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Stranger Things 3: The Game

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: July 4, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Stranger Things 3: The Game'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 23, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Based on the 3rd season of the netflix sci-fi series, Stranger Things 3: The Game is a 16-bit top-down action game, letting you control the series’ main cast such as Hopper and others.

A few years ago, developer BonusXP released Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices. Inspired by The Legend of Zelda, it was a decent game that was above expectations for the mobile space and for licensed games. To help celebrate the release of the third season, Netflix has once again contracted BonusXP to make a game tie-in, this time for the PC and home consoles. Stranger Things 3: The Game ends up being a slightly different game from the original, but whether that is a good thing is up for debate.

As far as the story goes, this is essentially a complete recap of the show's third season. A few years have passed since the events of the first season, and the crew is growing up. Most of the crew just wants to hang out with their girlfriends, Nancy and Jonathan are working at the town newspaper, and all Will wants to do is play more D&D like they did in the old days. However, a series of blackouts is hitting the town, and Will senses that something supernatural is amiss, fearing that the Mind Flayer may be back despite the closing of the portal to the Upside-Down.

This is roughly a scene-by-scene re-creation of the show's third series, and that is probably going to be one of the more disappointing parts of the game. For those who have seen the season already, you know all of the story beats and situations that are going to appear, and nothing extra supplements that. For those coming into the season cold, this spoils everything for you, and for those who have never seen the series, you'll feel confused by the narrative most of the time. The only people who won't care about this are those who don't care about the narrative in the first place.

The core gameplay is different from the first game, since Stranger Things 3 transforms from a top-down adventure game to more of an action-RPG, complete with isometric viewpoint and a fixed camera angle. Instead of going solo, you have a co-op partner with you at all times, either controlled by AI or by a local human player, and the drop-in/drop-out play means that you'll never have to reset the game if someone wants to jump in for a bit and then leave. You'll start off with just Mike and Lucas, with the former specializing in melee attacks with his baseball bat and the latter being great at projectile fire with his slingshot. It doesn't take long before you add more members to your party, increasing your arsenal with Dustin's ability to hack locks and Hopper's ability to initiate a charge attack. Until the end of the game, you can switch to whichever character you want. Some attacks require power, which can be refilled either via pellets picked up from the environment or by drinking Coke. Medkits handle health, with both of those power-up items having cool-down meters.

This isn't a typical action-RPG experience, though, due to the tweaking of several elements. For starters, the game feels more casual since everyone heals up no matter who uses a health kit or picks up health. The game features no leveling whatsoever, and equipment isn't a thing, either. Instead, the game asks that you find random things in the world to craft items that grant passive buffs to either everyone in the party or certain members with inherent abilities.

The other major difference is the fact that you have access to most of the locales at any time, so you can easily go between the town center and the mall once you find the environment's exit. One benefit to this is that the game feels like a Metroid title, where each new character has an ability that opens up both regular progression pathways and bonus areas in locales that you've previously explored. On the other hand, you'll come to dislike this over time, since the game also tends to display loading screens when you visit locales, different floors, interiors, and exteriors.

For the most part, your journey consists of even parts combat and puzzles, with most of the quests being of the fetch variety. The problem isn't the quests themselves. Considering how closely the game adheres to the source material, this is pretty much what you'd expect. The problem is that the journey eventually becomes boring. Most of the puzzles you encounter either involve hitting switches in the correct order or having two people stand on pressure plates to open up doors. There are a few that have you switching back and forth between characters, with one activating a computer terminal and the other progressing, but those instances quickly become repetitive. Until you reach the game's late back half, you're going to fight off rats, Russians, and a combination of those mobs, so boss fights become the only ways you'll see any variety before you reach the beings from the Upside-Down. Play this in short bursts, and you'll be fine, but with the game's somewhat-breezy difficulty, you can't help but play for long sessions and suffer for it.

Like the rest of the game, the presentation works up to a point. The sound effects are fine, while the absence of voices isn't a big deal since the game wants to emulate a classic 16-bit title. The music does well to emulate the show's moody synthesized score, but it sometimes feels off in places, like when you're simply preparing cups of coffee for a boardroom full of reporters. Graphically, the 16-bit style works fine for the environments, and while the characters look cartoon-like, their animation looks off at certain angles. More distressing is the fact that the game can never hold a steady frame rate, as the title frequently stutters with no apparent cause. You'll experience this when the environment is full of enemies, but you'll also see it happen when nothing is going on, making you wonder how such a lo-fi game can give the Switch any trouble.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is a throwback to a time when the only audience the game is suited for are non-discerning fans of the series. Even then, there's not much here unless they're completely fine reliving the events of the season in a loose way. The gameplay is serviceable, but there's not much here to draw in people who just want a solid title or something to enhance their experience of the show. It isn't that bad if you can get it for cheap, but it isn't something to actively seek out, either.

Score: 6.0/10

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