I’m sure will appeal to kids looking to play in groups.
But it’s the story that’s the main draw. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the best entry yet in this frequently snubbed Nintendo franchise, and one of the most original and entertaining plays of the year. There’s no shortage of great games available for Switch, but this one is a standout.