A Critique of Luigi's Mansion 3
A Critique of Luigi's Mansion 3 breaks down the exploration, combat, and everything in-between. I also explore what makes Luigi's Mansion 1 so special. No, we don't need to talk about Dark Moon.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is chock full of goodies and Luigi wears the two shoes to back it up. Every single distinct hotel floor is a playground covered with seemingly countless objects ripe for sucking, and when paired with Luigi’s bottomless vacuum… name a more iconic duo.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a huge step up from its predecessor Dark Moon, because Dark Moon’s exploration was severely limited by its handholdy mission objectives, linear levels, and constant E. Gadd intervention.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 thankfully takes the series back to its Luigi’s Mansion 1 roots. Instead of Dark Moon’s mission objectives dragging Luigi in and out of the same mansion like a child at a shopping mall, our objective in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is to actually explore, discover, and solve everything ourselves in open-ended and varied areas.
The joy of Luigi’s Mansion is the exploration of rooms filled with mystery, puzzles, and personality.
The Entertainment Room located on the 2nd Floor, for example, is the home of a billiards table and a dart board. The dart board is interactive because it shakes… commence the scour. The dart board is an optional puzzle that rewards curiosity and even experimentation because, “Hey, the giant blade is not a dart, silly.” Well, it’s just as pointy, isn’t it?
The Scale Chamber contains a weight puzzle. The statues weigh the most, so now we explore the room for anything lighter. Yes. The sand. The sand’s usage is clever because it’s not usually something I’d consider the weight of and the weight varies based on the amount of sand used. The push and suck of the sand adds an additional layer of welcome complexity when the spiked ceiling wants to impale us.
The trap room motif continues with the introduction of a poisonous air supply. We explore to finish a game of Perfection as quickly as possible or else face the wrath of chemical injury.
The Suit Bathroom visualizes exploration probably more than any other room. The ceiling lamp lights up for every card we suck up so this room is the objectification of the game’s exploration.
The exploration extends to entire areas as well like the Mall Lobby on the Hotel Shops floor. Each shop contains different items to suck and secrets to uncover [slow down speech as E. Gadd’s nagging text pops up] with the help of Gooigi… E. Gadd, look man, I saw the 45-second-long cutscene. I can see the ghostly, shiny key floating above the ground. The key is not missable nor needlessly obtuse. I don’t need your 15-second-long dialogue every 30 seconds.
The pestering doesn’t even end once we grab the key however, because Luigi himself pulls the key out in front of the store fronts. “Hmmm… do these shapes match? Please tell me; I don’t know I’m just a stupid gamer.”
The player will explore to their heart’s content to acquaint themselves with the area before they inevitably pick up the key; or perhaps the player walks straight to the key and then explores afterward. No matter when the exploration occurs, the only purpose behind E. Gadd and Luigi’s hand-holdy interferences is to postpone the player’s exploration and insult the player’s intelligence.
Any E. Gadd dialogue that handholds or provides hints should be moved to the E. Gadd Hotline available in the pause menu. The main objectives are obvious, but even if the objectives were hidden in a cabinet, I don’t need an automated reminder or assistance, especially when the entire game centers around exploration and experimentation. That’s why the E. Gadd Hotline exists as a separate entity, so players who yearn to feel the satisfaction of solving a puzzle can feel that satisfaction without the game ruining it by spoiling the solution. I could walk myself into a corner, drool all over my controller, and smash my not-sponsored-by Nintendo Switch, I still don’t want E. Gadd to wrap me in his little arms and whisper, [real quote] “Could you get a move on?” Whaaaat?
E. Gadd’s hand-holding rampage spans multiple floors. On Floor 14, for instance, E. Gadd tries to inform us on how the boss operates… even though the boss already conveys everything you need to know very well.
E. Gadd then manages to spoil most of Floor 8, and that’s a big deal, because Floor 8 is essentially one puzzle spread across multiple rooms.
