You can’t get more iconic than the Super Mario Brothers! The franchise has had a countless number of successful titles all starring the mustachioed wonder Mario, but Luigi had always gotten the short end of the stick. For the launch of the Gamecube, Nintendo decided to open the floodgates with a Luigi game instead of a Mario platformer. This was a shock to many. The SNES and N64 both launched with critically acclaimed Mario platformers. The even weirder decision was that Nintendo decided to make a horror game featuring Luigi.
After Luigi mysteriously wins a mansion in a contest he never entered, Mario decides that he’ll go and check the place out just to make sure it’s all fixed up for his brother. Little do they know the place is crawling with ghosts. Mario doesn’t return from this journey, so Princess Peach orders a brigade of Toads to go and check in on him. Eventually, Luigi makes it out that way himself. He runs into an odd ghost-hunter named Professor E. Gadd. He equips Luigi with the Poltergust-3000 allowing him to search for Mario, put the army of ghosts back where they came, and thwart the dastardly King Boo. This game was the first to characterize Luigi as a lovable coward. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but Luigi was mostly a blank slate before this game.
Luigi is much different in this game than he is in any other appearance. There is no jumping, no slippery physics, you’re restricted and it creates an odd sense of dread. Luigi’s only mode of self-defense is the Poltergust-3000. You stun ghosts with your flashlight and then violently go to town on the analog stick as the ghost’s health slowly ticks away so you can suck him up like that Micro SD Card you didn’t even know was dropped in the carpet. A true Halloween horror.
The main draw to Luigi’s Mansion is the portrait ghosts. These are specialized ghosts that E. Gadd had previously kept within portraits viewable in the gallery. They’re frequent minibosses each given a unique backstory and personality. To challenge a portrait ghost you usually have to solve a puzzle to make them aggressive. I really loved all of them they were a nice reward and none of the puzzles felt too easy. There’s even a helpful portrait ghost who goes by Madame Clairvoya. She was a fortune-teller in a life passed, but she can speak with the spirits easier than ever to help Luigi find Mario. She willingly gives herself up to be recaptured after exhausting her power late in the game.
Luigi’s Mansion is split up into four “areas”. They’re more like chapters to the story. You explore a singular mansion as you go room to room solving puzzles to collect keys. You gradually use the keys to unlock more rooms, solve more puzzles, and fight more portrait ghosts. It’s a simple gameplay loop. After you’ve unlocked a room, you can go back to it at any time you wish. That’s going to be important. At the end of an area, you fight a large boss. Each major boss takes you to a specialized arena. I felt these were one of the weakest parts of the game. Trust me, we’re going to get there soon. They all have incredibly simplistic patterns, but somehow find a way to be extremely annoying. With the exception of the first boss, every fight had either extremely tight windows or stupid combos that get you killed if you get hit once. This is exemplified by the final boss. King Boo possesses the body of Bowser and challenges Luigi as the final obstacle in front of rescuing Mario. His fire breath completely wiped my health if I got hit even once.
This all sounds pretty great so far, right? Andy, do you even have a problem with this game? There isn’t some fatal flaw that ruins the experience before it can even be fun in the first place is there? In the second area, very soon after the game begins, Luigi comes across the storage room. Fifty Boos are set free for Luigi to personally capture. After you clear all ghosts in a room, the lights turn on. In most rooms of the game hide one of the many Boos. You do not get a specific radar for every Boo. You must go from room to room and hope that your Gameboy Horror map starts lighting up yellow to alert you. If there is a Boo in the room, you must uncover it yourself. As if the scavenger hunt wasn’t stupid enough, Boos have the most health of any non-boss in the game. Quite a few Boos even have more health than most portrait ghosts. There’s a catch here too. Boos are not pulled in by your Poltergust. You don’t have to stun them to do damage, but you have to actively chase them to do anything meaningful. Unlike any other ghost in the game, Boos can move from room to room basically at will. I can’t express how grading this all was. I would not have done this had I not committed to beating all of these games. Boo hunting is singlehandedly the thing that will keep me away from this title between it’s later sequels.
There’s something funny about it to me. There was a straw that broke the camels back. They CHEAT the Boo number. You don’t catch fifty Boos. You catch thirty-four Boos on your journey. Where do the other sixteen come from? Boss fights. The boss for the third area is Boolossus. A composite entity of fifteen Boos that you have to individually freeze and then capture. This was the worst boss in the game. You “end” on forty-nine Boos. The game never tells you that King Boo is the fiftieth Boo. I spent three hours wandering every hall looking for a final Boo that NEVER WAS. This completely soured the end of my experience. Regardless of how fun the middle was.
Luigi’s Mansion looks and sounds like a Gamecube launch title. It’s aged, it’s janky, looks a bit rough around the edges, but it’s got it where it counts. There were tons of moments I found myself genuinely laughing at what Luigi’s face was doing, but many others where I was genuinely frightened by imagery on screen. Jumpscares in a Mario game was not what I anticipated. Even if I’d already experienced the Big Boos Haunt piano. There isn’t a lot of music in Luigi’s Mansion, but what is there is insanely atmospheric. Most of the time, Luigi is humming the main theme of the game to attempt to calm himself. It’s genuinely charming.
As much as I needed to vent for the Boos, I definitely didn’t hate this game. It tried to be insanely unique and it succeeded in spades. With every set of new ideas comes a few that don’t work. Luigi’s Mansion is not a terrible game. It’s an incredibly flawed game that could’ve aged better, but hasn’t aged poorly. Sure, it features Nintendo’s most annoying fetch-quest, but there’s a mountain of charm and fun fights that it sits on. I highly recommend visiting Luigi’s Mansion. If only for the history lesson. I had more fun than I did annoyance, but I want to make it clear that I feel this game completely falls apart at the end.
Well, I’ve saved the best for last. Luigi is the final member of the original Super Smash Bros. roster. He’s the series first “semi-clone”. That described his characterization surprisingly well. As much as Ultimate pushes the Luigi’s Mansion franchise, he’s still attributed to the Super Mario series. There’s nothing I can say about that I haven’t already. It is the most represented franchise in any Smash game. You can take your pick for which.
Luigi was originally added as an easy clone of Mario. His only major difference was the way his fireball traveled when thrown. As the series progressed, he gained the personality Luigi’s Mansion built and even new moves that became iconic just from Smash. In Ultimate, Luigi’s grabs now use the Poltergust G-00 from Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s a nice change that the community unanimously loved. Every character from Smash 64 can use major updates, but Luigi has it well. At this point, I don’t think I could bring myself to scrap Luigi Cyclone or Green Missile. I’d want to keep him just the way he is. A cowardly, but lovable, dork who takes advantage of most situations simply by error. At the bottom of that fear, lies a heart of gold that will never abandon the people he cares about. That is Luigi. That’s what the Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. franchises established. I wouldn’t dare change it.