Why I've Fallen Head Over Heels In Love With Luigi's Mansion 2

When you fall in love you want to tell people. The cliché is that of the lovelorn gentleman, atop a giant building with a megaphone, declaring to the world 'I am in love'. Today Kotaku is my megaphone.

For the first time in what seems like an age I am in love with a video game. I drop its name in conversations where it doesn't belong, I daydream about it as I bash my keyboard. I dangle my legs idly under my desk and sigh. When will we meet again Luigi's Mansion 2? When will I once again sample your wares.

Prepare for hyperbole. Prepare for a gushing the likes of which you've never seen. You will be drenched in gush. Today I abandon cynicism. Today I cast aside my dull grumbles. Today I profess my love for Luigi's Mansion 2.

—————-

Feels

Nowadays video games don't have weight.

I'm not talking about metaphorical weight; plot points that feel significant or character development. I'm not talking about the weight of player investment -- I'm talking about actual physical weight. The feeling that the objects you interact with, and you yourself, are something more than a collection of really small triangles.

When video games don't have weight they don't feel rewarding. They feel cheap. Somewhere in the recesses of our sub conscious the idea of 'heavyness' and 'quality' is hardwired. But video game weight means more than that: without weight there is no consequence. Without consequence there is no reward. And video games have to feel rewarding.

When video games have heavy they feel tactile and Luigi's Mansion is one of the most tactile games I've ever played.

It's the end result of the game's central tool and mechanic -- the 'Poltergust 5000'. As a central tool for interaction the Poltergust is sublime. It's used for combat, puzzle solving, finding secrets, manoeuvrability -- it's simultaneously simple and endlessly flexible as a mechanic but more importantly it makes every move you make in the world feel like it means something.

The simplest things in Luigi's Mansion 2 are made significant. You can suck up the curtains with Poltergust, but reeling them in is a struggle. You pull backwards and strain, there is resistance. When it finally schlumps into the vacuum you are rewarded with a few coins. But the real reward is how tactile the experience was. You did more than push a button, you struggled, you overcame, and it felt good.

Combat

Combat pushes that idea of weight to extremes and it's utterly thrilling.

If Luigi's Mansion is able to make sucking a curtain into a vacuum cleaner rewarding, imagine what it can do when you finally get hold of a massive ghost, pulling and straining, fighting to break free.

You skid around the room, like deep sea fishing on crack cocaine. The numbers drain in visual feedback and you can simply sense the weight. Suddenly the ghost changes direction, quickly you must reorientate yourself.

You charge up momentum in a visible bar, once you have enough charge you can attempt to suck the ghost into the vacuum in a final flourish. Everything is set up to provide the brilliant illusion of struggle, the thrilling feeling of reeling in something significant, something heavy and tactile. The execution is almost flawless.

And it literally never gets old. It's the most compelling mechanic since Halo's 30 seconds of fun: simple, direct, flexible and endlessly rewarding. The swirling music ups in intensity, you tug and pull and eventually conquer. You wipe the sweat from your brow. You've just done something important.

Exploration

Luigi's Mansion has expert pacing. As a handheld game it's divided into discrete, easily digestible chunks -- 20 minute missions that work well sans hours of context. For people with a 30 minute commute, or folks with a short amount of time to spare, it's perfect.

But within the missions themselves, the pacing is brilliantly managed. It balances slow exploration with frantic combat situations.

Combat is usually preceded with a search. You must explore every nook and cranny of the world. Most exploration reaps reward, so players never feel like they want to rush through the environment. Luigi's Mansion encourages you to take your time -- to shine your torch into the shadows, to find every secret.

And unlike other games, where looting becomes a burden -- a necessary chore -- the afore-mentioned tactile nature of the game's interactions stems any kind of boredom you'd expect to experience. In BioShock, for example, players soon feel a dull compulsion to open every drawer, raid every cupboard. That act is as exciting as scrolling through a spreadsheet, but Luigi's Mansion 2's endlessly inventive environment makes every prod and poke feel like a voyage of discovery. It surprises you. It gives you a reason to explore beyond the banal accumulation of loot.

Backtracking

In the last five years backtracking has become a dirty word in video game circles and I find it depressing.

Almost all of my favourite video games contain a significant amount of backtracking. Metroid Prime, Monkey Island 2, Dead Space, Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past: each of these games uses limited environments in unique, inventive ways. Perhaps a new tool transforms the environment, or transforms something that was previously familiar to reinforce the passing of time, or significant plot points.

Done right, back tracking can be a clever technique, investing players in a game's environment, creating a genuine sense of place.

