Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon Review

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

It may have took twelve years, but Luigi’s Mansion did eventually receive a sequel. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon served as Luigi’s return to the spotlight, in the sequel to the game that removed the green-clad plumber from Mario’s shadow. This time Luigi tackled the 3DS, giving the handheld another highlight in its impressive library.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon follows the same fundamentals as its predecessor. Luigi traverses haunted mansions, and uses a vacuum cleaner to rid the houses of the many ghosts that inhabit them. Luigi’s flashlight now has a strobe ability, an mechanic performed by holding the action button down before releasing, with the resulting strobe light stunning ghosts. This ‘stun’ is required before Luigi can capture the game’s many spooks. The flashlight also includes a new “Darklight” device, which reveals hidden objects and exposes invisible foes.

The biggest difference between the original game and this sequel isn’t in any particular gameplay feature, but the structure of the game itself. The GameCube original had Luigi searching through his own mansion to rid it of ghosts while in search of a missing Mario. It was a short, explorative experience. In Dark Moon, a returning Professor E. Gadd sends Luigi to five different mansions, each of which are split into various missions.Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

The new structure of the game allows for a greater sense of variety in level design, with the different mansions having their own little motif (greenhouse, clock factory, and so forth), and each mission housing a variety of puzzles that require more robust thinking on the many uses of Luigi’s Poltergust 5000 vacuum. Some puzzles can get a little head-scratching, but that only means they provide a bigger sense of accomplishment when completed.

The new structure ensures that Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is considerably lengthier than its predecessor, but at the same time, it also creates one of the game’s drawbacks. The first Luigi’s Mansion had a great sense of exploration, you wanted to search every nook and cranny of the mansion in the original (and you could, if you so chose). But within Dark Moon’s missions is a set objective, with many of the rooms in any given mansion being sealed off, lest the current objective requires them. There are hidden treasures that require some thorough inspecting to find, but it’s a small little sidequest that can’t quite bring back the freedom of exploration the original game had. Despite popular belief to the contrary, a game having a more linear structure isn’t an innate problem, but the fact that Luigi is whisked out of a mansion every time you complete your current mission does create a longing for the original game’s pacing.

Fans of the GameCube original will also miss said game’s atmosphere. The portrait ghosts of Luigi’s Mansion were always on the cartoony side, yet they helped build a personality and presence to the original game that gave the titular mansion a strong sense of place. The portrait ghosts of old (or any other of the original game’s spectres, other than Boos) are nowhere to be found. While many of the enemies, sub-bosses, and big bosses of Dark Moon certainly do provide their own puzzles and challenges to overcome, they fail to capture that same sense of personality and atmosphere that the original game was abundant in.

With all this said, these are quibbles in an otherwise well-constructed title. Dark Moon takes many elements that made the original Luigi’s Mansion memorable, makes the quest lengthier, and creates a new layer of depth to the gameplay. To add a cherry on top, Dark Moon even includes a multiplayer option.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark MoonThe “Scarescraper” serves as Dark Moon’s cooperative multiplayer mode, which can be played online and includes three different modes of play: Hunter mode sees each player (all of whom play as variously-colored Luigi’s) ascend further up the mansion by clearing each individual floor of all its ghosts. Rush mode gives the Luigi’s a limited amount of time to find each floor’s exit, with clocks strewn about – or rewarded for taking out ghosts – to give the team a little more time. Lastly, Polterpup has players scurrying about the mansion to find the titular ghostly dogs by using the Darklight.

Although the number of multiplayer modes are limited, the challenge and replayability they provide are among the game’s strongest assets. Long after you finish the story mode, you’ll be coming back to the Scarescraper to see just how far you can get.

Developed by Next Level games (Mario Strikers, Wii’s Punch-Out!!), Nintendo permitted this long-awaited sequel to very capable hands. The end result is both fun and nostalgic, with tight gameplay, solid structure and pacing, and a surprisingly engaging multiplayer option. It may not evoke the same experience as the GameCube original, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon remains a wonderful piece of game design nonetheless.

There may have been a twelve-year gap between the original Luigi’s Mansion and Dark Moon, but time hasn’t slowed Luigi down one bit when it comes to pure fun.

