Callously written off by way too many people at the time – primarily thanks to erroneous rumours of a somewhat clipped duration – the original Luigi’s Mansion was always one of the most loveable underdogs of the previous console generation. It remains one of the most unequivocally charming things that Nintendo has ever created, selling healthily and receiving stellar reviews, but that underdog status largely prevailed before being totally quashed when Luigi’s Mansion 2 was officially unveiled at E3 last summer; the crowd reaction was one of the loudest and most jubilant of Nintendo’s entire presentation.

Although Luigi’s Mansion 2 isn’t a first-party release (it’s being crafted instead by Punch Out!! supremos Next Level Games) at this stage it definitely feels like one. It apes the alluring art style and tone of the original to absolute perfection, and the predominantly fixed camera angles bring out the very best in the console’s 3D capabilities. The visuals impress even in the wake of Super Mario 3D Land, and the relaxed pace means that it’s extremely tempting to constantly mess around with the environment; making chandeliers swing to and fro with your Poltergust 5000 here, upending boxes and pottery and pulling portraits off walls in search of secrets there.

The experience appears to have been made covertly handheld-friendly by – during the opening twenty minutes or so, at least – forcing you to solve each puzzle before allowing you to progress. The first mansion (there are rumoured to be several this time) is still a manoeuvrable hub, but whenever we entered a room that had a ghost in it, the door would lock behind us until we’d managed to suck it up. The process of doing this is still the same; you blind each spook with your torch like an apprentice Alan Wake, and then follow a series of prompts in order to lock it down. Before, this involved careful parallel usage of the Gamecube pad’s twin thumbsticks; here it involves well-timed button prompts.

This change isn’t anywhere near as detrimental as you’d first expect because many of the spectres that we encountered came in pairs, and one would always aggressively pursue Luigi whenever he was trying to inhale the other; meaning that we constantly had to keep moving. Pulling the 3DS thumbstick in the opposite direction still depletes the ghost’s health counter much more quickly, but if you get hit by one of his compadres before it reaches zero, you’ll have to start over. That said, although we didn’t get to grips with it during our demo, the console’s accelerometer almost doubles as a second thumbstick, so hopefully the game’s later levels will require you to utilise this unusual but very neat-feeling system in order to succeed.

The 3DS’s bottom screen houses the mini-map that previously lived in the original’s ‘Game Boy Horror’ on the pause screen, and the two-floor Mansion in our demo was fully mapped out from the start. It hasn’t been revealed yet if the game will take advantage of the console’s AR functionality – it’s a perfect fit – but we do hope that Luigi’s gyroscope-controlled flashlight can be replaced for something that doesn’t involve having to physically move the console. If you want to immerse yourself in the wondrous 3D visuals (as everyone should) re-positioning the unit obviously throws them out of whack, so hopefully a button-based alternative is offered in the finished product.

Nintendo are slap bang in the middle of one of their trademark quality rolls at the moment, and although our hands-on time with Luigi’s Mansion 2 was relatively brief, it doesn’t look like that run is going to be ending any time soon. It’s an exceptionally good looking game that plays almost exactly as the original did; no bad thing, and smartly curbing the more open-ended nature of the first game doesn’t look to have dulled the appeal of this one even a bit. On this evidence it’s a hunk of consummate Nintendo fan service that slavishly plays to the strengths of its host platform; a potential classic.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 is currently due for release on the Nintendo 3DS in early 2012.

Watch the trailer for Luigi’s Mansion 2 below:

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