As we head towards a new year of exciting game titles, I felt that the time has come to reveal the game that earned top spot among my favourites from 2013. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon , developed by Vancouver’s Next Level Games  is without any inkling of a doubt the best game I’ve put in my Nintendo 3DS to date. It literally lived in my 3DS from the day I got it until the day I had to take it out to review Mario & Luigi: Dream Team . This is one game that takes full advantage of the 3DS’ features and abilities – from beginning to end, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is incredibly detailed, drawing the player right into the mansion. Not once did I need – or want – to turn down the 3D intensity – the game environment is simply that beautiful.
- Developer: Next Level Games 
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Platform: Nintendo 3DS
- Genre: Action-adventure
- Release date: March 24 2013
- ESRB Rating: E for Everyone with content descriptors for Crude Humour and Mild Cartoon Violence
As the game opens, we join our reluctant hero as he is recruited by the aloof Professor E. Gadd, who feels that Luigi is the only person who can unravel the mystery behind the sudden personality change in the friendly ghosts of Evershade Valley. The Professor is convinced that the recent breaking apart of the Dark Moon is the cause of the problem, so it’s up to Luigi to put the moon back together again, which requires the exploration of 5 distinctly different zones. Quite the feat for our fearful plumber, and like other Nintendo titles, I am not inclined to rush through the mansions just to get to the end. I rather enjoyed each and every area of this game’s world, and I definitely took my time in exploring every nook and cranny while experiencing the spooky and detailed atmosphere crafted by Next Level’s creative team. If you listen carefully, you can also catch Luigi (and probably yourself) humming along to the game’s theme music – when he isn’t jumping out of his skin after a crack of lightning reveals creepy suits of armor or spiders dangling from dust-covered webs.
The level designers have mastered the art of gently engulfing you in the wonders of the game’s world. Simple tutorials lead you through the game’s controls, and before you know it, you are jiggling every desk drawer and using the powerful PolterGust 5000 to peek behind every curtain, painting and curl of wallpaper to locate coins, gems, keys and golden bones – or ghosts. There are more than just a few of those ghosts. In all shapes, colours and disposition. Some are so well hidden you need the darklight just to catch that initial glimpse of them and then stun them into submission. Just remember, timing can be everything as you battle the more complicated and stubborn ghosts that are encountered along the way. Patience can indeed be a virtue, but sometimes speed is of the essence. It’s up to you and Luigi to figure out which solution is best for each of the challenges. 
Once Luigi recovers from his pixelated journey through the wonders of television broadcast waves, we find him in the weird and wonderful lab operated by Professor E. Gadd getting the low-down on the broken moon and misbehaving ghosts. Luigi was the perfect choice for the title role in this game – he has shivering, shaking and wailing down to a fine art. Thankfully the good Professor has some tools that are just right for this plumber to use on the job. As the ghost-hunting apprentice, Luigi begins his journey with the base model for the redesigned PolterGust 5000 – the perfect accessory for giving a few haunted buildings the once over. Or, if you’re me, the once, twice and three times over – just to make sure there aren’t any stray coins and bills stuck in the walls or hidden in secret pieces of furniture – or undiscovered Boo characters.
Without revealing too many details in the story, because I think the best adventure is the one to be discovered along the way, suffice to say that poor Luigi will have his nerve and ingenuity tested time again as he goes about recovering the scattered pieces of the Dark Moon. The puzzle masters at Next Level very cleverly incorporated tiny hints to help you solve the puzzles or figure out what you need to do next, but they really do prefer if you experiment with the tools Luigi has at hand to help him figure things out. There are times during exploration where a little assistance from Professor Gadd’s apprentices is required, but at the end of the day, Luigi deserves a giant gold star for bravery.
The only real “complaint” I have about the game is how quickly all of the upgrades can be achieved. Once you’ve upgraded everything, there isn’t anything left to use your stockpile of coins for, other than determination to liberate all of the treasure from the mansions. My one annoyance was at times having to redo sections due to the lack of a save point, because it is possible to die while in the process of figuring out how to deal with certain enemies, and if Luigi doesn’t have a gold dog bone in reserve, it can mean having to replay whole sections of a map to get back to the point you faced defeat. Of course, the whole objective is not die, but it apparently does happen, and having to replay large sections of a map due to no midpoint saves can lead to a bit of frustration.
For those who enjoy sharing the gaming experience with others, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon can be played with up to four players who connect either locally or online. With three different modes to choose from – Hunter, Rush and PolterPup – your team needs to work as one if you want to successfully clear the ghosts from the mansions you’re sent to explore. Scarescraper can be played solo, but it is incredibly challenging.
On a side note, we had the opportunity to visit with members of the creative team at Next Level. Here’s the video from that visit: