Friday, October 30, 2009

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator

Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator

Company: XSEED

Game Platform: Wii

Rating: Mature 17+ for Blood Violence

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

I follow Takashi Shimizu with blind devotion. Lucky for me, I also love Nintendo and have a Wii, so it seemed almost too perfect when "Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator" was released on my favourite gaming system a scant few weeks ago. With Shimizu overseeing game development, it seemed XSEED Games were attempting to make the film more in the mold of the "Ju-on" films themselves, using short chapters, each following a different character, to develop the story. When I first played the game, beating the first half in just one sitting, the levels seemed random. The second time I played, again for another hour, where upon I beat the game, I discovered you are in fact following a family of four, and each chapter is a different family member.

In my opening statement I lied. The first time I played the game was under harsh circumstances, and it was for such a short period of time, it really doesn’t count, it was just a preview. It was the middle of the day. Several friends were over, none of them really paying attention. They chattered and clucked like little roosters, creating much noise and distraction. The first thing that I immediately noticed is that the game is REALLY slow. You walk at a snails pace, regardless of how much freaky shit goes on, which is kind of funny in a sadistic kind of way. But it quickly became apparent the game isn't to be played when people are mocking it. Like watching any good horror film, you need the zeitgeist. A scary movie doesn't work when people talk and chatter and laugh, constantly breaking the tension and pulling you out of the experience. I knew then, to play "Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator", you needed to play it like you were watching a Ju-on film. In a small group, late at night, all the lights turned off. Completely focused on the experience the game creates.

Last Saturday night, stumbling home from the bar after the some what disappointing Machida vs. Shogun fight, my French compatriot Nick and I decided to embark upon our first quest into "Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator". The first time you really play the game, it definitely does get scary at times, maybe even a little freaky. You walk around, using only a flashlight to guide your way. Sometimes it does a great job of creating tension. You may see a shadow move but then it’s gone. But some of the scares are also lame. It’s a good mix of a few freaky moments, a many involving hair, and some really piss pour ones that are almost laughable. Some of it does play like a great horror film, and you can see Takashi Shimizu’s influence. At times the imagery is just plain fantastic. But some awful graphics certainly ruin some great moments. There are times, that when cutting to a close-up, they just zoom into the wider shot, so that it’s incredibly pixilated. Super Nintendo pixilated. The controls are so simple they’re almost primitive, and the tension can often border on frustration as your movement seems to be perpetually grinding to a halt. Maybe there were financial constrictions, as they several cut A LOT of corners to make this game. So Shimizu ’s vision, whatever it was, is never fully realized.

The real bad part of the game comes when you have to play a level a second time. You can beat the game in two hours. There are four levels, one for each family member. However, there are hidden items throughout the game that once collected, will reveal a fifth, and final level. Regardless, all the scares come at the exact same moments, so nothing is surprising the second time around. All tension is lost. That wouldn't be all bad, except you move so frickin' slow, there is absolutely no enjoyment gained from playing a level over again. It’s painfully bad.

So basically, it’s great the first time, but then, two hours later, it makes a great coaster or an addition to your ever growing Ju-on collection. But nothing more.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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