Stranger Things 3 is here, and everyone has been talking about it. But not a lot of people are talking about Stranger Things 3: The Game. It’s a licensed video game tie-in, which is strange, because you don’t see as many of these in 2019 as you did back in the 2000s. It tries to play off of your nostalgia for retro video games, but ends up evoking the nostalgia of some of the more average licensed tie-in games of the past. And just like a lot of those games, it’s not exactly perfect. It’s a fun time while it lasts, but it doesn’t last very long.
Stranger Things 3: The Game lets you take control of all of your favorite Stranger Things characters as you guide them through various settings. Fighting enemies, solving puzzles, and looting treasure are all key parts of the gameplay, and the game features a large cast of characters, each with their own special abilities.
The game’s visuals shoot for a retro, isometric beat-em-up style reminiscent of some of the most classic pixelated adventures. The 2D sprites and environments look great, but the same can not be said for the character portraits or cutscenes. Some of them look pretty close to the character their depicting, while others just look off.
The story is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the events of Stranger Things 3. The game is split into 8 chapters for the 8 episodes in the newest season, with each chapter following the same plot threads of each episode. If you’re playing this game, chances are you’ve already seen season 3, and you may be disappointed to hear that this game doesn’t really add anything to the story of Stranger Things 3. While there are plenty of side-quests, they don’t contribute anything to the overarching narrative, and more often than not amount to simple fetch quests.
The game exhibits moments of self-awareness, where it seems to try to be a Stranger Things parody, but never fully commits to it, and this often results in a tonal inconsistency. For example: Will Byers, in both the show and the game, really wants to play Dungeons & Dragons. In the show, he constantly badgers his close friends to do so. But in the game, this part of Will’s character is kind of messed around with a little by having him ask just about every member of the playable cast if they would like to play. It’s a funny moment that plays off of a moment from the show. But on the flipside, sometimes lines of dialogue get taken straight from the show, resulting in characters having conversations mid-gameplay with little setup and no payoff. It can be difficult to know when to take the game seriously because the game doesn’t seem to know when to take itself seriously.
Of course, this is a game, not a well written, character driven television series, so how is the gameplay?
If you know nothing about this game, you might be shocked to learn that there is a surprisingly large amount of stuff to do. You can use a world map to travel between various areas, go on quests, fight a cavalcade of enemies, and find many secrets scattered around the game world. They even have collectibles, some of which are pretty well hidden.
The combat is the meat of the gameplay here, and you’re gonna need to get good at it, because the game can get pretty tough in some places. Each character has a normal attack, a special attack, and a shield at their disposal. Those may not seem like a lot of options, but considering the game gives you 12 playable characters with different fighting styles, it’s more than it initially lets on to be. You’ve got short, mid, and long range attacks at your disposal, and there will be times where you have to switch between them frequently. The combat itself, while being responsive and varied enough doesn’t have the longest shelf-life, growing stale by the time the first third of the game is complete. It’s not so much that it’s bad, it’s just not intuitive.
To aid you in combat is an ally, a crafting system, and an equipment system. This game was made with co-op in mind, and while you can play solo with an AI companion, it is not the recommended way to play. The AI companion won’t do a lot of damage, won’t use their special attacks on their own, and won’t make any evasive efforts. They will, however, take significantly less damage than the player controlled character does, and this is one area in which the game is broken. Given the AI companion’s qualities, it’s perfectly normal for them to stand in front of an enemy and soak up their attacks, which provides a distraction for you to just mash the attack button until the enemy dies. It breaks the game, and not in a good way.
The crafting and equipment systems are pretty simple. Using materials that you can find, buy, or receive as part of certain quests, you can craft a variety of items. A few of them are required for story purposes, but most of them are items that you can equip for a host of different stat boosts, which can prove very useful in the game’s later stages.
The variation in enemy types in this game isn’t bad, but it isn’t very good either. It boils down to two different categories of enemies: the Russians, and the Flayed. Each category has their own subsets, which feature different fighting styles and only slightly different appearances. Unfortunately, the actual enemies look pretty vanilla. The Russians look boring and the Flayed look like pixelated meat monsters. The boss fights, for the most part, do a good job of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the game’s enemies with different tactics and attack patterns, but there simply aren’t enough of them. It’s kind of a shame because these are the only fights in the game that really try and do something different or break the conventions established by the game.
In between moments of combat are puzzles, and not all of them are quite that obvious . These aren’t exactly the hardest things on earth, but they do require some thinking on the player’s part, which is only fitting, given that Stranger Things is a show about characters that solve mysteries.
Finally, there is postgame content in the form of a bonus mode you unlock by way of beating the game, Eliminator Mode. Unlike the main story mode, where you start with 2 characters and unlock more as you go, Eliminator Mode starts with the whole cast already unlocked. The game tries to do something interesting here, by incorporating permadeath for each character that falls in battle, but it seems to overestimate how replayable this licensed tie-in truly is. All things considered, players will likely be ready to close the gate on this one after one playthrough.
Stranger Things 3: The Game is a retro nostalgia trip that knows how silly it is part of the time. And for that part of the time that it knows, it’s pretty enjoyable ride, but when it thinks the joke is over is when it’s flaws start to shine through. While it intentionally evokes nostalgia of retro video games, it also unintentionally evokes nostalgia of the multitude of so-so video game tie-ins from the 2000s. On one side, it’s got a lot of good qualities, but flip it Upside Down, and you’ll find just as many bad ones. Par for course, Stranger Things 3: The Game is an average retelling of the latest season that tries to do a lot of things, but doesn’t execute any of them particularly well. In conclusion, Stranger Things 3: The Game gets a….