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I wanted to write this review only after playing the first game (on 3DS). Now, I can say for certain that I prefer this one.
The big difference with this game is the tone and style. It's much more Mario in tone, and while some may miss the original atmosphere, I think the original doesn't quite succeed in its more realistic elements, unlike Mario Galaxy or Odyssey. The environments here have a nice crooked art style that works perfectly with the 3DS graphical restrictions, and the game is just brimming with personality and fantastic animations, like a great cartoon. There's still legitimate startles and atmosphere, but the game fits in with the Mario universe better, and unlike other oddball Mario series that conformed in later installments, it works for me here.
But the gameplay is the big thing. Despite being a little tricky to adjust to, they managed to make it work really well for the 3DS. The gyroscope aims up and down (button controls can also do this), and the Circle Pad controls suction as would be expected. There are also upgrades that allow you to do charged suctions, which is nice. The worst feature of the original game, that of having to keep your aim perfectly behind a ghost lest you be dragged across the floor by it and lose health and your pull, has been vastly downplayed, because the Circle Pad's shape just doesn't work for that kind of precision. On the 3DS, the game can be downright unfair if you're aiming for good boss ranks, but I imagine I'd resent it on the original system, too. The one thing that's better about the original game is the ability to rotate Luigi while vacuuming, but the level design doesn't really require it here.
The game is broken up into missions and different mansions, which is fine. I think the variety and added length is fine, as is the clever fusion of ghost themes with classic game settings. It makes the returns to Gadd feel less intrusive when the game is explicitly mission-based. The gameplay is more based on puzzle-solving, too, and the puzzles are nicely varied and pretty clever, and involve interacting with the environment in clever ways, rather than using elemental powers. The ghost hunting is just as prevalent, but the puzzles have a proper purpose now. The Portrait Ghosts are gone, but they never made much sense before, and we have mini-bosses that take their place and function in much the same way. The actual boss fights are pretty good, too. Rather than rankings for bosses, the ranking applies to the missions, which feels more fair and like less of a loss if you don't do perfect. It's just an icon rather than a portrait on the wall, so it's not as frustrating to not get gold.
Basically, I think this game is an evolution and proper realization of the Luigi's Mansion concept. Given that the third game may incorporate elements of both, I'm quite excited for it.
While the original focused on making the setting feel like a liveable mansion that got taken over by ghosts, the second game is more about "spooky places". Luigi travels to many different settings, such as a haunted mansion, a greenhouse, an abandoned clock factory, a snowy shack over an icy cave, and more. Sadly, I can't relate to many of these settings. The first game's mansion had a certain "warmth" to it, especially when cleared out of ghosts, and anyone can relate to a house-like setting.
Here, the settings not only lack that, but feel blatantly puzzle-based. In many cases, simply navigating a room often means having to solve puzzles. You might have to use your vacuum to grab onto a pulley and carry yourself from one side of a crevasse to another. Not a problem if you're doing it for the first time, but unfortunately, the rooms that involve solving a puzzle to figure out how to navigate them remain puzzle-based even after the puzzle has been initially solved. This stands in contrast to the first game, where navigating the mansion was more like navigating a mansion in real life, with puzzles stopping you only once. What's more, due to the sheer amount of puzzle-solving required to merely travel, the locations don't have convincing room layouts.
The game's mission-based structure means that you visit the same area multiple times to do different goals, with changes to what's going on. This might sound like a good thing, but the game is just not open in its design. Instead, for the most part each mission restricts you to its own specific puzzles and locations, not giving you the freedom to explore that the first game had.
Where the game fares better, is multiplayer. I actually used to daydream about how multiplayer might work with the first game, picturing multiple different-colored Luigis exploring the mansion freely and independently. Well... that's exactly what we get! The mansion is randomly generated, and the players have incentive to work together, as the game does not scale difficulty. "Fainted" players can be revived, and players can communicate by making Luigi himself talk. It lacks major depth, but it's fun, and I love multiplayer haunted house exploration. Sadly, players cannot join mid-game, so if someone quits, the player count is lowered for good. A major oversight in the era of Drop In Drop Out Multiplayer.
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