Reviewed by Abram Buehner
- Developer: Next Level Games
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Release Date: 31/10/2019
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99
- Review code provided by Nintendo
Checking into The Last Resort Hotel
As I first stepped into the lobby of The Last Resort Hotel, I was unsure whether or not Luigi’s Mansion 3 would captivate me. The GameCube original is considered by many to be a bona fide classic, but to me, it was a deceptively linear adventure with thick atmosphere and underwhelming gameplay. As such, Dark Moon, Luigi’s Mansion 2, evaded me entirely. Luigi’s Mansion 3, however, seemed to be a true progression for the series, a slick refinement of what has worked in previous titles and a reinvention of what needed correction. Those first steps through the atrium of the hotel filled me with an optimism that Next Level Games had finally cracked the code, yet it was too soon to assert that with any confidence. But having now completed Luigi’s third foray into slapstick adventure, I can say with certainty that, save for a few missteps along the way, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the most creative and essential experiences on Nintendo Switch.
An unmatched presentation
Speaking purely from a presentational standpoint, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the high-water mark for AAA exclusives on Switch. From every perspective Next Level Games truly illustrates what Nintendo’s hybrid is capable of here, reaching heights that not even the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can achieve. While nothing in Luigi’s Mansion 3 operates with the same scope as Breath of the Wild, the confined nature of The Last Resort allows for densely-packed, intricate visual design in Luigi’s Mansion 3. Each room in the hotel radiates its own aesthetic, stuffed full of odds and ends just waiting to be poked, prodded, and smashed by Luigi and his G-00 backpack. I often found myself spending minutes at a time simply marveling at the level of polish in each space before proceeding to chaotically unravel such ornate design with Luigi’s trusty Poltergust, watching myriad items swirl and crash around the room, taking full advantage of the game’s impressive physics engine.
Such aesthetic success is augmented by the game’s unmatched animations which truly sell the dichotomous tone of Luigi’s Mansion 3. Each character moves and interacts with its environment dynamically, the ghosts and Luigi in particular. The former phase in and out of walls organically, deviously engage with objects in their surroundings to thwart Luigi. They react appropriately shocked and annoyed when Luigi stuns them with his light and sucks them into his pack, slamming them roughly into the ground and any other unlucky elements of the room. Luigi himself emotes brilliantly, equipped with a verified troupe of facial animations and run cycles to convey his clumsy, timid demeanor as he bravely forges deeper into The Last Resort. The animations are so nuanced and lively that Next Level Games is able to clearly display the paradoxically spooky yet light-hearted atmosphere of the game not only through gorgeous, pre-rendered cutscenes, but through intimate details in the moment to moment gameplay experience.
The mechanics of adventure
That gameplay experience is what surprised me the most about Luigi’s Mansion 3, as I was underwhelmed by that facet of the original. Largely, the gameplay loop revolves around exploring a floor of the hotel, battling its ghosts, solving its puzzles, defeating its boss, and collecting the elevator button which will grant Luigi access to the next floor. This structure is fairly rinse-and-repeat across the game’s roughly ten-hour runtime, and due to a minimal emphasis on backtracking and a near-total lack of itemized progression, Luigi’s Mansion 3 largely plays out as a linear experience even though the hotel itself is interconnected. While I tend to chafe at pseudo-nonlinear design as it feels cumbersome and superfluous, I rarely found myself questioning the game’s structure or inherent repetition as I played.
This is due in large part to the game’s unrelenting creativity and sheer imagination. Save for Super Mario Odyssey, I cannot think of a game in the Mario universe that has felt this unique since 2008’s sublime Super Mario Galaxy. While the aesthetic cohesion of The Last Resort’s fifteen floors is dicey at best, each floor posits its own theme which offers a new visual and thematic style. My expectations were constantly subverted as I moved from a traditional hotel suite, to a Hollywood studio, to an Egyptian Tomb, and then to a pirate cove, among other vibrant locales. Next Level Games truly has that undefinable je ne sais quoi for world design: there is just an elusive, childlike wonderment for exploration that few modern games capture, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 certainly is one of them.
