Stranger Things 3: The Game
"Stranger Things 3: The Game" is a cool concept that, unfortunately, misses the mark. (Illustration by Amelia Fins, Montclair State University)

‘Stranger Things 3: The Game’ Is a Mess That Only Die-Hard Fans Will Enjoy

In a world where the show doesn’t exist, and this isn’t a tie-in product, it would just be a boring video game.

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Stranger Things 3: The Game

In a world where the show doesn’t exist, and this isn’t a tie-in product, it would just be a boring video game.

The third season of “Stranger Things” just came out, and the internet is abuzz. The new episodes of the popular Netflix show continue the plot of the previous two seasons, with interesting twists and turns. Along with the show’s release on July 4, a video game was also released for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Switch called “Stranger Things 3: The Game.”

The game, which is an isometric action-adventure game with puzzle-solving elements, follows the events of the show’s third season. You explore a retro-inspired, 16-bit rendition of Hawkins, Indiana and visit well-known sites from the show, such as Starcourt Mall and Hawkins’ Lab. “Stranger Things 3: The Game” lets you choose, between 12 different playable characters, and you and a partner, which is either the CPU or a second player, face off against evil Russians and hordes of flayed rats.

Some of the puzzles take particular advantage of the two-player mechanic. It’s an interesting dynamic that’s best used with a real-life partner. Certain characters have special attacks and abilities that work best with another specific character, and some characters have abilities that open up different sections of the game; for example, Lucas can destroy boulders to open up new pathways and Erica can travel through vents.

Characters can also buy items in shops or find them throughout Hawkins to craft trinkets that improve stats. Both the heroes and antagonists can also take advantage of special elemental abilities: there are shock attacks, which stun enemies; fire attacks, which damage an entire area; and chemical attacks, which slowly take down an enemy’s health bar.

The void sequences in the game have a dreamlike, out-of-this-world atmosphere, reminiscent of “Earthbound,” that reflects the show fairly well, and they’re fun and interesting to play through.

This game’s aesthetic is heavily inspired by classic video games, and you can even see mini Atari consoles throughout the game.  Mechanically, the game has drawn inspiration from a number of other unique games, such as “Zombies Ate My Neighbors,” “The Lost Vikings” and “New Ghostbusters II.”

But, while it seems to have a lot going for it, “Stranger Things 3: The Game” doesn’t feel very fleshed out. Some major plot events from the show, which I don’t want to spoil, aren’t even included in the game.

The music in the game seems awesome at first; it sounds similar to the foreboding music that makes up the show’s soundtrack. However, the same few songs play throughout the whole game, and it gets old quickly.

Earlier, I mentioned that you face off against Russians and rats, but throughout the entire game, aside from four boss fights, those are the only enemies you fight. Normally, a game like this has RPG leveling mechanics, which makes it bearable to face the same enemies, but for some odd reason this game doesn’t include that. As it is, a lot of the gameplay is just boring button-mashing.

All of the character controls are fundamentally the same, with one normal attack and one special ability, but the problem is that some characters are much weaker than others, even with trinkets attached. Throughout the majority of the game, I played as Eleven and Will, since they’re the strongest characters; Eleven can hit multiple characters at mid-range, and Will has the highest damage output.

With the exception of one boss fight, where you’re forced to play as Hopper and Joyce, there’s really no reason to play as any other characters, unless they are your favorites from the show.

There aren’t many cutscenes, and the few that there are utilize the in-game animation, which looks choppy and does a disservice in representing the actual events from the show. Many events that occurred in the third season of “Stranger Things” weren’t even covered through cutscenes and character relationships that have been built throughout the show didn’t feel like they were in the game.

And there are a few other problems with “Stranger Things 3: The Game.” If you aren’t playing with another person, the character swapping function is a nightmare. The mechanics are convoluted, and it’s hard to switch between different characters on the fly, and you cannot switch characters in the menu screen. Different trinkets benefit different characters, so when you do switch characters, they’re weaker, and, to make it even worse, you can also be attacked when changing these special items.

The auto-saving feature is also very confusing. While you probably won’t die a whole lot, the few times you do (or when you quit the game to do something else), you will probably find yourself back in a place you’ve already been because the game’s autosave feature only triggers in certain rooms. A simple update that adds manual saves would improve this aspect of the game.

To some extent, these criticisms are solely because the story is being told through a different medium that doesn’t do it justice, but that doesn’t give the developer, BonusXP, enough credit for what they did. “Stranger Things 3: The Game” doesn’t hold a candle to the show. If you haven’t watched the third season yet, please don’t spoil yourself by playing the game. It’s not worth it.

Only die-hard fans of the show, or people who want a game that they don’t have to put a lot of attention into, will enjoy this game. The game is $20 on each platform, but I would recommend that anyone interested should wait until it goes on sale to purchase it.

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