On the 11th Floor, Luigi grabs a golden bunny, and so we run around the room until… oh! We can use Gooigi’s Dark-Light! Boom, puzzle solved… except E. Gadd ruins the whole debacle by spelling out the solution… so what’s the point of the puzzle in the first place? Is my memory of the first game incorrect? When I entered the Music Room, did E. Gadd call me and yell, “HEY, THIS GHOST IS A PROBLEM. YOU NEED TO SUCK HER UP, BUT YOU CAN’T BECAUSE SHE’S INVISIBLE. PLAY ALL OF THE INSTRUMENTS IN THIS ROOM TO SOLVE THE PUZZLE, BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO DUMB TO FIGURE IT OUT.”
E. Gadd’s interruptions and hand-holding are a bummer, because I want to figure out the different puzzles and situations for myself. I didn’t spend time contemplating my options on how to dismantle the bunny just for a lazy lab midget to slap me with cold, hard facts on how to solve the puzzle. I suppose E. Gadd doesn’t have much to do in his portable lab other than to pester us, so he conveniently forgets about the E. Gadd Hotline.
And the Hotline doesn’t even work. It rarely provides useful information in the face of puzzles or even some main objectives. Yes, the Hotline reminds us to grab the ghost officer’s key, but it doesn’t remind us to Dark-Light the cash register that disappears via a cutscene. On the 2nd floor, E. Gadd notifies us to include Gooigi in vacuuming the smoke, but the Hotline doesn’t mention it whatsoever. Many of the potentially useful hints to include in the optional Hotline are just absent and are instead forced upon the player. Unless… you turn off the E. Gadd hints in the options, but then you won’t have access to the in-game hints if you are legitimately stuck because the Hotline is poorly managed, inconsistent, and virtually useless.
Shop & Money
If E. Gadd is going to give us a broken Hotline system, the least he could do is expand his dainty, little shop. Seriously, what am I supposed to buy with all of my coins, bills, and gold bars?
A Gold Bone that revives me to full health upon death, so I don’t have to give a crap about combat and boss battles? Or how about a Boo Finder? Boos already loudly notify you via violent controller rumbles, bubbles in Luigi’s goo tank, and the sudden shift to dramatic organ music. In case you find the act of playing a game a nuisance in your everyday life… the Boo Finder exists.
I can’t really blame the game for the third shop item -- the Gem Finder. The Gems are by far the most satisfying part of the game’s exploration but sometimes you need a push in the right direction. So please, tell me, how many $1000 Gem Finders can I buy with $87,289 -- which is the amount I’ve acquired without spending a single dime? I can buy 87 Gems out of the game’s total 102. I’m all for emergency assistance built into the game instead of the Internet, but 87 Gems is not an emergency; it’s compensation for the lack of anything worthwhile to spend money on and a lack of confidence in Gem placements. Three games into the Luigi’s Mansion series -- a series whose entire purpose is to suck money and ghosts from every orifice of mansions -- and there’s yet to exist anything worthwhile to spend money on. That’s probably because Luigi’s Mansion 3 is actually Luigi’s Hotel.
“But Corvus, Luigi’s Mansion 1 didn’t need a shop, you hypocrite!”
Yeah, because Luigi’s Mansion 1 managed great pacing, ghost usage, and atmosphere. Not only does Luigi’s Mansion 2 & 3 fail to meet the same standards but their length is more than doubled. A shop would have most likely bloated the first game, but the lack of one in the second and third causes money to feel worthless as the game progresses.
Sure, E. Gadd didn’t sell us anything in the first game, but he at least had the balls to reconstruct pure art out of dead residents. What a crazy satisfactory way to end a day of ghost hunting.
Experimentation & Intro to Tools
But I’ll give credit where credit’s due, E. Gadd does provide us with a crazy amount of tools in Luigi’s Mansion 3: the Poltergust and its intake and outtake of air, the chargeable Strobulb flashlight, the Dark-Light, the Suction Shot, the burst, and Gooigi.
The available tools are so plentiful that the game ends up relying heavily on experimentation (alongside exploration).
For example, in the Blooming Suite, we discover these strange plants. Do I burst them? Suck them? Dark-Light them? Ah, I flash them, and then suck them up.
What about the Locker Room? The swim sign shakes when sucked, and it’s too far up to burst, so we suck up a fist and shoot it down.
However, some objects on the wall can’t be shot down. Some have to be plunged and pulled. Sometimes a wheel attached to the wall can be spun with the vacuum’s air.
