As the entire world hunkers down to try and get through the current pandemic, lots of folks are looking for entertainment. Some are turning to what’s new. Others are grabbing up the multitudes of free offerings. But, ultimately, everyone is looking to be comforted. We’re living in a scary time when unseen forces beyond our control threaten us every day, which is why Luigi’s Mansion is the perfect game to get you through quarantine.
Luigi Before The Mansion
For the uninitiated, Luigi’s Mansion was not the first game where Luigi was the main playable character. That honor goes to Mario Is Missing!: the 1993 educational game from The Software Toolworks and Radical Entertainment. In that game, players guide Luigi through the real world, on a quest to save Mario. But Mario isn't the only thing that's missing, exclamation point. Players travel from city to city. In each one, they have to figure out where Luigi is and hunt down the missing cultural icons Bowser and his team have stolen. Somehow, this results in saving Mario.
But here's the thing about Mario Is Missing!. For all the weirdness of that game (and it is a bizarre game), Luigi is strikingly regular. Just like he has always been in his adventure alongside Mario, he's a general nothing of a hero. In all the previous games, when he has appeared alongside Mario, he has just been a green Mario. The most exciting piece of character development he’d ever received was in Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988) when he became a tall, green Mario. Here, for the first time, Luigi was out on his own. And he was just as dull as ever.
But then something beautiful happened.
Putting the Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion
When Nintendo launched the Gamecube in 2001, they rolled it out with an exciting new title: Luigi’s Mansion. In the game’s plot, Luigi has won a fabulous new mansion in a contest he never entered. When he tells his brother, Mario, about this, Mario recommends that they meet at the mansion and check it out together. But when Luigi gets to the mansion, Mario is nowhere to be found (missing again!). So Luigi heads in alone.
But this Luigi isn't the same bland and intrepid adventurer who starred in Mario Is Missing!. This Luigi had developed something that always seems just out of his brother’s reach: a personality. Luigi, who has suddenly found himself alone in a spooky haunted mansion, is a coward who is scared of everything. And he's being asked to go up against an army of ghosts.
Fortunately, Luigi wasn't forced to take on the forces of the supernatural alone. The eccentric Professor E. Gadd arms Luigi with two pieces of vital ghost hunting equipment for his journey. The first is the Poltergust 3000: a tricked out vacuum cleaner that can suck up ghosts. Using the Poldergust on furniture in the mansion also earns Luigi money which will lead to a higher end-game score. The second is The Game Boy Horror, which allows Luigi and Gadd to maintain communication as Luigi travels into the mansion to save his brother.
So it's a game about a powerless, neurotic everyman whose trapped in his house, whose scared of an unseen enemy, and who spends his time video calling his coworkers and obsessively cleaning everything in sight.
He's the hero we need right now.
A Big, Bad, Unseen Enemy
Paranormal enemies weren't new to the Mario universe. Bowser employs any number of magical enemies, including the witch Kamek. As far as ghosts are concerned, the most well-known group is Boos, who had been floating around the games since Luigi got tall in Super Mario Bros. 3, in 1988. And while they might not have counted as ”ghosts” exactly, the dry version of most Mario’s enemies must have had some kind of enchanted properties to keep their bones rattling around.
But the enemies Luigi went up against in Luigi’s Mansion were unlike anything the Mario universe had seen before. The mansion was packed full of a new kind of ghost. They could turn invisible I. The middle of contact. They could use things in the mansion — common household items — as weapons against Luigi. And they got progressively harder as the game advanced. While the trick to getting rid of every ghost was to shine a light on them and then suck them up with the Poltergust, they learned. The ghosts got better at avoiding the ways Luigi could protect himself from them.
But at their head was the meanest, nastiest enemy of them all. At first, it appeared that it was business as usual: Bowser. The same bad guy the Mario brothers fight every time. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the norm. But it turned out that the enemy was something entirely unexpected. A new bad guy who’d never been seen before: King Boo.
The Story Continues
Due to the success of Luigi’s Mansion and the Gamecube, the game eventually earned a sequel. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon came out on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013. And it introduced what every social distancing hero needs: a pet. For Luigi, it was his spectral canine: Polterpup. Dark Moon also added to Luigi’s status as a social distancing hero by being an online cooperative multiplayer game.
Then, late last year, Nintendo released Luigi’s Mansion 3, which was a return to form for Luigi. Now he was trapped in an even bigger building — a hotel — but everything else remained the same. He was still scared. Still alone. Could still only protect himself by cleaning out every corner of his space. And while I haven't heard any news stories about anyone creating a good-based doppelganger to keep themselves company during quarantine... it doesn't sound entirely out of the question, does it?
And then there's the catharsis. Seeing a scared and isolated hero literally clean away everything that threatens him? It's good for the soul in the era of COVID-19. And Luigi’s Mansion 3 has carried over the online component from the prior title. So if you're looking for a little long-distance friendship to go ease your isolation woes, the game’s got you there as well. It's a fun, nostalgic, hopeful caper that speaks directly to the problem we face as a society today.
And, unlike Coronavirus, you'll actually be disappointed when Luigi’s Mansion 3 is over.