Puzzles and poltergeists
In addition to informing the explorative aspects of the gameplay loop, each of the game’s motifs also inspire the puzzle-solving and ghost combat omnipresent during the adventure. The former strikes an eloquent balance between mind-bending challenge and intuitive design, and, save for a few moments, I never found the game’s pace to be brought to a halt due to an unfair puzzle. There were certainly a handful of such occurrences, but the fault in those moments lay chiefly at my feet, as solutions were always accompanied by a resounding facepalm, as I’d wonder how I missed something so obvious. And, although the puzzles largely boil down to the same core principles, their aesthetic dressing is always so varied that a sense of mundanity never set in, and each floor introduced enough of its own puzzle gimmicks to keep me further engaged.
The ghost combat in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the gameplay element that I struggled to enjoy the most, but as I got deeper into the adventure, I began to appreciate it to an extent. One part action game, and one part fishing simulator, the ghost combat is an intriguing tango of exposing ghost weak points, flashing them with Luigi’s light to stun them, sucking them into the Poltergust, and reeling the jokers in. Largely, the combat is mindless. Once you understand how to approach each ghost type, taking them out never provides any particular challenge, nor do they require the player to adopt new strategies to progress. That said, there is an inherent, primal satisfaction to entering a trance, sucking up a ghost, and using the Poltergust G-00’s slam attack to cause chaos to Luigi’s surroundings. On the whole, though, the standard ghost combat is the most underwhelming aspect of the game.
Bombastic boss encounters and some fluff
The shortcomings in the moment-to-moment combat are all but forgiven, though, in the context of the phenomenal boss battles in Luigi’s Mansion 3. Often, I find myself unexcited by Mario series bosses, and with direct respect to Luigi’s own outings, I found the portrait ghosts in the original Luigi’s Mansion uninteresting. That is not the case here. Every single boss encounter feels high-octane and memorable, both in terms of aesthetic and gameplay. Not only does each boss bring its own personality and flair to the fight, but a unique twist on the gameplay as well. While one particular frustrating fight stands out as the sole outlier to this rule, every other fight introduces a subtle mechanic to make each fight stand out in a truly positive way. While the standard combat certainly is not one of the game’s strengths, its boss battles are uncontestable highlights.
Regrettably, the same cannot be said for the game’s pacing, which is a core fault of Luigi’s Mansion 3. While the game is already fairly short in comparison to other titles on the market, it still feels a hair too long. In some respects, such as the new enemy Polter Kitty, Next Level Games overtly pads the runtime. In other, more implicit, regards, the game is just as padded with plot points and story beats leading to frustrating moments of unnecessary longevity that serve only to prolong your stay in The Last Resort artificially, instead of allowing the game to maintain one, fluid pace throughout the adventure. As a tight, eight hour experience without an ounce of fat on the bone, Luigi’s Mansion 3 would’ve been even stronger than it is now.
The bottom line
Even with its shortcomings, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is undeniably a key addition to the Switch’s library, and a title that should be on everyone’s radar. It radiates a pure, creative energy that few titles are able to match, and it demonstrates a presentational polish that is simply unparalleled by the rest of the system’s library. Stepping into The Last Resort initially filled me with apprehension, but leaving it left me with something else: a pang of disappointment as I realized it was time for me to check out. Yet, I was left with something else, too: excitement for the coming year. As, for this next year, and the years to come after that, as I have no doubt that Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an experience I’ll return to every Halloween season just so I can experience this game’s magic again and again.
- Unmatched presentation
- Excellent aesthetic variety
- Riveting boss encounters
- Boundless creativity
- Underwhelming standard combat
- Padded runtime
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is unbridled, imaginative fun that every Switch owner should experience, even in light of its occasional missteps.