The History Museum’s display cases can’t be plunged and slammed, but they can be bashed open with a Toad or with one of the dinosaur bones. If only the Toad shooting worked consistently in this game.
However, in the Hotel Shops, we break open glass by plunging and slamming heavy objects into it instead. Even more, the glass can only be broken by Gooigi because the shop closed down for the night.
Experimentation permeates the entire game, but it truly shines when puzzles require more than one tool to solve.
For example, in the Grand Lobby, Luigi and Gooigi activate pressure plates, then they spin-to-win the chandelier.
In the Dance Hall, Luigi spins the records with his vacuum so Gooigi can burst to hit the block with his head.
In the Boilerworks’ Storage Room, Gooigi suctions and smashes the mop bucket & wringer and crawls through the pipe. After Luigi vacuums the water valve to reroute the water, Gooigi collects the prize.
In the Observation deck, Luigi Dark-Lights a container and flashes the coffee to destroy the terminal.
Generally, the puzzles in Luigi’s Mansion 3 take a varying amount of exploration and experimentation to both discover and solve, and that’s the goo that holds the game together.
Part of that goo comprises Dark-Light. Dark-Light reveals invisible objects and transposes them back to the real world. Dark-Light is probably the most satisfying mechanic in Luigi’s Mansion 3 because the game virtually always hints at the invisible objects.
For example, in the 11th Floor Laundry Room, an empty space next to a washing machine oozes a strange aura… like something should be there... so we Dark-Light the dryer back into existence.
On the Beach, we spot an island both on a treasure map and from the mainland, so we Dark-Light a bridge back into existence.
In the Sandy Grand Hall, the slithery snake statue is missing pieces here and there, so we Dark-Light the missing pieces.
Invisible doors are not uncommon to Dark-Light and they’re always noticeable.
We also discover oddly empty tables or shelves and they’re fair and even expected because every corner in this game contains some object to suck or interact with, so an empty shelf looks strange. Additionally, a mirror may reflect the invisible shelf objects or even drains in the floor where Gooigi can slip through.
Dark-Light isn’t the only intuitive tool in this game, however. The Suction Shot is just as telegraphed and fair as the Dark-Light. Either a circular symbol or shape begs for the plunger of the same shape, or we plunge and slam breakable objects; and if an object cannot be plunged, then the Suction Shot will bounce right off.
The intuitive and telegraphed nature of Dark-Light and the Suction Shot is very important because if Luigi’s Mansion 3 instead just tagged random items as invisible, then we’d be encouraged to hold Dark-Light everywhere we walk. The game would be very tedious and unsatisfying.
The new burst mechanic, on the other hand, feels unfinished. The burst acts as a sudden burst of air from Luigi’s vacuum -- big surprise -- but where does the burst’s supposedly high pressure come from? It doesn’t wind or charge -up, so what differentiates the burst and simply pushing air out of the vacuum? The burst magically has a ton more pressure from Luigi pointing the vacuum down instead of the pressure actually building up in some fashion.
It’s also extremely visually misleading. No matter how many times I burst to flip open a counter, I’m always confused at the interaction. On Floor 4, the burst pulls open a hatch in the ground, and it confused me so badly I generated question marks above my head in real life. Yes, Luigi’s Mansion 3 focuses on experimentation, but the result should end with a “Oh, that makes sense.”
The unusually high-pressured burst isn’t even consistent. Tipped over trash cans bounce and break when blasted, but when they’re standing up they don’t react at all, yet they suddenly transform into money when blasted a second time. How come some objects that are pullable or pushable with the comparatively low-pressure vacuum are not affected by the supposedly high-pressure burst, such as the cart in the 6th floor Cart Storage Area, or even the all-too-common pot. Pots react the same no matter the air pressure. But then you’ll encounter the leaves on the 7th floor that demonstrate the air pressure difference perfectly. The vacuum slowly sucks the leaf piles one at a time while the burst quickly scatters multiple piles at once.
So the burst feels unfinished, inconsistent, and nonsensical.
Combat - Burst
The vacuum’s blast of air doesn’t end at counters and leaf piles, however. Occasionally, we encounter ghosts that wear sunglasses or other equipment like firefighter gear that block our flashlight. The burst scatters flash-resistant equipment so the ghosts are no longer impervious and Luigi can flash and suck the ghosts. Unfortunately, the burst is yet again inconsistent when a boss’ sunglasses must be dealt with via the vacuum suck rather than the burst.
