Just for a second, forget the fact that Nintendo's Wii U console seems nearly dead on arrival and instead focus on the company's portable console that's coming of age right before our eyes. The 3DS did also stumble out of the gate, failing to make any convincing arguments as to why anyone should own one. But fast-forward nearly two years to the date, and the 3DS has matured into a very capable platform, assuming you bought the right one.
Games are what sells any platform, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is yet another really solid, really fun game from Nintendo, continuing a run that goes back to last fall. Professor Layton, Mario Sticker Star, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and little downloadable gems like Crashmo and HarmoKnight are delivering the sort of kid-friendly fun that’s curiously absent from a lot of other software developers lately.
Declaring 2013 to be the "Year of Luigi," Nintendo is ready to lift the curtain on the sequel to the original Luigi's Mansion, a game that made its debut along with the release of the GameCube nearly 12 years ago. That's quite the hiatus, even if you're a fictional video game character. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon carries along the same eerie theme as the first title, where our hero in green must use a vacuum to suck up ghosts.
If you never played the old Luigi’s Mansion game on the GameCube, Dark Moon may explain why it has a cult following. Dark Moon takes place across various haunted mansion rooms, feeling a bit like an adventure game and also like a scavenger hunt, as you collect ghosts up Ghostbusters-style into a vacuum-pack accessory, which also doubles as a tool to solve puzzles. The story unfolds in little chapters, perfect for train trips or lunch breaks. It’s the cleverest use of 3D that we’ve seen, because it treats each room like a little diorama. The depth-of-field works to great effect, and many ghost-hunting challenges are easier with 3D turned on. The various 3DS buttons are all put to good use, too. And, here’s the most important part: it’s charming. It's sure to suck you in, despite it being another game in the Mario-esque universe.
Dark Moon is easily up there with the best-looking 3DS games around, with superb animations, art style, and overall production value. It truly feels like a big-budget console experience in your hands. It's challenging and smart, bypassing any sense of redundancy whatsoever.
Overall, the controls feel spot on, save for the few times you'll need to twist and tilt the 3DS. This action still frustratingly knocks the 3D effect out of sync, which makes for a quick and awkward double-vision moment. Local and online multiplayer game modes are available as an extra bonus, just in case you’ve burned through the single-player adventure. It’s a perfect little package, with enough replay value to justify the cost. We just wish there were a few more save checkpoints scattered throughout the campaign.
Which brings us to our conclusion: Nintendo’s right when it comes to games on the 3DS. Like Disney, the goal should be to mine the back-catalog and make games using existing properties, mercilessly, and with an eye to high quality. It may be formulaic, but it’s a formula nobody can beat Nintendo at. And it’s what Nintendo has been doing for years. Luigi’s Mansion, and games like it, are exactly what will make the 3DS a success. Now they just need to pay attention to the Wii U and do the same.
CNET verdict: Highly recommended
3DS owners have a new title they can be proud of. Dark Moon is accessible, fun to play, and should appeal to gamers of all ages. Luigi has never been so lovable -- perhaps in his entire career.