Who are Ninteno gonna call?
Change as they say is the only constant in life, without it nothing evolves and we never really progress. In the games industry one company who probably take longer to change than anyone else, Nintendo, also have a habbit of making the most dramatic or drastic and even the coolest changes of all. As a huge fan of them it can be very frustrating to wait and see them sit on their backsides for ages then all of a sudden blow your unsuspecting damn mind.
Back in the early 2000's as Sony was running away with pretty much everything Nintendo were on the cusp of releasing a new console. This of course meant a new Mario game, because that's what they had always done. When it finally hit the streets though fans we once again reminded that when they want to be, Nintendo are untouchable...
Nintendo put a mansion in a box!
Some things stay with you forever, it’s a universally acknowledged fact of life that certain events or situations can happen that are so important, so profound or a perfect storm of timing that the moment remains as fresh in your mind as the day it occurred. For those of us who live to appreciate videogames these happen way more often than we may sometimes either think, admit or even realise. It’s not rocket science to see why either as videogames are the most interactive form of both entertainment meeting escapism meeting art. To be able to pick up a pad, or a joystick or a mouse and through someone else’s artistic vision create intense memories of how you experienced it. Each game is unique, each individual who plays them share that description too so for some one game may change how you see things, for others it may be something else. Then there are some games that seem to cross all lines, tick all the boxes and give such a universal sense of wow. Although rare, those games do exist and today I want to take a look at one of those that against odds, expectation and with a lot riding on it didn’t just knock it out the park… it hit it into a different time zone!
With Sega feeling the full force of internal financial pressures and terrible business mistakes over a near 10 year period and reeling from the tidal wave that was the Playstation 2 another famous member of the ‘old boys’ network were also finding it hard to compete against Sony. Nintendo had come second in the previous console war as the incredible N64 struggled to sell globally against the phenomenon that was the original Playstation. With Microsoft now in the fight and with huge pressure to produce their first CD based home games console Nintendo were about to release their 128-Bit games machine, the Nintendo Gamecube.
As always an industry held it’s breath waiting to see just how incredible this new console was to be, especially as it was going to launch without the traditional flagship ‘Mario’ game. From the NES to the SNES and the N64 itself, a new home games machine from Nintendo would often yield the next advancement in platform gaming. Not only were Nintendo the very best at introducing new ways to control videogames but the actual gameplay experiences themselves were absolutely always a quantum leap forward.
This time however Mario’s Brother, Luigi, was going to be the star of the show, far too often the bridesmaid but never the bride, as the saying goes. Whilst it was not his first time staring in a game under the ’Mario series’ banner, that of course was the Super Nintendo game ’Mario Is Missing’ this would be the first time a Nintendo home console would hit the market in every major territory with the man in green at the wheel. Luigi had big shoes to fill, and at a time when Nintendo needed everything to go right, the company they so cruelly embarrassed years before (Sony) had taken their revenge and for businessmen in Japan, reputation and pride was everything.
Luigi’s Mansion was released on the same day as the console itself in every region with Japan being the first to sample it’s delights on September 14th 2001. Just over two months later on November 18th 2001 North American consumers got to try out Nintendo’s newest moment of pure genius and then finally Europe and Australia were given the option to fall in love in May 2002. The North American timing was crucial because this was mere days after the original Xbox console was launched and Halo had been turning heads for months prior to release. Gaming was growing up and FPS games and serious graphic jumps were heralded as the way forward. Nintendo as usual, had other ideas… Nintendo, as usual got it spot on.
An action adventure game, Luigi’s Mansion is absolutely built from the ground up with the Gamecube’s outstanding controller in mind, almost a mirror to how Mario 64 and the N64 controller were like soul mates this new game staring Luigi simply would not have worked the same on any other console. A true Nintendo game by Nintendo, for Nintendo fans, done the Nintendo way… and then some!
The story begins with our hapless hero arriving at a spooky mansion in the dead of night to meet up with his brother Mario after he informs him that he has won a competition, a competition he never entered. Mario has gone to the huge residence to check it out but has mysteriously vanished and now Luigi must enter the dark and scary building to locate his brother. Upon entering this completely empty, dark and eerie mansion you as the player are tasked with getting to the bottom of everything. Mere minutes after arriving you encounter a ghost who vanishes into a room at the top of the stairs of the main hallway and after picking up a key you venture in to begin what is, one of the most incredibly wonderful games Nintendo have ever produced.
