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Why Luigi's Mansion 2 is shaping into the best game on 3DS

Nintendo returns to the world of survival horror

The decision to follow-up 2001's Luigi's Mansion is one of Nintendo's oddest in recent years. While there's no denying the GameCube original's cult status, the 12-year-old spin-off is hardly at the top of our sequel wishlist.

It's probably a good thing we're not calling the shots in Kyoto then, because what we've played of Luigi's Mansion 2 (or Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon as it's known in the US) suggests that it's shaping up to be one of the finest 3DS games to date.

The sequel sees Professor E. Gadd, the scientist from the original Luigi's Mansion, researching a bunch of friendly ghosts that reside in Evershade Valley. All's going well until a mysterious item called the Dark Moon shatters, turning the once-sprightly spirits into spiteful spooks.

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The professor can't really study the ghosts while they're all evil and such, so he calls on Luigi to head into the various mansions to collect the scattered pieces of the Dark Moon. Naturally, given his generally timid demeanour, Luigi isn't exactly keen to get involved, but Gadd soon talks him into it and off he travels to the Gloomy Manor, the first of the game's mansions.

The main complaint directed at that first game was that it was criminally short - since it was set in one mansion it could be finished in three or four hours. In Dark Moon there are multiple mansions, each essentially representing a themed "world" and each offering numerous stages.

Take Gloomy Manor for example; The first mission has you trying to find the Poltergust 5000, your trusty vacuum cleaner, then finding the stroboscope attachment for it which lets you fire powerful beams of light. This stage also tasks you with catching a few ghosts and finding some hidden keys, just to get you used to the slightly different controls.

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The second mission, meanwhile, has you attemtping to gain access to the north rooms of the manor by activating a switch. The problem is, a gang of red ghosts have nicked the gears that power the switch's mechanism so you have to explore new rooms in the house to find them all.

Breaking each mansion up into various missions like this may seem slightly bitty, especially since the ones we've played so far could easily have all joined together into one large stage per mansion, but given that this is a handheld game it makes sense to have 20 and 30 minute stages instead.

You're also scored and graded in each stage depending on how much cash and gems you collect, offering much-needed replay value. Not that you may need a reason to play it again, mind, because Luigi's Mansion 2 is packing so much charm that we've already played the first mansion a number of times.

A big reason for this is Luigi himself. This is without a shadow of a doubt the best animation we've seen in a Nintendo game, as Luigi shivers, stumbles, cautiously creeps and leaps in surprise at each of the mansions' secrets and scares.

The plumber's nervous humming from the first game returns, and there are a heap of new, hilarious voice acting quips from Charles Martinet, which is refreshing to hear given the reused sound samples in recent Mario games.

Controlling Luigi takes a little getting used to - the lack of a second analogue stick on the 3DS means it doesn't quite have the same intuitive feel as the GameCube original (which used one stick for movement, the other for aiming your torch).

Instead, Luigi points his torch in the direction you're looking by default while you have him look up by holding down the X button. This isn't usually a problem and for the most part the mansions have been designed to take these limitations into account, but when fighting ghosts high in the air it can get a little awkward.

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The general routine when fighting ghosts is as follows: first you have to stun the ghost with your stroboscope. The longer you hold down the A button the more powerful and wider the beam it fires. Once they're stunned you need to hold the R button to suck them up with the Poltergust, while pulling back on the Circle Pad and pressing A to yank it back. You then repeat this until your foe's hit points run out, at which point you'll suck them into the Poltergust.

It's a straightforward enough routine and with practice you can catch two or three ghosts at the same time, but doing this while also holding X to look up at high-flying ghosts proves fiddly. When ghouls start alternating between flying high and low, trying to catch them can feel like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

The mansions themselves are a treat to explore, as so much of the scenery can be interacted with using your vacuum cleaner. Carpets can be rolled up to reveal switches underneath, tears in the wallpaper can be sucked up to expose hidden treasure alcoves, and coins and gold bars can be found lying on top of ceiling fans and under wardrobes, ripe for sucking up.

It's important to collect as many valuables as you can for two reasons - firstly, each stage has a target score that awards you with a higher rank once you surpass it. Secondly, Luigi has the ability to level up his Poltergust with various special abilities every time his accumulated cash total reaches a certain milestone.

The early version we played didn't let us see many of these upgrades, but we wouldn't be surprised if they encouraged replaying of levels to reach previously inaccessible areas.

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Interestingly, Nintendo has also added a multiplayer mode for up to four players, either locally or online. Set in the Scarescraper - a massive tower - the aim is for up to four Luigis to proceed as far up the tower as possible by clearing floors of ghosts.

This mode wasn't yet ready in the version we played, but since catching ghosts is generally satisfying in the main game (initial control awkwardness notwithstanding), we're looking forward to giving it a go.

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