Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top 10 Most Shocking Games in a Series - #5: Luigi's Mansion

So, just imagine for a sec. You're a kid from the late 90's, the dawn of the 21st century has cast itself upon you, promising wonderful new gaming consoles for the future. You've packed away your Nintendo 64, on which you logged several hundred hours of Super Mario 64, in preparation for the big man on the Nintendo block, the GameCube. You're ready and excited to meet with the next 3D Mario sure to succeed Super Mario 64 and blow your socks off with the new generation of gaming hardware... you're watching E3 live, or perhaps you decided to pick up a copy of Nintendo Power to read about it there. You wait in anticipation for the news of the next big Mario game and then... wait, what? Luigi?

For the less informed, the Mario games are usually 2D sidescrolling platformers, and Mario and Luigi are most well known for being good jumpers, jumping onto enemies to disable them and up to floating blocks to plunder their contents. The plot of these games rarely got more complicated than "the Princess was kidnapped, go save her", but they never needed to. Mario set the bar for a quality platformer back in 1985 with the release of Super Mario Bros. on the NES, but that wasn't all he did. Fast forward ten years to 1995 and you'll see the portly plumber jumping into a brand new adventure; in 3D! Mario was the star of one of the first 3D platformers to be released: Super Mario 64, for the Nintendo 64. The game that set standards in the new industry of 3D gaming. It's a game that many other 3D games have based themselves off of, if not completely copied. It was a very good base for Mario's career in 3D, and sold just as well as his 2D adventures.

But to elaborate, Mario 64 was a very open-ended game for its time. Sure, you still run around, hit blocks and jump on stuff, but this game didn't just have a linear goal at the end. No, rather, Mario 64's levels were comprised of whole 3D worlds you could jump into (literally), where you could wander around and explore, and find the seven "goals" in each world (the Power Stars, 120 in all, that you had to collect), most of which you can get in any order you want. It was a very explorative game that rewarded you for being curious, although it's grown much smaller with age, and despite the scale the game holds, the story is still no more complex than saving the princess. By the time the GameCube was revealed, every eye was on it to release the next 3D Mario game, a bigger and better Mario game than ever before.

More to the subject matter, there's Luigi. Mario's brother who, since his creation, has more or less lived in his shadow as the second player, usually using the same sprite as Mario but colored differently. Luigi never had a big break in the Mario series (aside from Mario is Missing, a mediocre third-party learning game for the NES, SNES and PC), until the GameCube that is...

During the wait for the next Mario game to be revealed, one of the first GameCube games ever released was Luigi's Mansion, it was a launch title that came out with the system and surprised everyone by being about not Mario, but Luigi! And it was a pretty radical step in the Mario series' history, at that. Not any sort of platformer, 2D or 3D, Luigi's Mansion was actually a 3D horror game that opted for a Resident Evil sort of style, where Luigi was set into a dark mansion that mysteriously appeared overnight to rid it of the ghosts that plague its halls, using a device called the Poltergust 3000, a vacuum capable of sucking up ghosts a la the Proton Packs of Ghostbusters fame.

The story goes as follows: Luigi is sent a flyer in the mail that claims he's won a free mansion. Lucky him, or so he thinks... as his brother Mario sets out to check it out before him, Luigi arrives a bit late, only to find that the mansion promised to him is, in fact, very gloomy looking. In the midst of a dark and threatening forest with Mario nowhere to be found, Luigi approaches and enters the mansion, only to soon find that it's being haunted by violent ghosts. Therein he meets Professor E. Gadd, an aging old ghost researcher who also designed the Poltergust 3000. He explains to Luigi that the mansion just appeared overnight, and that some of the ghosts in the mansion were sealed by him in paintings previously, but were let free by another spirit. He then asks Luigi to seek out the ghosts to turn them back into harmless paintings and cease the horror of the mansion, as well as find his brother, Mario.

Luigi's Mansion, gameplay-wise, is VASTLY different from the Mario norm. No longer are you jumping around, collecting items in a bright and cheery atmosphere, you're now walking through dark hallways of the decrepit mansion with only your flashlight and Poltergust, fighting for your life against the ruthless and sadistic (and also sometimes very comical looking) ghosts of the mansion. The gameplay is now centered around catching these ghosts: you must first shock them with your flashlight to make them reveal their hearts, at which point you can begin sucking them in with your Poltergust. The process is a bit like fishing, as it requires you to tug them repeatedly to lower their HP, and once it hits zero, they get sucked in just like that.

The boss ghosts of the mansion, these are the ghosts who escaped from E. Gadd's portraits. They always have 100 health (which is a lot, althouth the final boss has even more), and are much harder to stun, requiring you learn what their weakness is to get their guard down. But once you do, they're just as vulnerable as the regular ghosts. Your goal in the game is generally to get as many keys to new rooms as you can, and fight all of the boss ghosts. Oh, and to get as much money and treasure that's hidden around the mansion as you can in the process.

This drastic change of gameplay coupled with the fact that it centered around Luigi (Mario barely gets any screentime) was shocking for that time, entering a new generation with an original new idea rather than the next Mario or Zelda game was risky, and it's part of the reason why Luigi's Mansion, as well as Super Mario Sunshine (the 3D Mario game on the GameCube, that was released a year later) and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker weren't received well initially. Everyone was waiting for the next big 3D game in those respective series, but no one expected them to be so different from the last ones, and a lot of people were SO shocked by these games that they just dismissed them as bad entries into the series, when they did hold value, which Luigi's Mansion indeed does.

In short, if you're a Mario fan but have never played Luigi's Mansion, pick it up and see for yourself just how it rocked a generation.

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