Reviews of Luigi's Mansion 2 often criticised the game's backtracking but my only criticism of the game is that, in later levels, the game doesn't force you to backtrack enough. Backtracking allows for situational irony (ah, that's what that thingy was for...) but more importantly it makes progression feel significant. When you finally acquire the key/object that allows you to go into that room you've been wondering about for the past two hours of gameplay, it means something.

That sense of discovery is lost in linear trots through dressed up corridors. These games can only dazzle you with visual flair, they can't elicit a feeling of mystery. At its best that's what back tracking does -- it builds a sense of drama, of tension. It build a familiarity with a place and then subverts it. Luigi's Mansion 2 does all this with its well designed environments and more.

Luigi's Mansion 2 is a series of charming ghost houses and the second you grow familiar with its surrounds, it gives you a reason to reassess. The environments are small, but impossibly dense, filled with secrets and they reward every single prod and poke. Backtracking is an important part of that delicately brewed formula.

—————- It's an amazing feeling. Recently I've only felt compelled to write about video game when they frustrate me, because they're crammed with strange design choices or as dumb as a proverbial bag of hammers. For the first time in months I've felt the need to tell people why a video game is great and why people need to play it.

Luigi's Mansion 2 is a brilliant reminder of what is important in games design and, perhaps more importantly, what is not important. Far be it from me to be the arbiter of what video games can and can't be. Games can be anything they damn well please, but I'd like more of them to be a little bit like Luigi's Mansion 2.


Comments

    We should totally have played some multiplayer at KFC. Missed opportunity.

      Damn. If the Iceberg gets his 3DS we'll do it next time for sure.

    I love it when writers can shed that almost-necessary cynicism and just explain why they enjoy something. Great read.
    For all the doom and gloom around the Wii U, I just want to tell people why it's the most fun machine I've played with in years, but we get bogged down in the bad points.

      Isn't this a 3DS game? or can you play it on the Wii U too?

        Yeah, it's 3DS. Sorry, I just meant in general that it's nice to ignore bad points and focus on some good. Gamers are too cynical.

    I have not played this game but I totally agree about the back tracking comment.

    The thing that absolutely killed the game for me was that if you fail, you start over from scratch. My time is valuable. I don't want to have to re-play 30+ minutes because I couldn't figure out the exact sequence of things I need to do to beat a mini-boss or something.

      I have to agree with you NegativeZero. This is the biggest flaw of Luigi's Mansion 2. Paper Mario: Sticker Star had the exact same problem with it.

      A message to Nintendo: If you're going to make complex, difficult or slightly larger than normal levels - add checkpoints. I've lost so much time replaying half of the sections within each of these games.

      The result of this has been me abandoning both. This is coming from someone who has sat through some of the longest and most tedious gaming experiences as well.

      Best gaming experience I've had so far with my 3DS is still Super Mario 3D Land.

      Last edited 28/05/13 4:23 pm

    It's a fantastic game, though I don't completely agree with you on the following point;

    "And unlike other games, where looting becomes a burden — a necessary chore — the afore-mentioned tactile nature of the game’s interactions stems any kind of boredom you’d expect to experience. "

    I'm now up to the last level and find it a complete chore when I am dropped back into the level at every stage, only to be sucking up the same rug, the same curtains, the same fans that I had done multiple times in that level already. This is only compounded when/if you go back in to grab boo or top a score.

    So, yes, while I do agree that searching every nook and cranny of a level is made interesting because of the theme and mechanics, I find it becomes a chore when i'm doing so in re-visited areas of the game (which is a common occurrence).

    Sure, I don't have to do so to progress through the game, but i'm a bit of a rating whore and the unnerving itch I feel when I haven't maximised my rating on a level drives me insane!!

    Finished it the other day. It was absolutely brilliant, I am totally on board with this article. The central gameplay does get a bit repetitive though. You get the best value out of this game if you stretch it out- one to two levels per playthrough worked best for me.

    Whens it coming on sale? its been $68 for too long

      Bought it at JB for $59 on release. Should still be that price, though can't find it on the JB website.

      What I find most ridiculous is the eShop prices...

    how to ruin an IP: choose a great game series that undersold but was adored by fans nonetheles. keep the general mechanics but change it's linear immersive style to conjugated levels. super mario 3ds, paper mario sticker star, luigis mansion, all ruined just because they are on a handheld. i dont play my 3ds on the bus or in the toilet where i only have 20 minutes to play, i want to play for hours and be immersed. not stopped every level, given a score, being told i can now go back to level 1 and get a useless item. like why? starting to feel like the new zelda be split up into MISSIONS where u do one dungeon at a time without exploring. if so, i will take my 3ds into the bathroom, and bloody flush it.

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