Hide and Seek, incomplete information, and killer apps: Luigi’s Ghost Mansion for the Wii U
I used to create cardboard partitions that I could slide over my television in order to hide information from other players in split screen games. There is no tension when someone can flick their eyes over to your side of the screen and see where you’re hiding, and this is the genius of the Wii U: Developers can now create multiplayer games that withhold information from one or more players. Once you introduce the concept of incomplete information, the options for game play open up in fascinating ways. That’s why Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, one of the games that will be included in Nintendo’s Nintendo Land compilation launching alongside the Wii U hardware, was one of my favorite games at this year’s E3.
The game for your children, or your drunken friends
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion features a simple concept that leads to very interesting play. The player with the tablet style controller is the ghost, and he can see every player on the level. The rest of the players look at the television, and can only see each other. The ghost is invisible, and must grab every player on the screen to win. If the players shine their flashlight on the ghost and sap his or her energy, the players win. The flashlights have limited power, so you have to think about where and when to try to flash the ghost. The game, in action, is terrifying. Your controller vibrates when the ghost gets close to you, so each player must communicate when the ghost is near. “He’s in the upper right-hand corner!” someone will say, and the other players move to that location, flashlights turned on, trying to trap the ghost. When you’re the ghost, you can actually see a ring around your character that tells you exactly when you’ll cause someone’s controller to vibrate, allowing you to precisely control how much information you give each player. You have to trigger the vibration to attack, but you can also use that warning sign to subtly manipulate the movement of each character. When you grab a player and knock them down, you can also drag their prone body a certain distance. On my second or third play I realized I could grab players, knock them out, and then drag them into the middle room, which turned into my kill floor. I felt like the Xenomorph in Alien, hunting down each player one by one. This is the power of giving one player information that they don’t share. Check out the picture of people playing the game, and notice how the gentleman with the tablet controller is standing away from the other players so no one can see his screen. There is something magical that happens when you can hear the other players discussion when there think the ghost is hiding, or trying to figure out their plan, as you watch them on your screen stumbling around with their flashlights trying to hunt you. It’s a safe game in terms of content—there is no blood, no real weapons, and the ghost looks like your Mii—but the level of tension the game delivers is amazing. The ghost is trying to hunt the players, the players are trying to work together to trap the ghost, and whenever the ghost grabs a player there is usually a group reaction from everyone present. This is a game that’s simple enough to play with your kids, but with enough strategy and tactics that your adult friends will want to try as well. This is the sort of thing that will go well with a few beers among hyper-competitive players. The flashlights have limited power, but you can pick up batteries in the level. Of course, the ghost also knows when the flashlights are almost out of power, so he can wait by the batteries and attack the player as they try to recharge. There are flashes of lightning that can illuminate the invisible ghost for a brief period of time. All these wrinkles work together to create a tight, nearly excruciatingly well-designed game of cat and mouse. My favorite games at E3 are the ones that make you want to grab the disc out of the system and take it home to play with your friends. Nintendo wants Nintendo Land to be the Wii Sports of this generation. Let’s hope the rest of the games are as good as Luigi’s Ghost Mansion.