Luigi’s Mansion (3DS) review: Handheld Horrors

Luigi’s Mansion is, for various reasons, one of my favourite games of all time. I’ve finished it at least six or seven times since its 2001 release, including an almost-complete gold portrait run, and I’ll jump at any chance to replay it (though not as much as a friend of mine, who’s finished the game 31 times). The trailer for the 3DS version filled me with equal parts excitement and apprehension: It’s now accessible for a new generation, but how can you improve on the original game’s simple perfection? Once again, I picked up the flashlight and ventured into Luigi’s Mansion.

The central game, plot, and locations are untouched from the original. Our hero Luigi discovers he’s won a mansion in a competition he doesn’t remember eantering, and asks his brother Mario to come visit it with him. When he gets there everythiang is a lot more bizarre than expected, especially the sinister mansion itself, and Mario is nowhere to be found. Luigi’s Mansion sees the player wielding the ‘Poltergust’ ghost-vacuuming device to clear the mansion of ghosts, grab as much moolah as possible, and find out where Mario’s gone. Using a flashlight and your trusty vacuum, you’ll solve environmental puzzles and suck up enemy ghosts to progress. It’s a short game, which can be fully completed in six or so hours if you know what you’re doing, but its simple concept and highly refined gameplay make it a treat to play.

In order to make a fair comparison, I dusted off the GameCube and took this review as an excuse to also play through the original for probably the eighth time (I will literally take almost any opportunity to replay this game). There are certainly a number of notable changes in the 3DS version, for better or for worse.

Model upgrades mean that the game’s textures are a lot more detailed and easy on the eyes, though it’s a bit harder to appreciate them on a smaller screen. The map now occupies the bottom screen, which is a great addition that saves time having to navigate menus.The addition of 3D mode is nice; though it’s surprising to see 3D used in a game produced late in the 3DS’ life cycle, it works particularly well with Luigi’s Mansion’s environments, and I found it a useful addition to help with depth perception on a smaller screen.

The portrait gallery, a room displaying pictures of the ghosts you’ve beaten, has also been completely overhauled, and you now have the option to individually replay portrait ghosts for a better score. This makes it easier than ever to do a full gold-portrait run, but I’m personally still nostalgic for the time when you had to either save scum or get it right the first time.

The port also, unfortunately, presents a number of issues. They’re not significant enough to make it unplayable, but enough to prevent it from replacing the GameCube version as the ‘definitive’ version to play. One immediate difference is its framerate, which stays largely the same during normal gameplay but drops enormously during cutscenes. It affects the impact of some cutscenes and is likely to elicit a groan from fans of the original game. Luigi’s Mansion also has loading screens now; a small difference, but they do detract somewhat from the game’s original seamlessness. Control locations are changed fairly significantly, which might take a while to get used to, but controlling the Poltergust feels pretty smooth once you get over the initial hurdle.

The worst thing, by far, is using the 3DS’ C-Stick to aim the Poltergust up and down. Compared to how easy and intuitive the GameCube’s C-Stick feels, the aiming on the 3DS version is imprecise and slow at best, making boss fights slow and money ghosts easy to miss. If your console has a C-Stick that’s even slightly problematic, you’re either going to have to be very patient or use gyro controls for the whole game. On an amusing note, Luigi’s Mansion is Circle Pad Pro compatible, in case you still have one lying around from the Monster Hunter days (I got so frustrated I actually ended up using one to finish the game). You can also now choose to use the Strobulb from Luigi’s Mansion 2, if you prefer that over the original game’s flashlight.

And how could I forget to mention the new two-player mode? A friend can now join your adventure through the mansion as Gooigi, who’s identical to Luigi but made from green goo (what were you expecting?). The second player can also suck up ghosts and money that will go towards your totals. When I tried it with a friend, it did make portrait ghosts a lot quicker to capture, but that’s about as far as its novelty reached. As you may expect, the framerate absolutely tanks in two player mode; if it’s cringeworthy during cutscenes, it’s unplayable with poor Gooigi. We were also disconnected a minute in while trying to open a door, though it’s hard to say whether this is a problem with the game or the 3DS itself. Our second attempt was more successful, but very slow, and left us wondering if the game really needs a second player at all (hint: it doesn’t, but the option is there for you if you want to try it). Two-player mode would have been a lot more functional on stronger hardware, which makes me wish even more that they’d ported Luigi’s Mansion to Switch instead.

So, is it worth it? The 3DS port is good if you’ve never played it before, or you don’t want to have to go through the hassle of finding an original copy to set up and play. For seasoned ghost hunters, it’s a great opportunity to replay with some quality-of-life changes that make a full-completion run easier than ever. I still vastly prefer the comfy controls on the GameCube version, and playing it on the big screen makes it easier to appreciate a lot of environmental details. Overall, the differences mean that neither version is really better than the other – as long as you aren’t expecting an amazing, high definition remaster, the 3DS port is essentially the same lovable Luigi’s Mansion experience as before.