Despite being labeled by the press and gamers alike as being a family-oriented console, the Nintendo Wii does have some mature-rated games available. Specifically, the console is home to a decent number of horror games. To date, the system has three Resident Evil titles, Obscure: The Aftermath, Cursed Mountain, Alone In The Dark, Dead Space: Extraction and two games from The House Of The Dead series. While each game has its own fan base and different story lines, they were all very similar in that you could always fight the monsters that were causing the scares. When it was originally announced in Japan, Ju-On: The Grudge caught people's attention because it represented something different in horror games and because the director of the films was going to be involved with the production of the game in some capacity. Despite the title being a wholly Japanese experience, Xseed Games thought it was wise to bring it to the US, where there is still a fan base for the films. Unfortunately, the overall game experience is below what people expect for a licensed game, and Ju-On: The Grudge becomes one of the more disappointing horror titles in recent memory.
The premise of the game follows the overall theme introduced in the movies. You start off as a woman chasing after her dog as the animal runs into an abandoned factory. While in pursuit of the dog, you start to see glimpses of a little boy running around in the factory. When you go inside, a force prevents you from going to the room where your dog is held, and you hear strange, guttural noises echoing in the building as well as long black hair moving in and out of doors. Your job is to help this person find her dog, and you'll also be involved in getting several other people through their trials with the spirits of the curse.
The main story mode is split up into four different episodes, each dealing with people and their experiences with the curse. As players go through each episode, they'll have various encounters with Toshio, the pale boy who does cat screams usually warning people of the curse's presence, and Kayako, the woman who embodies the curse and tries to eliminate her victims with it. While players have no interaction with Toshio, they do interact with Kayako, usually in moments when they need to escape her grasp. Each episode usually has players going through the environments looking for keys and objects that will help them open the next area to get to the next scare point. Along the way, players need to find flashlight batteries, as it seems to be the only way to keep Kayako at bay for most of your journey through each episode. Players can also find special objects through each episode that, when found, open up the fifth level of the game: the infamous haunted house.
Ju-On: The Grudge is plagued with several problems that will make players groan with disappointment. For starters, the game is short. The four core episodes make the game last as long as two hours on average. Throw in the bonus episode, should you happen to find all of the extra items in the game, and you have a game that last a maximum of two and a half hours. Most gamers complain about disc-based games getting shorter, but this really pushes that notion to the limit. All of your characters don't seem to grasp the notion of running when you get control of them, as they all seem to walk at a snail's pace. The only time they have a tendency to run is during the scare scenes, and once those are over, they go back to slow, methodical walks in the environment. Finally, there's the multiplayer mode. Labeled as tests of courage, you simply choose any of the unlocked chapters and play through them again without the benefit of saving or obtaining extra items to unlock the secret level. The second player takes control of extra scare moments, such as bugs running around on-screen or screen flashes. Since the player is going through environments that he has already played through, the extra scares do nothing to enhance gameplay or scare the player witless. He already knows some of the major scares that the level has to offer from both Toshio and Kayako.
The controls may be simple to grasp, but the overall quality doesn't make the game any more enjoyable. Your Wii Remote is the only means of control here, as your movements determine where you look. The A button performs actions such as flipping switches or opening doors. The B button moves you forward, while down on the d-pad moves you backward and a quick flick of the Remote performs a 180-degree spin, or an about-face. As alluded to earlier, character movement is slow since your person never seems to run, but the bigger problem is the unresponsiveness of the camera to turn where you want it to go. Most of the time, the Wii Remote will sense exactly where you're pointing to, but there are times when pointing to the left will cause the camera to look up or down while turning left. There's no on-screen indicator as to where the Remote is pointing on-screen, except for some quick moments of escape so it can be hard to tell if you really are pointing in the correct direction. Still, this is something that needed to be tweaked in order to prevent further frustration.
For what it sets out to accomplish, the graphics play out well in Ju-On: The Grudge. All of the environments, from the abandoned apartments to the factory, look dark and dingy and are complete with rust stains, dead animals and boards hastily put together. Even the hospital, the cleanest environment in the game, looks spooky enough without the stains because the game's lighting casts everything in darker shades than normal. The flashlight you have barely illuminates the environment, which helps the mood, but some players can complain that it may be too dark to really navigate the environment as is. You'll never see any other characters aside from your dog at the beginning of the game, Toshio as he runs around the environments, and Kayako as she tries to kill you. When you do see them, you'll notice that they are beautifully rendered, especially Kayako's hair and movements as she scurries toward you. Fans of the movies will be pleased that they got her looking as frightful as before, while those unfamiliar with the series will still be freaked out upon her appearances throughout the game.
The sound is sparse, and while that would normally be bad in games, the shortage of sound here actually benefits the title. There's barely any music to speak of when playing the game. The only time it appears is when a scare moment is supposed to happen, and even most of the moments are fairly short. When it does come on, it does a good job of heightening tension and making you panic when you're trying to get away from Kayako. Sound effects make up a good chunk of the soundtrack. Footsteps, creaking doors and other ambient noises fill the air and echo through the environments, making a desolate-looking environment even more foreboding. A few scares even come from the sound effects themselves, which is a nice touch. As for voices, you never you’re your playable character so much as scream, let alone speak. You will hear Kayako's guttural throat sounds as well as Toshio's cat noises, and they come off as clearly as they do in the films.
Ju-On: The Grudge proves that sometimes being different doesn't necessarily mean being good. The graphics and sound may be great for the system, but the poor controls and slow, plodding pace of the story episodes greatly hinder the game's enjoyment. Couple that with a short overall story mode and a practically useless multiplayer mode, and you have the trappings of something more acceptable as a downloadable title than a retail disc release. Only die-hard fans of the movies should rent the title, since the experience will last about as long as the movies on which the game is based. It's also a good idea to rent the title if you plan on playing it with a group of friends, since the scares translate better with multiple people experiencing it simultaneously. All others should wait for future horror titles to come out on the Wii console.
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