We don’t really see movie and TV show video game tie-ins so much anymore. Perhaps it’s not necessarily a bad thing; I remember the old days when every movie that came out would be guaranteed to have a video game to go with it, but said video game would be a bit crap. Still, it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t get to see different interactive takes on the latest blockbusters and TV hits, especially when you consider the quality of the content that has been hitting the big (and little) screen.
That’s why I was excited to see a video game tie in for Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. Based upon the third season on the show, Stranger Things 3: The Game sends players on an old-school adventure with the gang as they look to bring an end to the latest threat to hit their home of Hawkins. You know what? It’s a pretty fun game too and one that fans of the series are going to enjoy, though it lacks the depth to really stand out as a ‘must play’ experience.
So I don’t want to go into detail with the narrative too much – I don’t want to spoil anything about the new TV season for anyone, especially since it’s SO damn good. Just know that Stranger Things 3: The Game follows the full story arc of the season, with each episode represented with new quests to head on. Obviously, it isn’t as in depth a narrative as you’d see in the TV show, but the game does flesh things out in its own way with a few different scenarios to be found that you wouldn’t have seen on the show. To get the most out of the game though, I’d probably recommend watching the TV show first.
Gameplay-wise, Stranger Things 3: The Game plays like an old-school brawler with a few top-down RPG-like mechanics thrown in for good measure. You’ll have two party members on screen at a time that can be switched between freely (the AI or a local co-op player can use the other), with every character in the game having their own different abilities. Everyone you’d expect from the TV show is playable, but the way that their abilities work means some will be more useful in different situations than others. There’ll also be times when both characters need to work together to get through a puzzle (hello, random pressure pads on the ground) whilst the additional character can work as a good distraction when taking down enemies too, so having two characters together never feels like an unnecessary tacked on feature but an important part of gameplay.
Most character’s abilities are tied to combat – Mike has a bat to dish out some up close damage, Dustin has his long-distance spray (though I don’t think it is of the Farah Fawcett variety), whilst Nancy can use scissors to dish out some hurt. Everyone plays in their own way and mixes up ranged and up-close attacks so there’s something different to see with each one, though I will admit that a lot of the times it’ll just take some button-bashing to beat most foes so you don’t need to worry too much. You do have the ability to block attacks though and that’ll take some good timing to pull off, but overall most enemies don’t put up too much of a fight.
Sometimes, you’ll need character’s abilities to solve puzzles or in order to interact with different objects in the environment, so you’ll need to learn who’s effective at what if you want to make the most of them. Whilst you can only have two characters on-screen at a time though, you do have the freedom to switch between all twelve freely (once you’ve unlocked them) so you’re never left wishing you hadn’t left someone behind. Whilst this is much more accessible from a gameplay perspective, it could be a little weird to see characters like Lucas or Max battling through the situations that Hopper and Joyce did in the TV show – this is a minor complaint though and something the player can easily avoid if they prefer.
You’ll be tasked with multiple objectives as you work through levels, but most of them consist of simple tasks like finding specific items, interacting with objects, or killing certain enemies. The same applies to the side quests you can unlock too, with a lot of them feeling like simple fetch quests. They do help flesh out the experience and a lot of them show you extra bits of story or character development that you wouldn’t have seen in the series, but they’re not too imaginative from a gameplay perspective.
That’s probably the main problem with Stranger Things 3: The Game: it just doesn’t do anything too special outside of being a part of the Stranger Things universe. There’s not a lot of depth to the combat, there is crafting but it’s bare boned, whilst the quests are simple and repetitive. There’s never anything bad per se, but from a gameplay perspective alone it’s pretty formulaic and plays it safe. That might not be a problem for fans of the series (I could happily tolerate it during my roughly seven-hour adventure in the game), but anyone else might just expect a bit more.
At least the presentation of the game is on point though, with the 16-bit sprite work and environmental design capturing the feel of the TV show perfectly. Given the nostalgic vibes that the show prides itself on, it’s no surprise to see that Stranger Things 3: The Game looks like it could’ve come from the Nintendo SNES or SEGA Mega Drive era – the fact that you’re re-visiting locations and seeing the sights from the TV show in this style just never stopped being satisfying.
Publisher: BonusXP, Netflix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC