I haven’t watched Stranger Things, but if my girlfriend’s fangirling is anything to go by, it’s good. So good in fact that it has gotten a tie-in game, something of a rarity in this console generation after having been phased out during the Xbox 360/PS3 era. Receiving a licensed tie-in piqued my curiosity enough, but when it’s also based on a show I haven’t seen, I had to check it out. So how does this nostalgia trip fare? Let’s have a look.
Right away, the visuals are as nostalgic as the source material the game is based on. The pixel-art style is quite well done, with the town of Hawkins looking fully realized, as well as each member of the cast having their likeness as spot-on as you can get in this style. The animations are also pretty solid. Overall, the visuals are great.
Stranger Things 3 retells the third season of the show, and for spoiler reasons I won’t go too deep. Having not seen the show, I had to quiz my girlfriend about what was show-accurate and what wasn’t, and through that I realized that the game tells a more expanded and gameplay-centric version of the story. Pretty much the whole season is recreated here, but there are a few changes and expansions for gameplay purposes. There are plenty of examples in the first episode, with Mike and Lucas beating up way more rats and mall workers on the way to the cinema than in the episode, as well as having to power up an elevator to get in.
The Russians are also introduced way earlier, with a gang of them having sabotaged Cerebro, and Dustin and Co. having to beat them up to get the parts back. There are also a few extra side-jobs we see the crew do, such as Mike having to get his mam shampoo to prepare for her ‘lesson’ with Billy. While it’s neat seeing an expansion of the season, the game itself misses the opportunity to do what the previous game did, by closing the gap between the 2nd and 3rd seasons. It’s great for those who want to see classic moments recreated, but disappointing for those who want to see what happened in-between seasons.
At its core, Stranger Things 3 is an open-world beat em up. As one of 12 Stranger Things alumni, you travel around the full town of Hawkins and other locales, beating up bad guys and completing a variety of quests on the way. Each of the 12 characters, ranging from dad-bod extraordinaire Hopper, to Mike, to Eleven and Dustin, have their own attacks and special abilities, some of which, like Lucas’, are required to access new areas, adding a MetroidVania flair to the game. However, it isn’t all peachy. Despite each character having different attacks, when in the heat of combat they all feel samey, making combat as a whole feel repetitive. Enemies are also quite stale, with there not being enough varients to go around, and each one having repetitive attacks. Only the four bosses add a bit of spice to the combat.
Maybe the quests will fare better? Sadly, no. While fans of the show will love exploring the fully-realised, albeit pixelated, Hawkins, the quests you get within it just aren’t fun. They usually involved going to a location to beat up a bunch of guys, or they’ll be boring fetch quests like the aforementioned shampoo for Mike’s mam, or grabbing a present for Eleven. Of course the combat-oriented quests would be fun anyway, but as I’ve said, the combat is stale, so it doesn’t elevate these quests.
Like the visuals, the audio is pretty solid. The sound effects are appropriately bit-crushed to match the pixel-art visuals. The soundtrack is also decent, with a nice rendition of the main theme on the main menu, and the game having a pretty solid atmospheric 80s synth sound throughout.
Stranger Things 3 is a relic of the previous generation. It succeeds and falters in the same way many old-school tie-ins do. The visuals and audio are great, and fans will adore exploring the fully-realized town of Hawkins, as well as seeing some of the season’s iconic moments recreated, but the rest of the game falters. The story misses the opportunity that the previous game took by not setting the game in-between seasons and closing the gap for fans, and the backbone of the game, the gameplay, is just stale, with boring quests and repetitive combat. I’d say check it out if you’re a fan, but play it in short bursts so the repetition doesn’t ruin your opinion of the show.