JU-ON: The GrudgeESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Feel Plus
Publisher: Xseed Games
JU-ON: The Grudge is based on the Japanese horror flicks of the same name. In North America, the movies were simply called The Grudge. Published by Xseed, JU-ON is billed as a haunted house simulator. Personally I have never heard of a game being classified as such, but I thought “what the heck, there is a first time for everything”. Not being one for scary movies or games, somehow I still ended up as the one to review this title for the Wii. After spending some time with the game I would have to say that it definitely offers up some spooky moments, and a few jumps out of my chair, but JU-ON is also plagued with some problems which takes away from the whole experience.
Visually JU-ON is somewhat disappointing. The game looks like a first generation Wii title as the disappointing and simplified textures fill the screen and there is pixelization and jaggies that pop their ugly head. Heck, I was somewhat amazed that the flashlight beam, which is an integral part of the gameplay experience, showed copious amounts of banding. Even the use of colors is basic as there is not a lot of variance between them. As for the characters in the game, they aren’t too badly represented, and they are recognizable, but in the end they aren’t the best character models we’ve ever seen either. Overall I would have to say that the graphics do what they intend to do, but they could have been so much better in the end given that the Wii is capable of so much more.
Audio in a game like this is so important, and at times JU-ON does a great job of setting the atmosphere. From the spooky music that slowly amps up as you get toward specific areas to the jarring sound during a pivotal scene that tries to get you to jump out of your seat, these areas are done pretty well. On the opposite side are the sound effects. Right from the first time I heard the dog in one particular episode breathing as he made his way toward an abandoned building, I knew that this was not to be a strong point. Oh, and did I mention how annoying the sound of your footsteps can get? Anyhow, there is quite a mix in the sound department, and overall the bad and good seem to pretty much cancel each other out.
JU-ON takes a few characters from The Grudge movies (e.g. the girl with really dirty hair and the shirtless asian kid) and implants them into the game. You’ll find that JU-ON is broken into separate episodes (four initial ones) where you take on the role of a specific person and have to explore various settings (e.g. abandoned factory or an apartment building to name two). As you explore you will come across various ghostly inhabitants, including the two that I have just mentioned who are most recognizable to anyone with any knowledge of the movies. That being said, there is really no depth to the story of why you are where you are, and why you are doing what you are doing. It is basically a ‘walk around and explore the settings’ kind of game. This is where the first problem crops up.
JU-ON is a very SLOW paced game. You will notice I put the word slow in caps, which is because I want to emphasize this fact. Walking around the various environments is painfully slow. I do not fully know if this was intentional as to try to raise the bar on the spook factor, or strictly due to the control scheme, but regardless of why, it is way too slow. All of your movements are assigned to the Wii Remote only. This was surprising given that you need to walk around, and some fine tuned control would have been in order here. You use the Wii Remote to look around, and as you do you press the b button to move your character in the direction you are looking. It is a simplified control scheme of such FPS classics as Metroid or The Conduit which are on the Wii. That being said, you use the Wii Remote exclusively with no Nunchuk control offered.
Interstingly enough, you do not actually fight the characters that you meet in the game. There is no shooting, knifing, or blowing up the ghostly figures you meet in JU-ON. What you will find is that if you meet up with one of these characters, and you have to ‘fight’ for your survival, you will follow a series of Quicktime Events (QTE’s) using only the Wii Remote. Yep, you will be wiggling and waggling your way out of trouble.
Although this does not sound nearly as bad as it could, it does have its share of issues. The game was inconsistent in picking up all my movements in conjunction with the QTE’s on the screen, so I did manage to miss out on a particular section of a QTE now and then which in turn cost me the demise of my life. Now that would not usually be a problem; however there is no checkpoint system in JU-ON and you will have to restart the whole episode again. This is not only annoying given that you have to start all over again, but it is also annoying given how slow your character walks in the game. God, I would have given almost anything for a checkpoint system, and I assume others will too.
The scares offered up in JU-ON manage to get the job done more than a few times. Now take into mind that I am not the most manly when it comes to a game like this, but hey, it managed to scare me on more the a few occasions, so it should be able to scare others out there. That being said, I don’t think the hardcore horror game fan will be as spooked as I was given that some of the scares are very scripted. Although I was spooked more than my share of times, the lead up to some of the events of the game will be well recognized by many horror game/movie fans out there. Of course some of these scripted events also take control of your character away from you in order to provide a bit more ‘cinematic’ feel to a specific event, and it’s not a bad thing to watch at all.
JU-ON does try to shake things up a bit by adding a two player multiplayer mode called “Courage Test”. Here you will go through the single-player levels again, but a second player will join you who uses the Wii Remote as they trigger various scare events as you go through the level. These events are usually visually based (e.g. girl floating by). Upon doing this, nothing really happens as your in-game character does not react at all. I guess they just want you to try to get scared and the only pay off is your friend watching your own reaction if you do indeed get scared at all. This multiplayer mode is somewhat pointless and the overall scare effect is not that effective at all.
With first-gen graphics, a mixed audio package, and some broken gameplay elements, JU-ON: The Grudge is a very mixed bag indeed. Although it did offer up some spooky moments, there were just too many issues for it to overcome.