Review: JU-ON: The Grudge – Haunted House Simulator

Ju-onTheGrudge.jpg Who here likes to go to haunted houses for Halloween? I went to a few when I was younger, and I remember them being a spooky good time. Actually, it was only a couple years ago now when I was with my family at Busch Gardens during their Halloween festivities and they had a great haunted maze my brother and I went through as our last stop before leaving the park.

Anyways, my reason for reminiscing is because I’ve been playing XSEED’s new Wii “haunted house simulator” JU-ON: The Grudge lately and have been trying to remember good things about haunted houses because this game really fails to deliver on its premise.

On paper, its premise is intriguing too. For those wondering, the game is indeed inspired by the Japanese horror flick of the same name, though I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t tell you how it ties in. Considering the game has absolutely no storyline, I don’t think there’s much tying it to the film beyond visual continuity.

The object of the game, if you can even call it a game, is to mosey your way through four spooky environments (there’s a fifth bonus stage to unlock as well) in a first-person perspective with only a flashlight to guide your way, watch creepy scripted events play out as you would in a haunted house, maybe collect a key or two to progress, and basically survive until the stage ends.

Controls are ridiculously simple: you hold the B button to move forward, point at the screen with the Wii Remote to point your flashlight and turn the camera, and occasionally waggle the remote in designated QTE (Quick Time Event) sequences to escape the long-haired creepy girl’s grasp whenever she grabs onto you. You also have to keep an eye out for extra batteries, because if your flashlight runs out of juice you lose (failing a QTE also leads to game over). A second player can also pick up a remote of their own and attempt to scare you by triggering events at the press of a button, which is kind of neat.

Simple as they may be, though, the controls are what completely ruin the experience. Your character’s movement speed is mind-numbingly slow, and aiming the flashlight and turning the camera is sluggish and unnatural, so much so that it’s easy to overlook important items and doors, and even miss scripted scares entirely (Wii MotionPlus support would’ve really helped here). There are no checkpoints either, so failing and having to replay a stage from the very beginning because the game’s poor camera system prevented you from spotting an extra battery or important key is infuriating.

Because the game is so scripted, the prospect of having to replay a stage while enduring the glacial pacing is no fun at all. What’s worse, the game as a whole is maybe two hours long at max. Each stage averages out to maybe 15-20 minutes long depending on how lucky you are with finding key items on the first pass-by without having to backtrack. Every minute that passes feels like an eternity, though, given how slow the movement is.

The developers also really skimped on rudimentary presentation features. Once you’ve launched into a stage there’s no way to quit back out to the main menu, and there’s no built-in brightness adjustment option (a brightness meter is provided, but you have to adjust the brightness of your whole TV set).

All of these flaws really are a shame too, because underneath the tedious exploration and wonky controls there is a really unique horror experience to be had in The Grudge. While the game’s scares are predictable and recycled, the atmosphere is eerie and unsettling enough to get the blood pumping and the hair on the back of your neck standing on end — the long-haired girl’s rumbling moan in particular is always creepy, even after you’ve heard it for the billionth time.

But unfortunately the faulty gameplay will strike fear into your heart far more than the disturbing atmosphere and abundant use of creepy little kids popping out at you, so if you’re in the mood for a good fright this Halloween I say leave this game on the shelf and use your cash for a real haunted house.

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Pros:
+ Creepy atmosphere
+ Solid graphics and audio overall

Cons:
– Awful controls and camera movement
– Mind-numbingly slow pacing
– Recycled scare tactics
– Very short with no replay value
– Lacks checkpoints and other basic game features

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: FeelPlus
Release Date: 10/13/09
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!