Ghosts can also carry shields. They’re not burstable, but they’re the perfect shape for the Suction Shot, so the experimentation sometimes extends to combat as well. Or, you can slam another ghost straight into the shielded enemies to ignore the shield altogether.
Combat - Slam
Yes, the new slam mechanic is that powerful. The combat still consists of the usual flashlight-then-vacuum combination, but now, once the slam meter fills, Luigi can slam his victims into the ground and into other ghosts up to four times before the victim escapes.
Well… I say four times, but you may notice I slap this red boy seven times; and that’s because here I time my button presses instead of rapid-fire. The game never conveys or even suggests that we should be timing our slams. I only discovered the timing, or the existence of the timing, by accident after I beat the game, so I’m gonna forget about the timing mechanic like the game does and assume the maximum number of slams is four for all intents and purposes.
The slam serves two purposes. The first purpose is to deal damage. Each slam deals 20 damage for a maximum of 80. The slam meter fills up pretty fast, so it ends up dealing most of the damage to the ghosts.
The second purpose is to crowd control. As crowd control suggests, the slam manages groups of ghosts by disabling and disarming them. Disabled or stunned ghosts can no longer hurt you, which is extremely beneficial since the only weakness in combat is the vulnerability to other ghosts’ attacks. These stunned ghosts are also disarmed and thus no longer hold shields, sunglasses, or anything that blocks your flashlight.
If the slam’s disable and disarm wasn’t already beneficial enough, disabled ghosts are also vulnerable, so you don’t need to flash them before you suck them up. Consequently, the slam provides complete safety now and forever because you can chain ghosts together. Once you’ve finished sucking up the current ghost, you can just grab the next one sprawled and vulnerable in front of you.
And to be clear, the slam has no downsides, so it serves as a massive, multipurpose reward. And since the slam feels like the majority of your time in combat, the combat ends up with very little challenge and satisfaction.
Combat - Control Stick Sucking
Other than the slam, the combat involves the flashlight’s flash followed by the vacuum’s suck. The flash-suck technique has been passed down the generations from the first Luigi’s Mansion installment… but at what cost? Luigi’s Mansion 3 strips the mechanics down so instead of the player strategically repositioning, maneuvering, and wiggling the control stick back away from the running ghost, the player simply holds the control stick back in the opposite direction with almost no regard to the environment or other ghosts.
In the first game, the ghosts yank you around like they’re trying to escape and somewhat unpredictably -- I say somewhat because you yourself can finagle the control stick to reposition around the ghost. The combat promotes a constant struggle between man and ghost where not only are you attempting to strategically maneuver around the room, but you must constantly maintain the pressure on the ghost by wiggling and jerking back the vacuum.
Additionally, you can strategically stop holding the control stick back if you’re attempting to avoid other ghosts’ attacks, but only briefly because otherwise the ghost actually deals damage to you by dragging you across the floor. The positioning and maneuverability combat system ripens when certain enemies like the banana ghost are built entirely around the system. Luigi’s Mansion 1 bakes an insane amount of depth into its combat.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 removes the depth. The player no longer wiggles and jerks as if an actual struggle exists, but simply holds the control stick back in the opposite direction. The player can slightly maneuver but mostly to position oneself for the almighty slam. The ghosts are also quite predictable and don’t try to fight back in any meaningful way, so it feels like they have no skin in the fight whatsoever.
The flashlight is also dumbed down. We charge the flashlight -- boom -- we’re given all the time in the world to grab on and start sucking. In the first game, once the flashlight’s light makes contact with a ghost, the ghost is stunned. The stun time is determined by the distance between you and the ghost, so it’s often advantageous to turn the flashlight off until you’re in a good position. If you take too long to initiate the suck on a stunned ghost, then the ghost disappears for a short time. If you try to suck the stunned ghost but take too long, the ghost continues its attack. Either way, the ghosts react more dynamically and aggressively than the third game’s ghosts that simply don’t give a crap and remain right in front of you. Not only does strategy and risk-reward exist in the first game’s flash-stun system, but turning the flashlight off contributes to the atmosphere.
