Nintendo is known for its polish, but that did not stop Next Level Games’s animators from outclassing even some of publisher’s most acclaimed titles with Luigi’s Mansion 3.
An emphasis on character is apparent from the moment the game sets its stage. As we follow a bus to the hotel destination, the world in which the third installment of Luigi’s spectral spinoff series takes place has, ironically, never felt more alive. Trees are stirred as the vehicle bounces over a winding, hilly road; a sign that points to the group’s hotel shakes as the bus continues on; and, then, as the camera cuts to the inside of the bus, we are introduced to the Mushroom Kingdom gang. These characters have always brimmed with cartoonish characteristics, but Next Level has taken things to fresh and comedic heights.
Toad should not have a driver’s license. Period. So, putting him at the wheel of bus that contains Nintendo’s most iconic bunch while he tries to peer through the holes of a steering wheel is just too much. The animators made sure to have Toad seem as carefree as possible by having him nod his head left to right with a grin as if he is listening to the world’s happiest song. Better yet, when the camera gives another outside look at the vehicle, the bus is swerving around corners, nearly tipping over at every turn. Toad’s happy-go-lucky attitude is contagious and ridiculous, and, as with the rest of the cast’s characteristics, it is flawlessly communicated in his first three seconds on screen. One minute, six characters, and zero dialogue later, Luigi’s Mansion 3 has seta tone that it maintains for the next 15 hours of gameplay.
Most games would typically leave its best animations in the pre-rendered cutscenes, right? The best part of Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the fact that the answer to this question is a firm no. In fact, the opposite is true thanks to gameplay that feels and looks like every variable has been accounted for. The game’s animations all travel in the same current, effortlessly flowing together like water. Luigi shuffles through hallways, but the manner in which he moves differs depending on his surroundings. At the start of the game, the green brother has a jello-like bounce in his step, and he moves with little caution. Turn the lights out and give the game some time to transition into its scarier setting and suddenly Luigi is visibly nervous. He cannot help but glance at every object he passes for fear of a potential jump scare.
The best moments are when an enemy or environmental object scares Luigi, making him jump into the air and then cower and shake in fear for a few seconds. Running during boss fights also triggers a similar walk cycle. The player never has control taken away, thus keeping the connection to Luigi’s torment. Tons of gameplay animations stand out throughout the game, but my personal favorites are Luigi’s ghost slamming move and his landing animation after bouncing off mushrooms on the sixth floor.
However, the real star of Luigi’s Mansion 3’s animation department is more obvious than one might think. The lean, mean, green machine himself is exactly what pulls everything together in the end. We have talked about his movements already, but what about that perpetually horrified face of his? Sad, uneasy, nervous, terrified, joyful, curious, excited, and so many more emotions can be felt in any given expression. The best part is that the player never stops feeling as though Luigi is still, of course, a little more scared than he may be letting on. These same pristine facial animations convey growth in the game too, as not one emotion proves to be more important than the few moments of pride and bravery that show up from time to time. Few characters in pop-culture in general can successfully connect audience members without the use of nearly any dialogue, yet Luigi does so better than even his own brother.
Luigi’s personality is what helps him stand apart from his brother. For all of the teasing he gets, he might actually be one of the most relatable characters in Nintendo’s arsenal of mascots. Sure, Nintendo probably never meant for players to connect to Samus or Yoshi, but knowing there is something a little more special about Luigi certainly helps him stand out among the rest. Next Level honed in on this idea that Luigi’s emotions are maybe the most important part of this series, and the payoff is one of 2019’s shining moments.