It seems that the Mansion is extremely haunted and that ghosts, once trapped inside the paintings that exist inside, have escaped and now prey on any who enter. An encounter with a scientist, and other major character in the game, Elvin Gadd, or E.Gadd as he is mostly known as sets you up with the games coolest selling point, the Poltergust 3000. A weapon and tool that is designed by the crazy old professor to trap the ghosts located inside this enormous mansion. On top of this you are also issued with the ‘Game Boy Horror’ which is of course a fantastic play on words with the GameBoy Color console. This device enables you to communicate with the professor who resides in his laboratory and also scans rooms for possible ghosts. Unfortunately the Professor is too old to capture all of the spirits in the house and so enlists you to help him. Luigi, bravely agrees and thus the adventure begins.
Set within the Mansion itself it’s essentially GhostBusters the videogame, with Nintendo characters. At it’s core it really is that simple and in that lies it’s biggest hook, charm and selling feature. Using your Poltergust 3000, which is essentially a modified vacuum cleaner, you travel from room to room, floor to floor detecting and capturing ghosts. Using your flashlight and backpack weapon you stun and capture the spirits to be stored by the Professor, although larger and more dangerous spirits fall under the Boss Battle term and have to be returned to the empty paintings. Almost arcade like in it’s execution it’s also a light puzzle game with certain things needing to be done in certain orders to progress.
Graphically stunning with incredible attention to detail Luigi’s Mansion literally leaps from the screen to entertain and amaze. Your vacuum cleaner can ruffle curtains, table cloths, bed sheets and rugs which often reveal cool moments and of course ghosts that are hiding there. Sound effects from doors, wardrobes, chairs, beds and tables are perfect and along with the sense of physics from the Poltergust 3000 help create a completely new experience. Whilst this may not be a traditional Mario game, Luigi’s Mansion absolutely pushed how platform style games looked, moved but most importantly changed how you felt as the player interacting. A perfect fusion of idea, controller, story and above all else execution. It’s pure joy to play.
A completely original and unique launch game it was this title more than any other that got the Nintendo Gamecube off to an amazing start in every territory. Prior to it’s release a lot of people were unhappy that this console had no DVD Drive and that it looked like a toy rather than a games machine, Luigi’s Mansion, for a short time, set all those concerns aside and simply entertained everyone. Receiving very good scores from journalists at the time it sold over 2.5 million copies and went on to become the 5th biggest selling game for the format in North America. Often criticised for being far too short, the reality is that it’s the length it was intended to be, the problem is that it was just so damn good that you never wanted it to end. All the best games, the truly classic ones always have two things in common. The first being that they always leave you wanting more and the second being that age doesn’t dull their shine. Nearly 15 years on and I can assure you all that this is every bit as special as the day it launched in Japan.
My moment with this game was with a friend as he and I travelled to London to get hold of a Japanese Gamecube, chip it to run North American games and then get this game plus another stunner. The small discs blew my mind, the controller felt like an extension of my hand itself. As we ran back and forth between two shops in the city in the pouring rain to get everything done in order to catch the train home we had no idea of the real adventure that was to come when we got back and connected it all up. Months before it was to be released in the UK there we were running around catching ghosts, pointing at the TV Screen as things moved from the vacuum cleaner on our backs. At the time I was convinced that this was good enough to sell a console, my friend believed so much he spent a few hundred pounds getting it early and didn’t regret it one bit.
I don’t see that friend as much as I once did but I carry him with me everywhere I go, most of the time out of sight in the corner of my mind, that is, until I think of, look at or play Luigi’s Mansion. From that second onwards he’s giggling with me like a schoolgirl as we run in the rain then wishing a train would go faster so we can get home and then along with me watching he’s running though a spooky mansion catching ghosts. It’s incredible where videogames can take you. It’s astounding how they can make such beautiful moments that don’t just make you go wow for an instant, but 15 years later take you right back there, like it never ended. Because for some of us it doesn’t end, it can’t, because we ourselves keep it all alive.
When I think about how the Gamecube fared against the competition the sales figures don’t matter, what matters are the feelings, the stories, the games, the memories. At under 22 million unit’s sold the 128-Bit Nintendo console is often considered a failure, well I don’t adhere to that at all. Because the day I got mine meant that I would always have the truly magnificent Luigi’s Mansion to play, how on Earth can that be failure? I don’t care if the PS2 sold 155 million units, it didn’t have this game, Nintendo Won!