Overall, Luigi’s Mansion 3’s combat system is a whole lot less immersive and much more mindless than the first game. The combat contains less depth and thus the repetition causes boredom as the game progresses. Luigi’s Mansion 3’s strengths lie in its exploration and not the combat.
Combat - Ghosts
I want to apologize ahead of time because I’m not finished with the roast.
What’s the one room a ghost doesn’t need in its house?
A living room! Ha, losers.
More often than not, ghosts pop out at the most awkward of times to commence combat. I really can’t count the number of times I finished a puzzle or exploration and then, once I attempted to leave the room, a gate blocks the door and now I’m stuck in combat. Why are the ghosts only now showing up? The ghost quota hasn’t been met for the day, so toss some in, why not?
Luigi’s goal in Luigi’s Mansion 1 was to cleanse each room and light up the mansion. The player explores the rooms to uncover where ghosts may be hiding, sucks them up, and then the room lights up. The inclusion of not only the portrait or boss ghosts but the regular ghosts was very natural and seamless.
In Luigi’s Mansion 3, the boss ghosts are fairly natural and super unique to their themed areas, but the regular ghosts almost never feel warranted.
And there’s only seven ghost types in the game, two of which are just mini-versions. I encountered the one called Goob 216 times. Compared to the rest of the ghosts, Goob shows up for the majority of the game. Why doesn’t every floor contain unique ghosts other than the boss ghost? Unique ghosts could have varied the visuals and the combat. Unique ghosts provide the best chance for meaningful ghost encounters, because the game simply doesn’t exude the same atmosphere that made hidden ghosts work so well in the first game.
However, comma, great combat moments exist. In the Central Chamber, the rising sand is ripe for an enemy encounter; or in the Snake Chamber, a ghost appears in the midst of a timed puzzle. My favorite combat moment is the 11th floor enemy gauntlet, ironically enough, because the enemies were cleverly introduced. For instance, ghosts were trapped in paintings on the first trip through but they climbed out on the second.
Most of the time, however, the whole combat and ghost system feels artificial.
Permanence & Replayability
The ghosts further reinforce their artificial nature because they respawn when we revisit certain floors. No matter how many ghosts you suck up in these areas, they always float on back, so the game lacks permanence. Another benefit to the first game’s system is that every room and combat encounter contributed to the game’s permanence and so the satisfaction carried throughout the entire game. Luigi’s Mansion 3 doesn’t bear that privilege.
However, Luigi also collects Gems and they’re permanent collectables. The Gems shine far above anything the regular ghosts offer in the game. I’ve collected them all and I have to warn, each floor’s Gems should be collected before climbing back into the elevator because otherwise, every single object respawns, except the money and Gems. The floors lack permanence. Your collected Gems remain collected, but the fact that every mundane object needs another suck repeats the exploration for no particular reason other than to drain player motivation.
However, you’ll be fine as long as you suck the boss ghost and collect the Gems before Luigi taps his finger on the elevator button.
Unless the Cat steals the elevator button. What the crap, that’s cheating.
The Polterkitty is divided into two separate encounters throughout the game -- the first revisits two floors, the second revisits three. Each encounter requires us to suck off three tails, for a total of six. Six total combats against the same basic boss mechanic wears thin pretty quickly.
My experience with the cat was also frustrating. Most of the time, when I tried to keep my back to the beast, it retreated as if my back wasn’t against it. I thought maybe I should stand completely still, but then the cat foolishly walks around to the front of us and retreats. The entire fight devolves to luck.
Thankfully, the rest of the bosses in Luigi’s Mansion 3 thematically fit their respective floors and commence unique boss battles. Captain Fishook merges with his pirate ship. Amadeus Wolfgeist possesses a piano. Ug controls a T-Rex skeleton. Dr. Potter attacks with a plant that we can cut with a saw.
My favorite boss ghost by far though is Morty. The fight itself takes place on a movie set against godzilla in an epic battle of raw force. The boss isn’t the most mechanically deep or anything, but Morty has personality. He loves filmmaking. He’s sad because he lost his megaphone. He’s excited when we return it but even more ecstatic at the prospect of Luigi as an actor. His enthusiasm radiates during the godzilla fight. Morty feels like an actual character, like a ghost that used to be human. I didn’t want to suck Morty up at the end; in fact, it is optional. But it’s not because there’s an achievement for it. Morty expresses many different emotions, while most of the other boss ghosts exude malevolence. Malevolence for the sake of malevolence is surface level and boring.
