Luigi’s Mansion 3: Hotel Scare-lifornia

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an adventure game developed by Next Level Games and published by Nintendo. It released on October 31, 2019, cost $60, and is a Nintendo Switch exclusive.

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It was an underdog game on an underdog system. Luigi’s Mansion on the GameCube was such an unexpected game back in 2001, and perhaps it was a bad way to start off the GameCube’s life sales-wise. However, that game won me over back then with its atmosphere, exploration, and ghost hunting. My heart is so happy that the series is much more popular now.

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As I said earlier this year, Dark Moon on the 3DS made quality improvements to the first game in many ways. For starters, it had a more dynamic combat system, with Poltergust upgrades that made finding cash in the mansions more rewarding. Secondly, Dark Moon increased the scope of the game to several different mansions, giving a welcome variety of areas to explore. And finally, Luigi’s animations and expressions were made even more charming than the first game. Its biggest flaw was the mission system structure, which cut the flow of exploration.

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Thankfully, Luigi’s Mansion 3 says sayonara to those missions and puts you back into nonstop exploring, this time in a massive 17-floor hotel.

The game takes the best of the two previous ones and blends them into one definitive experience. If you’ve never played any other Luigi’s Mansion game, this is a perfect place to start. Right from the beginning the atmosphere is spot on, thanks to an impressive array of lighting effects, particle effects, and character animation. If you saw a clip of the game without any context, you could mistake it as Nintendo’s first CG animated movie. Luigi has never looked so convincingly scared. The poor guy is braver than any of us.

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Once you get past the first few tutorial floors, each floor starts having a different theme. For example, you can explore a jiving dance floor, a decrepit movie studio, and the backstage of a magician’s show. Each time I exited the elevator I anticipated what new charming setting I would be in next. And the sheer amount of details in each room is impressive. Trash cans, coat racks, couch cushions… if you can see it, you can interact with it.

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In fact, part of the fun of Luigi’s Mansion is poking around each room and uncovering secrets. From secret treasure vaults, to hidden gems, to stacks of money lying in a corner. There’s so much money to pick up in this game. Sadly, there are no upgrades to make Luigi stronger, only extra lives and hints on finding secret gems. It’s a good thing that finding money is intrinsically fun without that progression system, but I still missed it all the same. After playing Dark Moon, all that money now feels like a bit of a waste.

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Luigi has even more tools at his disposal this time around. In addition to his Poltergust and flashlights, he has a plunger to pull down heavy objects, a “burst” move to avoid attacks, and an ectoplasmic partner, Gooigi, who can squeeze in all the places that Luigi can’t. Puzzles start out simple, but eventually you’ll be using many of these tools at once to find solutions. Googi especially adds a layer of depth to the puzzles not possible in the previous games.

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However, all these tools betray a small flaw with the game: the controls. The default controls don’t allow for quite the range of movement that you’ll need in later floors. I recommend switching from the face buttons to the triggers. It will take a bit to get used to, but you’ll be glad you did in the long run. It’s a quick fix, so I feel like I can only call the controls issue a nitpick.

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The other triumphant return from the first game are the “portrait ghosts,” only this time they’re bosses that have the elevator button for the next floor of the hotel. One is a bumbling mall cop, while another is the hotel’s chef, and yet another is a freaking dinosaur. Each one is its own puzzle to solve, and each one gives a satisfying bookend to that floor.

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My other nitpick with the game is that it’s a bit too linear. The largest floors only have at the most about 12 rooms to explore. It’s big enough to explore and get lost in, but it’s not quite the same feeling as the first game where you meander all up and down the mansion. That being said, the pacing of the game is perfectly balanced. The game knows exactly when to give a large floor with several rooms and when to have just one room with a big boss fight. You do some backtracking with an annoying cat ghost and the boiler room, but other than that it’s basically a straight shot to the top.

Thanks to the bosses, the secrets, and even Luigi himself, Luigi’s Mansion 3 charmed its way into being one of my favorite games of the year. My Game of the Year award is going to have some serious contenders, and yet again it’s going to be a tough decision…

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