Luigi’s Mansion 3 and its Handling of Backtracking

My journey through Luigi’s Mansion 3 recently wrapped up. Before we close things out with a full review, there’s one aspect of the game that I wanted to touch on that’s been  a rare misstep in my overall experience: backtracking.

Unlike past entries in the series, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a mostly-linear journey. You have the option of going back to previous floors to collect gems or ghosts, but the main campaign is almost a straight line from beginning-to-end.

Except for when it isn’t.

Without going deep into spoiler territory, there are points in the main story that involve backtracking. You’re required to retrace your steps through a floor-or-two, ultimately regaining forward momentum after taking out the recurring boss.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of backtracking. I like my forward progress to be rewarded with new material. That said, there are ways of doing backtracking well. The entire Metroidvania genre is built on the concept of backtracking and being able to do new things in old environments. Though I oftentimes struggle mightily with games of this style, Hollow Knight is one of the best games I’ve played in recent memory.

When Luigi’s Mansion 3 does backtracking, it feels like a gut punch. A lot of that has to do with the way those sequences are framed. Just when you think you’re about to make forward progress, an event occurs that forces you to retrace your steps. Essentially the exact same event will happen later on. Some of the interactions within each room change slightly along the way, but you’re still trekking through the same environments and ultimately fighting the same boss multiple times. Even if the overall vision included these backtracking sections, more could have been done to make these sections feel less tedious.

From a story perspective, it makes perfect sense that Luigi would get sidetracked by a baddie that would do what it does to stop you from making progress. As a player, it feels like cheap padding to lengthen what some may consider to be a short game. For a game that spends so much time surprising and delighting its players with fresh content, these sections are a real annoyance.

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