I mention the boss ghosts’ personalities because most of the floor’s bosses are prevalent, show themselves early on, and express their malevolence as if they’re a character, but all they do is either pop up and then disappear until the boss fight or make our lives more difficult in some fashion… and then disappear. Either way, they’re malevolent for the sake of malevolence. The boss ghosts are a fantastic addition to bring back after their confusing absence in Dark Moon, but they strike an odd balance of prevalence yet no personality. Except Morty. Morty is prevalent throughout his floor and conveys a personality.
Even the first game experimented with the portrait or boss ghosts. The fortune teller, for instance, helps you out and then asks to be back in her painting without putting up a fight. She’s a distinct character that expresses both wisdom and contentment, or at least acceptance. [fade to black]
[sudden cut-in] Oh yeah! The Boos, haha.
The Boos are the game’s afterthought. A staple of the series has become postgame content, which is a bummer because they could’ve been a part of the exploration -- again, like the first game, but even Dark Moon integrated the Boos into the missions. The Boos are a great companion piece to the Gems, so why are they completely non-existent on the initial run through the hotel’s floors? If anything, they’re tedious to hunt for because of it.
As far as the Boo combat goes… you slam the Boo around -- big surprise. It’s less satisfying than Dark Moon’s and I’m surprised the slam doesn’t deal extra damage for slamming them into other objects in the room.
Overall, Luigi’s Mansion 3 improves upon Dark Moon immensely yet the lost potential is ever present. The game excels at the exploration, the puzzles, the unique areas, and the Gems. E. Gadd may still be condescending, but he does provide plenty of tools for a satisfactory amount of experimentation. Gooigi is a full-fledged mechanic, and when combined with Luigi’s other great tools like the Dark-Light and Suction Shot, the Gems really are a blast to collect.
Unfortunately, the frivolous combat encounters with the same few ghost types and the mindless combat system really hampers the gameplay and doesn’t mesh well with the crazy unique areas and the exploration.
Extra: Thoughts on Game Length
No matter Luigi’s Mansion 3’s charm, I feel like Luigi’s Mansion 1 deserves a Lost Ghost Arts of Luigi’s Mansion video at this point. And maybe you’d argue Luigi’s Mansion 3 is not really comparable because it tries something different… no. They’re all fundamentally the same gameplay loop, albeit drastically repurposed. The series has only regressed since the first game. You can refer to the Dark Moon Design Frame episode as a companion piece, it’ll be linked in the end screen and the description.
Looking back at the game length comparison, I find it intriguing how the game length corresponds with quality for this particular series.
So I can’t help but wonder how Luigi’s Mansion 3 would be different if it was shorter in length.
A quarter or half of the game could’ve been compressed or reduced to expend the effort on meaningful combat encounters, interesting ghosts, any sort of spooky atmosphere, and I still would like the series to bring back a single mansion to explore rather than some clearly divided mission-like structure. The first game accomplished all of this and more. Luigi’s Mansion 1 was simple, yet extremely thoughtful, effective, and polished.
Luigi’s Mansion 3’s strengths really boil down to specifically Gem exploration. The money exploration loses value due to the game length and perhaps even oversaturation per room compared to the first game. The ghosts are tossed in and the combat is boring. Even some of the exploration mechanics or interactions are inconsistent. If Luigi’s Mansion 3 was as short as the first game, and the same amount of effort was invested into it, how different would the game be?
Was the game’s design and planning phase cut short because of the game’s length? Was the team able to sit down and ask themselves:
How do the different game elements piece themselves together and interact with one another?
How do we implement and design the ghosts so they feel relevant and part of the exploration? How would the slam affect combat and how the player approaches combat?
How would the collection of endless supplies of money feel after 15-20 hours? Probably as meaningless as Mario Odyssey’s Moons.
When Luigi’s Mansion 3 has two predecessors to look back on, I have a hard time believing the game length is not a major factor in the final product.