Nintendo proclaims 2013 the Year of Luigi just as the Chinese Year of the Snake begins. Talk about convenient: Luigi is probably terrified of snakes. He's terrified of most things. Like spiders. And bats. And mice, lightning, slamming doors and rattling kitchenware. In a brilliant touch, he's even scared of his own mission-complete animation; as the whooshing score table sends him leaping like a skittish gazelle you wonder how he even made it to the level's end.
When it was announced two years ago we wondered how Luigi made it to a sequel. Luigi's Mansion felt like a one-shot deal, a silly digital skit designed to flex GameCube's GPU muscles. Instead of a character with robust strengths - Mario's acrobatic grace, or Link's supreme chicken-bothering - Luigi was a walking punch line. Having heard the joke, do you need to hear it again? We're not scared of spiders, but we did fear Luigi wasn't relevant.
If you've seen the score already, you'll know this is not the case. In Next Level Games Luigi has found something of a guardian angel: a set of designers able to embrace the silliness of the original coward sim while simultaneously ushering him towards bigger things. Well, say we guardian angels... the role doesn't preclude them slamming Luigi behind doors or pushing him down the world's longest staircase (oh... you'll see).
Monster In My Pocket
Like the Ghostbusters with their traps, the first trick is crushing a large console phantom into a tiny handheld prison. The large mansion is replaced with numerous abodes (some almost as big as the first game's) tackled in handy bus ride-length missions. These spice up repeat trips with new aims - activate the pumps! Chase the ghost pooch! Exorcise the organ! - using cool Metroid-like devices to lock off areas and ensure there's always new ground for the next trip.
Materialising in mansions - Luigi is vaporised through a CCTV network - never knowing what you'll find is one of the game's big pulls. Missions redecorate the levels, from gentle feng shui furniture tweaking to complete genre makeovers that ask Luigi to turn detective to hunt a ghost or pass obstacles with a co-op Toad in tow. With E Gadd's fungal flunkies by your side, you begin to view the world through the eyes of a worried parent, spotting every sharp implement at mushroom eye height.
The game feels like a mix of old and new when the ghosts arrive. The basics are pure old: Luigi stuns ghosts to reveal their health core and sucks them up. Said inhalation mimics, oddly, arcade fishing games. Ghost pulls one way, you pull the other. In action, it's more like a wild rodeo, with Luigi trying to dig his heels into the ground as shrieking spooks scramble from the Poltergust's (Luigi's trusty suckbox) hurricane grip. All you're actually doing is tilting an analogue nubbin, but it feels like a truly epic battle of the wills.
Admittedly, GameCube gave digits more to do, with its second analogue stick moving Luigi and his vacuum independently. Its absence is counteracted by punchy new ideas, such as the A-Pull, a tension gauge that rises as you apply sustained pressure. Filling it fires a blast that not only drains ghosts faster, but deposits bonus gold. And as the ghost army evolves, the A-Pull becomes more and more important, helping to pull away armour and break paranormal shields.