If you like haunted houses as much as I do, Luigi's Mansion likely holds an extra pull for you. Though the series is dispersed by release dates, they all share a common core: the timid character of Luigi and a lighthearted haunted house romp.
Luigi doesn’t engage in the hopping and bopping of his older brother’s quests. With vacuum and flashlight, Luigi hunts down ghosts, collects treasure, and, more importantly, rescues Mario. Yes, now it’s Mario who needs rescuing, and little bro is the only one who can help out.
The irony goes further. Luigi was already timid in the first place, so when you place him in a haunted house full of ghoulies, it’s doubly worse. Luigi’s frightened antics are part of the experience. He still stuns and sucks up ghosts by the dozen and even bests the menacing and tricky boos. He can be as brave as his older brother.
But the feature that sets Luigi’s Mansion in its own class is the haunted house theme. It allows Nintendo to give their twist to this classic horror staple's tropes.
The Haunted House Experience in Luigi's Mansion 3
The haunted house is a classic media experience. There are books, movies, and TV shows from across the years that depict a variety of these desolate, possessed abodes: lighthearted ones, sadistic ones, and others. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is set in a hotel, but the “haunted house” experience is still there at the core. In Nintendo fashion it falls on the lighthearted side of the scale but is still legitimately horror.
Nintendo gives you frights through several classic, lighthearted tropes: ghosts popping out of the air, creepy paintings, inanimate objects flying at you, bats, spiders, and jump scares. The balloons and fake hand hands and masks that pop out of drawers and dressers are straight out of a real haunted-house amusement—though far less gross. The basic ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion 3 are like the classic bed-sheet ghosts you’d see in old haunted house movies. The game even sets up the hotel with the classic horror trope of a false veneer; everything looks okay, but you can tell something is off (specifically, the masks that the staff are wearing).
Then there’s the first chase with King Boo, which plays off the great horror trope of being chased by a monster. The key point here is that this is Nintendo’s version of these tropes—it’s the Luigi horror story.
The original Luigi’s Mansion followed this formula to a tee. Dark rooms held whispers, candles floated through the air, and cursed spirits vented their anger. It was straight haunted house.
The direct sequel Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon took liberties with the theme by branching it out into several different locales. Luigi’s Mansion 3 brought it back to a firmer foundation by being in a single building. However, that single building is a hotel with different themed sections—each floor is like its own world. It’s still a haunted house at its core. Thus, it partakes of the series' standout feature.
Luigi's Own (Haunted) World
The haunted house theme gives Luigi a world of his own. From this, he also receives his unique character. Luigi thrives in a haunted house setting. He may not look as great as Mario jumping across toadstools, but imagine handing Mario a vacuum and flashlight and telling him to hunt ghosts. Right—that's Luigi's venue. He's the star of the spooky, shadowy, peering-around-with-flashlight show.
This contrast is in the propensities of the two brothers as well. Mario puts fear into his foes and directly goes straight for their head. Luigi is different: he’s afraid of his enemies. He can’t just jump on them. Instead, he has to engage in flashlight-and-vacuum shenanigans to get them sucked up. Typically, it’s the ghosts who attack Luigi. Luigi, snuck up on and surprised, plays defense. This makes sense; it’s the stance of characters in horror games. They are weak and are the victim of sinister supernatural forces. You sympathize with the horror hero.
Through the haunted house, Nintendo has also created their own signature horror experience. In other words, if Nintendo had a horror game, Luigi's Mansion would be it.
The haunted abodes of the Luigi’s Mansion series are far removed from the colorful worlds of the Super Mario games. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Luigi’s Mansion 3 have more colors than the original Luigi's Mansion, but even these are muted. The bright zaniness of Super Mario Odyssey is nowhere to be found here. While Luigi’s Mansion may not go to the extreme of being a survival horror experience, it’s a riff on it.
More Than a Contrast
But this world is not just a contrast. Luigi’s Mansion stands on its own, certainly due to the sequels. The original gave Luigi his starring role, but with Luigi’s Mansion 3 that role and the world he’s in has an established formula and feels all its own. Luigi is Nintendo’s ghost hunter. If you wanted to stretch it further, he’s their zombie killer—the survival horror hero. Luigi must delve into these scary places, flashlight in hand, and bravely make his way through a world of ghosts, shadows, and frights.
But don’t be afraid. No need to cover your eyes. This is Nintendo’s haunted house.