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Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, for example, looks a lot like Nintendo’s GBA/Gamecube link-up title Pac-Man vs., but in actual fact it plays more like Metal Gear. That’s if you’re playing as the ghost anyway. If you’re controlling one of the human crowd, it requires most of the same mindset as a horror FPS, only refocused through a top-down perspective.
Seriously. I have not gone mad.
As the ghost – controlled on the GamePad display, invisible on the TV, and tasked with hunting down and grabbing the human players – you’re basically a slimy green Solid Snake. Unfortunate slippery serpentine imagery aside, you’ll find yourself tracking the movements of your prey, pre-empting their next moves and slowly, steadily, tactically manoeuvring yourself to gradually close in while avoiding ever being caught in front of anyone. While you remain invisible 95% of the time, your opponents can flick on a torch beam which will both highlight and damage you should you be caught in it. In practical terms it works just like Metal Gear guards’ cones of vision combined with their fire-arms.
Above: Okay, so no-one's going to go into 25-minute existential ramble about nuclear disarmament, but you get the idea
As the human players, it’s all about vigilance. The environment might be a simple 2D maze, but with multiple branching corridors at almost every turn, the “Check your corners” mentality vital required by any tense shooter needs to be ever present. Tight, disciplined surveillance, back-to-the-wall self-preservation, and just as importantly, communication will inform your play during every single second.
Although invisible, the proximity of the ghost will trigger controller vibration in the other players. It’s soft at first, and more intense as an attack becomes imminent. Smart teams will split into two groups of two and use safety in numbers to cover every possible angle. They’ll warn each other of the approximate movements of their hunter. Even downed players can shout warnings if they feel an attack coming in as other players stop to help them up (a lengthy process ripe for exploitation by the ghost).
“No, he’s gone past”
“I think he’s heading left”
“I can feel him! SHIIIIII…. Oh no, he’s gone down to you”
“CrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapBEHIND ME! Shine behind me, my torch battery’s flat!*
Above: I know the fun absolutely does not show up in screenshots, so I've labelled it
This kind of fast, simple, half-explained shorthand communication is vital to both the tactical play and the fun of Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, and it’s also the kind of communication that could only be effective between players in the same room.
Similarly, proximity is inherent to the part of the game’s fun that comes from the segregation of the two factions. Being aware of the physical difference between the survivors and the hunter - via the simple differences between controller-types, and also the inevitable shuffling into the corner of the ghost player in order to hide his in-pad display from his prey – creates a tangible sense of “Us and him”, building a stronger rivalry, greater sense of threat, and funnier pay-offs at each and every encounter. These feelings just wouldn’t come about online. They just wouldn’t.
*This may or not have been the tragically-ignored fateful exchange that led to me getting Justin killed at one point.