In recent years, Nintendo has held up a single game as the centrepiece of its E3 showing, be it Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or Super Mario Odyssey. This year, it’s a different brother’s turn.
Introducing Luigi’s Mansion 3 to press ahead of E3, Nintendo of America’s Bill Trinen was keen to point out that while Luigi’s Mansion may not be as obviously well known as those other banner franchises, Nintendo had very high hopes for this third entry in the series. 3DS game Luigi’s Mansion 2 (known as Dark Moon in the US) sold well on 3DS – it shifted some 6m copies – and had appealed both to hardcore Nintendo fans and a strong wider audience.
Also, Trinen said, Nintendo’s own player research showed Luigi was a particularly attractive lead character to a female audience. Take that, Mario.
It’s reassuring, then, that Luigi’s Mansion 3 does not reinvent the wheel from previous games in the series. Rather, developer Next Level Games (aided by Nintendo veteran Kensuke Tanabe) refines the formula of Luigi’s Mansion 2 and adds features which feel like they’ve been there since the GameCube original.
Those new Poltergust attacks, for instance, feel natural to the series and a great improvement on Luigi’s own brand of combat. Slam attacks, which hurl your ghostly opponent into the walls, nearby furniture or other ghosts, make the sometimes slow process of your vacuum slurping up a foe far more interesting.
Suction shots are another great addition, letting you fire off a plunger with a rope on the end you can then suck up to prize away a ghost’s armour. You can also use this to solve environmental puzzles, ripping away loose floorboards to find treasure underneath. Said Trinen: there’s a secret to find in every room.
The final new mechanic, the area of effect Burst attack, has a similar dual purpose. You can use it when crowded by ghosts to knock them all back, giving you a spare moment. You can also use it while exploring to rattle nearby cupboards and tables to see which things in your local environment might be worthy of further investigation.
And what a new environment Luigi has. The demo I played had Luigi exploring an area of the game’s hulking new hotel setting themed around a fantasy castle, with a nearby medieval fruit and vegetable market for good measure. (Tomatoes and pumpkins make for great practice picking up objects with your Poltergust, then firing them off over the scenery.)
As shown in today’s E3 Nintendo Direct, Luigi’s Mansion 3 begins with Luigi, Mario, Peach and a gaggle of Toads on a tour bus to the hotel, ready to redeem a dubious coupon for a free stay. (They never learn…) Of course, everyone but Luigi is soon captured and spirited away into paintings.
The hotel setting, Trinen explained, fitted the story’s progression upwards through its towering mass of floors. Luigi, naturally, starts on the ground floor but finds the hotel’s elevator broken – missing buttons. It’s these you’ll eventually find to unlock the elevator up to higher and more complex levels, each with various themes. It’s a smarter take than in Luigi’s Mansion 2, which sometimes suffered from simply replicating the same kinds of areas seen in the original game.
Luigi isn’t entirely on his own, of course. Professor E. Gadd is around to lend Luigi his technical expertise, providing him with his new Poltergust G-00 model and furnishing him with the ability to once again conjure forth Gooigi, Luigi’s gelatinous clone.
For those who skipped out on Luigi’s Mansion 2, Gooigi is a controllable goo concoction of Gadd’s (created to enable multiplayer). Here, Gooigi is used to get past traps such as spikes that would otherwise block our corporeal hero, or gloop through grates into hidden areas. You can either alternate control between Luigi and Gooigi in single-player, or give a Joy-Con to a friend so they play as Gooigi alongside you.
Amongst the changes, series standards remain. Luigi has a health meter (in the demo we played, out of 100) with hearts to replenish it. Money is everywhere for you to collect to fatten your pockets, and your overall score.
Luigi’s Mansion 2’s Scarescaper Mode (known as Thrill Tower in Europe) also returns. I played a couple of matches with three other people – everyone is Luigi – and the combination of four players (plus another four local players if you prefer, controlling four Gooigis with a second Joy-Con) with those new attack mechanics makes things pretty chaotic. Levels are procedurally generated for the number of players connected, so a two-person team would tackle fewer enemies in the given time limit. We played levels where we had to capture a set number of spirits before the clock ran out. Another option will be a hunt to find Toads hidden away in various rooms.
As in Luigi’s Mansion 2, you can use the D-pad to generate pre-programmed messages for other players (most usefully, “come help me!”) and there are ghosts with multiple tails designed for two players to suck up at once. Local and online multiplayer will be supported.
There’s still no firm release date – Nintendo is currently keeping Luigi’s Mansion 3 to a vague “2019” window, although Bill Trinen said we’d likely hear more on that in the next couple of months. But with Animal Crossing: New Horizons now a 2020 release, Luigi’s Mansion 3 feels like a strong contender for Nintendo’s big end of the year slot.