Don Rowe dips his toes back in the murky waters of the Upside Down with the Stranger Things mobile game.
It’s almost inevitable these days that any somewhat successful media product will be iterated across every platform and medium like some entertainment rat king – “Popular Thing: The Movie, The Boardgame, Now a Book, graphic novel edition!!!”
The hit show Stranger Things is no exception, with a rumored Monopoly release, Uno spinoff and even a licensed Ouija board on the way. And now, as a promotion for the upcoming season two, they’ve got a mobile game too. And while it’s very good and all that jazz, most importantly it’s FREE. Be still my miserly heart.
Stranger Things: The Game is a top-down, SNES-style retro adventure through the town of Hawkins and onwards into the Upside Down. Starting out as Chief Hooper, you swang and bang your way through iconic show locations like the Hawkins Laboratory taking out various bad guys and solving puzzles, picking up collectibles and adding various show characters as members of your party along the way. Each character has a unique weapon – where Chief Hooper socks enemies in the head, Lucas has his trusty slingshot, and Nancy a vintage baseball bat for example – and these traits effect how you interact with the environment and ultimately progress through the game.
Hawkins itself is populated by a cast of familiar NPC’s, a wrench-throwing Mexican mechanic and many, many angry owls. The general story differs almost entirely from that of the show, but playing mobile games for the story is bordering on reading Playboy for the articles anyway, and the real fun here is in the gameplay and aesthetic – while it’s pitched as an 80s throwback, it’s a bit beyond that in terms of quality graphics.
The game has been built around the touchscreen, meaning there’s no pissing around with virtual buttons like when you pirate a Pokemon emulator. Everything is done by tapping, and the gameplay is responsive enough that things happen at a decent pace, unlike the slow plod of early Pokemon releases. While the combat is fairly simplistic, there’s still fun to be had switching between characters on the fly, dispatching goons and throwing down with any one of the game’s five bosses.
Puzzles are similarly basic, generally a chicken-fox-grain sort of affair, but the variation in environments and impediments keeps them mostly fresh.
The soundtrack features deliciously 8-bit renditions of the shows dark, synth-heavy 80s vibes, perfectly complementing the pixelated aesthetic. Admittedly it is a little redundant considering the game is played on a comparatively turbo-charged smartphone and not a prehistoric SNES, but at least it’s consistent.
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But the most impressive part of Stranger Things: The Game is just how fleshed out it feels. After playing for the duration of three or four commutes on the Western Line I was sitting at around five percent completion, with no real confidence I was approaching a breakthrough. I assume some of the percentage is made up with collectibles and so on, but this is more than just a quick gimmick of a game.
Perhaps most rare and precious of all however, there are no microtransactions, no time-locked features, and no bloody push notifications to come back and feed your Tamagotchi or harvest your corn or whatever. This is advertising done right and a cracker of a mobile game to boot. And if the unlockable trailer for season two is anything to go by, things are about to get…stranger-er. LOL!
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