If you’re reading this review, you’re probably a fan of Strangers Things. I am too, especially of the first season when the concept was still fairly novel. So I requested a review copy of Stranger Things 3: The Game hoping that it would live up to the high standards that the Netflix series set.
First off, let me say that Stranger Things 3 just came out, and I know that a lot of you probably have not had a chance to watch all of it yet. Since the game is based on the latest season, I will be sure to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. But do know that the game is largely loyal to the plot of the show. If you don’t want to spoil the show, don’t play the game right away.
Now that that’s out of the way, I would like to talk a little bit about what I do like about Stranger Things 3: The Game. The game lets you control a number of different characters from the game, including all of the major children (who are now teenagers). You start off with the core group and eventually unlock new characters along the way. We’re talking Mike, El, Lucas, Dustin, Nancy, and Jonathan, to name a few. You’ll also get to play as notable adults, such as Joyce and Hopper. It’s a sizable mix of playable characters, and switching between them is seamless.
Each of the playable characters has their own unique attacks and abilities. Lucas has a slingshot ranged attack, Mike has a quick and effective baseball bat, and Dustin uses a spray can to incapacitate foes. In addition, some of the characters have special abilities that are needed to unlock secret areas and advance in the story. For instance, Joyce carries heavy-duty bolt cutters, Lucas can detonate boulders, and Dustin can hack computer systems.
The pixelated character designs were done well for the most part. The developers at Bonus XP were able to capture Dustin’s expressiveness, Hopper’s heft, and Will’s awkwardness with a running inside joke on his obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. The game’s villains, meanwhile, are as cartoonish as they are in this season’s show.
The bad news is that Stranger Things 3: The Game has a number of flaws. The first and most obvious one out of the gate is that they chose to make a 16-bit inspired game with 1990s design choices for a show that is set in 1985. Maybe the developers decided that an NES-style sidescroller with 8-bit graphics would feel too dated for younger audiences, but the route that they went does not fit the source material very well. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Moreover, the gameplay style that they chose to go with – which is heavy on backtracking and collecting stuff – is one of the worst features of game design from this period of time. I hope you like suburban malls and small-town America, because you’ll be visiting the same areas again and again. It doesn’t feel charming. It doesn’t feel nostalgic. It just feels monotonous.
Stranger Things 3: The Game‘s biggest flaw is a cardinal sin in game design. While the game is competent, it’s just plain boring to play after a while. To be quite honest, the biggest challenge is not fighting the game’s mostly incompetent enemies; it’s trudging through the mediocrity of one collection mission after the other. It tests your patience more than it tests your skill. And because of that, I can’t recommend the game to anyone but the most hardcore fans of the show, especially for $20.