Anyone who lived through the 1980s may remember you couldn’t swing a cat in WHSmith without giving it several cracks about the head on a bunch of videogame telly tie-ins. Now, as Stranger Things gears up for its second series on Netflix (27 October, horror fans), Stranger Things: The Game is here.
Just as the TV show hurled you back to the halcyon days of the 1980s, this game offers a whiff of retro, too. It’s essentially a top-down RPG with a suitably chunky pixel art style (albeit one that’s more SNES than NES).
Amusingly meta, then, but Stranger Things: The Game is also surprisingly good.
What does it do?
You start off as Hopper the cop, dragged out at some ungodly hour to investigate a laboratory. You soon find yourself embroiled in the mystery from the TV show’s debut series.
You therefore roam Hawkins, find and interact with characters from the show (some of which are collectable, providing your group with new powers), and try not to get killed. Given the 1980s RPG inspiration, quite a lot of your time is spent hoofing about, solving puzzles and flicking switches to unlock doors, and giving items you find to demanding citizens.
There are also, for some reason, quite a lot of murdery owls. Perhaps Stuff forgot about the psychotic owl sub-plot in the TV show, but prepare yourself to get all punchy when those beaked gits are nearby.
A few, which are down to the game being a bit too authentic at times. Die and you’re sent to the start of the level, albeit without having to open all the gates and collect all the stuff again. (A ‘normal’ mode makes things a mite easier, only flinging you back to the previous screen.)
This game’s also happy to make you traipse across half of its map to, say, deliver a freaked-out videogame Winona Ryder a new telephone. And there‘s the odd difficulty wall that slams into your face with the ferocity of an angry psychokinetic kid being harassed by the CIA.
But there’s so much love here, with frequent references to the show, ’80s media, and even the game itself. (In the police station, Hopper remarks how the filing cabinets are filled with owl attack reports.) The game’s smartly designed throughout, and shakes things up with the odd boss battle and new ability. All in all, it’s the precise opposite of a cheap tie-in.