It was rather disappointing when Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was delayed out of last year into the increasingly crowded early 2013 timeframe, but if there's any company that wants its headline products to be top-notch, it's Nintendo. (After all, it was Miyamoto who uttered the now-famous "A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is forever bad" quote.) Plus, every time I've had a chance with some hands-on with the game, I've come away more and more impressed with how much it builds on the concepts of the original GameCube game. Now there's a brand-new multiplayer element in the mix, and it's not what you might expect.
The multiplayer mode is separate from the single-player campaign, and supports up to four players either locally or online. (Players without the game can also join in with limited-function download play.) Rather than retreading the Luigi's Mansion inspired minigame in Nintendo Land, the Dark Moon multiplayer mode has more in common with a roguelike than the simple hide-and-seek of Nintendo Land's adaptation.
The multiplayer mode, called "ScareScraper," has multiple sub-modes within it, but the one I tried was called "Hunter." It involves four rainbow-colored Luigis going into a tower, whose height is set by the host player, to try and eradicate all the spirits lurking within. The host can set the number of floors all the way up to infinity, meaning the game ends only once all four players are KO'ed. The host can also choose between three difficulty settings, ranging from a breezy mansion tour to a grueling ghoulie grind.
To this end, the d-pad can be used to send simple preprogrammed messages, like calling for assistance. Fortunately, if your Luigi goes down, one of your buddies can revive you – but if all four of you fall, it's lights out for that session. It's an interesting twist on the random dungeon crawler, and it will no doubt foster heated arguments as to whether you stick together or split up Scooby-Doo style looking for those g-g-g-ghosts.
Once all the ghosts have been cleaned up, you'll have a chance to scramble for four red coins on the floor. Collect all of them and you'll trigger a slot machine that rewards a random bonus to one of the players. The more coins you grab, the better your odds of being the lucky winner. You'll want all the help you can get, too, since every fifth floor is a very challenging boss fight. Even strong individual players can easily wipe out at the bosses if they can't work well as a team, so hopefully you've spent the previous four floors getting to know each other better. (For the record, the boss is where my demo session turned from "going great" to "utterly disastrous.")
It's clear that a lot of effort has gone into making Dark Moon's multiplayer more than just a box-back bullet point, but developer Next Level Games has been polishing up the core single-player experience as well. I got a chance to spar with one of the game's early bosses, a possessed giant spider with a giant web and distaste for bright lights. Since you can't suck the spider directly into the Poltergust, one has to find a more clever way to unravel the boss's weakness by using Luigi's tools to interact with the environment. It's more puzzle-solving than action, though some swift maneuvers are necessary to manipulate the various environmental elements.
Whether you're dealing with spiders or specters, Dark Moon is a promising invitation to clean house. Having spent a good deal of time with it over several demos now, I'm looking forward to playing the final game on March 24.