 

7

In Defense of Big Hero 6’s Oscar Win

*Caution! Some spoilers follow.*

Big Hero 6

It seems Big Hero 6’s Oscar win for Best Animated Feature has been met with a lukewarm reception. While most agree that it’s a good movie, it seems a lot of people are still boohooing at the snubbing of The Lego Movie, or claiming that How to Train Your Dragon 2 “should have” won. I find this to be grossly unfair, because while I personally think The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was the most deserving winner (I named it as my favorite film of 2014), I have no qualms with Big Hero 6 taking home the gold. Big Hero 6 is a wonderful movie, and a more worthy winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar than a number of past recipients.

 

Again, I was primarily rooting for Princess Kaguya (heaven knows Isao Takahata is well overdue for an Oscar), but I still consider Big Hero 6 to be one of 2014’s best films – animated or otherwise – and it follows Frozen’s lead in adding more character development into Disney’s filmmaking process. As far as I’m concerned, it told a better story than The Lego Movie or How to Train Your Dragon 2.

 

I’m pretty much the only person out there who didn’t care for The Lego Movie, as I found it overly snarky and more than a little bit full of itself. Not to mention it followed just about every trope it so readily mocked. Suffice to say I didn’t lose any sleep over its snubbing. Meanwhile, How to Train Your Dragon 2, while good, suffered from the same overly-predictable nature of the first film in the series. It did boast one daring creative decision in killing off a character who appeared in both films, which gave the film some emotional weight, but otherwise the story went pretty much everywhere you expected it to at every turn (the entirely uninteresting villain didn’t help, either).

 

Big Hero 6 did have its own predictable elements, with a plot twist involving its villain being a bit obvious. But when we find out the villain’s motivation, he suddenly becomes a more complex and interesting character who adds something extra to the story. By comparison, Dragon 2’s villain could be summed up as “I’m evil because reasons.” Although some of the supporting cast in Big Hero 6 could have done with some more fleshing out, they at least aren’t dictated by a singular punchline like those in Dragon 2. But I’m not writing this to wag fingers at Legos and Dragons, I’m writing this because Big Hero 6 is a worthy Best Animated Feature winner that doesn’t seem to be getting its due.

 

Some have cried foul that Disney has won the award too often, though Big Hero 6 is technically only the second Disney film to win the award in question. It is true that Pixar (Disney’s subsidiary) has won the award seven times (that’s half of the award’s 14-year history), which seems a bit iffy. I myself am a believer in making exception for the exceptional, but Pixar is far from the only studio capable of producing exceptional animated films, and some of their victories have seemed far too easy (don’t get me started on Brave’s undeserved win). But Disney and Pixar are two separate creative entities, with different artists and filmmakers between them. You can’t claim that Disney’s second win is “too many” because Pixar has been handed the award a few too many times.

 

Again I’m a bit sidetracked. My point is that most people who are complaining about Big Hero 6’s win are basing their arguments on things besides the film itself. It’s been either “X-film should have won” or “Disney’s won too many times.” No one is taking into account that maybe Big Hero 6 is just a great movie. Which it is.

 

Hiro Hamada and Baymax are two of the most endearing of all Disney characters, and their relationship is one of the more unique in the Disney canon. Big Hero 6 becomes the story of Hiro coping with the death of his brother Tadashi. At first Hiro becomes depressed, then vengeful, before finally learning to live with his brother’s memory in his heart. Hiro learns to deal with the loss of his brother through his brother’s creation. There’s something really touching about this setup of a boy and his (brother’s) robot. Big Hero 6 deals with loss in a meaningful way, without it simply feeling like a means to capture that token “sad moment” like a lot of today’s animated films.

 

On top of that, we also get a fun super hero story that outdoes most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Simply put, Big Hero 6 is a film that combines a genuinely heartfelt narrative with top-notch blockbuster elements. I’ve seen the film multiple times now, and I’ve only enjoyed it more with subsequent viewings. Big Hero 6 is simply a great showcase of animated filmmaking and storytelling that ranks as one of Disney’s best animated features.

 

Of course, Big Hero 6 is no Spirited Away, The Incredibles or Frozen, but it is a worthy film to carry on their torch. It’s heartwarming, smartly-written, and a whole lot of fun. It’s an incredibly easy movie to love, and one that I’m happy to see win Best Animated Feature.

Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)

2014 was quite an interesting year for video games. Most of the hyped, high-profile titles that were “destined for greatness” ended up disappointing most. Destiny, Titanfall and Watchdogs, which were all supposed to be the year’s biggest games, quickly fizzled out upon release. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was full of duds.

Quite the opposite, actually. 2014 saw a few truly great games. Namely, fantastic sequels to greats like Dark Souls and Bayonetta shined, and 2014 turned out to be the year the Wii U truly proved its mettle, with the Big N releasing one quality title after another.

So maybe the memorable games of 2014 didn’t come in the forms everyone expected, but when they did show up, they came in full force. Here are the five games that had the biggest impact on me.

Continue reading “Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Visuals

A game’s graphics are often the first aspect to get noticed. Before we play games, we often have screenshots and videos to get us hyped. Naturally, it’s the visuals that almost always catch our eye immediately. Oftentimes it’s the games with the most photorealistic graphics that get all the praise. But I tend to prefer games with unique visual styles over something that merely looks “realistic.” The Ni no Kunis, Wind Wakers and Okamis. The Neverhoods and the Kirby’s Epic Yarns. Here’s a game that deserves credit for its visual beauty.

 

Winner: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-

Guilty Gear Xrd

There are probably two things you’ll instantly notice about Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-: One of those things is the incomprehensible title (seriously, what is an Xrd?), the other is the beautiful cel-shading.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- boasts some of the most stunning cel shading I’ve ever seen. The characters look like fully three-dimensional anime characters as opposed to polygonal recreations. No ridiculously thick outlines or other such tricks to make the characters look more like anime drawings brought to the world of gaming. They actually look like hand-drawn characters that have become three-dimensional. It’s gorgeous.

Funny thing is, this was kind of a last minute game I just found out about towards the very end of 2014. But as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with these visuals. I hope other developers can find ways to replicate what Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- has done with its animations. They’re just too good.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Gameplay

From the fluidity of controls to the structure of a game’s world and/or stages, the design of a game is at the core of the entire experience. This core can be summed up in one word: Gameplay.  No matter how many technical and artistic achievements games make, it’s the gameplay that’s the heart and soul of game design.

 

Winner: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the most fun sidescroller in years. Retro Studios did a great job bringing the fun of DKC back with Donkey Kong Country Returns, but with Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios seems to have mastered the formula.

Every last one of Tropical Freeze’s stages is a delight (even at their most infuriatingly difficult). There’s just so much creativity going on. From mine cart rides through sawmills to a level themed around frozen treats, Tropical Freeze uses each idea to the fullest, and they constantly add something new to the formula. It’s so creative that even Mario would have to tip his hat in respect.

The additions of Dixie and Cranky add to the mix as well. Like Diddy, they add their own little twists to the gameplay. There’s so much variety in the gameplay and level design that there is simply never a dull moment in Tropical Freeze (except maybe those load times). Part of me is begging for Retro Studios to give DK another go, but another part of me wonders if Retro Studios can top what they’ve done here with Tropical Freeze.

Runner-up: Bayonetta 2

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Content

These days, video games seem to try to cram in as much content as possible to ensure gamers keep coming back for more. Sometimes it all ends up being little more than filler, with some games feeling bloated with additional content. But every now and again, a game seems to throw everything it can at you, and it succeeds in giving players reason to keep coming back again and again.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. Wii U

If there is another game that better represents an “Everything and the kitchen sink” mentality than Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I have yet to play it. Ever since Melee, the Super Smash Bros. games have been filled with bonus content, but none of its predecessors even comes close to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

There are more modes than ever before, with each mode being made more dynamic than ever. There are enough collectibles to make Donkey Kong 64 blush, and a seemingly never ending list of things to do. Play a few rounds of online matches – either For Fun or For Glory – or replay Classic and All-Star Modes a few extra times. Or how about taking on the game’s many Challenges? Or the Stage Builder? Heck, you can even just goof off and take a few screenshots, and then scribble all over them and post them to Miiverse.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most fully realized Smash Bros. yet (sorry Super Smash Bros. for 3DS), as it represents the series’ love of all things fun better than any of its predecessors. I’m still frequently revisiting it months later!

 Runner-up: Mario Kart 8