JU-ON manages to capture the film’s atmosphere admirably well, and as a result it’s nearly as frightening as the film. It’s broken into episodes, each telling a self-contained, mostly plotless tale about a hapless sap who’s being terrorised by ghosts. You spend each chapter slowly wandering round derelict or abandoned locations, including a hospital, an apartment complex and a mannequin factory (yes, they’re all as creepy as you’d expect), triggering frights, finding batteries, and surviving the odd terrifying spectral attack.
Playing it in the daytime, in an office full of people, we still jumped a couple of times. We felt tense and uneasy on a number of occasions, gazing into the expansive darkness and imagining where each ghost might be lurking. Turn around and you may see that creepy dead kid scampering past, or staring at you, bizarrely meowing like a cat. JU-ON does many, many things wrong, but it gets the horror part right.
The game part? Not so much. Although it’s a bit more interactive than the average on-rails shooter, your role in the game is still quite limited. Sure, you’re free to walk around and turn on or pick up a few objects in the tiny environments, but unless you follow the scares – if you see a door rattling, it’s a safe bet that you’re supposed to go in there – you’re not going to make any progress. The game’s structured like a ghost train, more so when you play in the hilariously unscary multiplayer mode. It might actually be better if character movement was taken out of your hands. The controls are so clumsy it feels like you’re driving a tank – hold B to walk forwards, down to walk backwards, and wave the remote to turn around. If we were trying to flee a couple of murderous spirits, we’d move with a little bit of haste, but not these guys. They walk around like Max Payne when he’s accidentally left Bullet Time on.
The sluggish speed is made more frustrating due to your torch’s limited battery life. Your sole piece of equipment – and pretty much the only source of light – runs out of juice after a couple of minutes. If you don’t find some batteries before it runs dry, you get eaten by a ghost and have to start the entire episode again. Brilliant. Although this helps keeps you on your toes, in the end it’s more frustrating than anything else. Why can’t we wander around at our own pace?
There’s no combat in the game – not in the traditional sense, at least. When a ghost attacks you, it triggers a quick-time event (we know you love those) and if you don’t pull off every single motion correctly you get frightened to death. This, of course, means starting the whole level again. Again. After a while this stopped being merely annoying, and became so frustrating we had to punch 17 kittens just to vent our hideous rage. We beat the level… but at what cost?
This constant repetition undermines the horror element too. However effective the scares are the first couple of times, they soon lose all value when you know exactly when and where they’re going to occur. There are a few ‘hidden’ spooky moments to reveal, but not enough to make a replay really worth it. Replaying is obviously the point of the game, as you’re marked at the end of each episode on your ‘sissiness’ and ‘scares’. We were mocked every time we cleared a level, with a frankly weak astrology-related insult (“You rubbish sheep” and so on). How did it know we were an Aries? Oh, right, we told the game at the start…
It’s not a long game, either. You can clear each episode in about 15 minutes if you know what you’re doing, and there are only five episodes in total. Regardless of how long it might take to overcome the frustrating design choices – once again, some checkpoints would have been nice – there just isn’t enough here to justify calling this a full retail release.
This is a bold gameplay experiment that succeeds in bringing the atmosphere and horror of the film to Wii. But all this good work is soon undone by an inconvenient truth: JU-ON: The Grudge is a massively frustrating, and horribly limited, game.
Oct 13, 2009