reviews\ Oct 12, 2009 at 8:00 pm

JU-ON: The Grudge - WII - Review

It’s easy to assume from first glance that JU-ON: The Grudge is simply another survival horror game. Advertised as a “Haunted House Simulator,” JU-ON takes a unique approach to the horror genre. You won’t find any guns, bats, chainsaws, etc. In fact, there is no violence whatsoever. Equipped solely with a flashlight, each level has the player controlling a different character as they attempt to flee a haunted locale.

JU-ON is based on a Japanese horror film series that was later remade for American audiences and renamed The Grudge. Those familiar with the series will indeed recognize the antagonists, but knowledge of the films is certainly unnecessary.

JU-ON doesn’t attempt to tell a story, it simply wants to scare you, and then scare you again. And to that extent the game is certainly effective, with no shortage of startling images and noises. The game uses lighting very effectively, as the flashlight can only illuminate so much of the screen.

The flashlight also adds an element of suspense. If you run out of batteries, it’s game over.

Gameplay is very simple, as it really only consists of some fairly simple item-hunting in order to progress.

There are also some mini-game type sequences which require certain motions to be made to escape danger. These add some nice flashes of action to the mix and generally work well enough. It does seem a bit unforgiving though that if you miss a motion, it’s game over. There is no checkpoint to return to, but this is forgivable because the scares along the way are well executed.

Unfortunately, despite all JU-ON has going for it in terms of concept, the game has some nearly crippling design flaws that are apparent the very moment you begin play.

Using only a flashlight is a great idea, especially because the pointer on the Wii remote can allow for both precision and immersion. That is, if it’s well-implemented. Games such as The Conduit or Metroid Prime: Corruption feature controls that are quick, smooth and accurate. To say that the ‘aiming’ in JU-ON is clunky by comparison is being very polite. If those games feel like smooth, natural controls, then JU-ON feels rigid, unresponsive and very, very slow. One practically feels as if they need to bash the edges of the screen to turn or free look.

It doesn’t help the clunky feel that there is no strafe or sidestep. Characters handle corners about as well as an 18-wheeler.

Topping off the control issues is the developer's decision to make your character slower than molasses. I was going to say that there is no run function, but it would be generous to say that it even has a walk function.  It really is more of a slow shuffle similar to the ‘Danger’ level in the old Resident Evil games. Although it might add some element to the suspense, it’s more frustrating than anything else because you are constantly battling the clock. It’s like trying to perform a timed course with a snail.

I suspect the real reason is to simply extend the gameplay of a very short game. In fact, JU-ON even manages to throw in an unexpected fetch quest that requires you to backtrack through previous locations when you realize that you can’t truly finish the game without collecting all of the hidden items from the four main levels.

While it has some truly baffling issues, JU-ON is certainly no slouch technically. Visuals are definitely above average for the Wii. Lighting is certainly the highlight, although the character models are also very good. The environments features fairly simple textures up close, but they certainly look good enough under the moody lighting conditions. Only some minor hiccups really put a blemish on an otherwise good looking game.

Sound is also a strong point, with a very good and immersive surround mix. Music is suitably creepy, although generically so.

Multiplayer is very limited, but interesting nonetheless. Grabbing a second Wii remote, player two basically works to scare player one. While player one proceeds through the game as normal, the second player has the option of executing set ‘scares,’ mapped to the button on their remote. These basically pop-up on screen and don’t really affect gameplay, but can certainly give your buddy a jolt if not expected. Once one figures out which button does what, you can actually get pretty creative based on what the first player is doing. As noted, it’s a very simple addition, but a fun one.

If you can’t tell, JU-ON: The Grudge is a frustrating experience. There is a lot of potential here that goes unrealized through underdeveloped design and some very poor controls. It looks good, it sounds good, and it certainly delivers some good thrills. But when all is said and done, it’s a shallow game with too many issues and shortcomings to recommend.

Review Scoring Details for JU-ON: The Grudge

Gameplay: 6.0
A very simple design gets a boost from effectively creepy atmosphere and some genuinely good scares. The controls are clunky and unresponsive.

Graphics: 8.0 
Good lighting and character models make this a satisfying visual experience.

Sound: 7.5
The sound effects and music are nothing spectacular, but the surround mix is very immersive and effective.

Difficulty: Medium

Concept: 8.0                          
Despite its very simple gameplay, equipping the player with just a flashlight to explore haunted locales is a great idea. It just isn’t particularly well-executed.

Multiplayer: 7.0
It may not have much depth at all, but scaring a friend is certainly satisfying.

Overall: 6.0
JU-ON: The Grudge’s ‘Haunted House Simulator’ concept is a good one, but the execution is lacking. Poor controls and overly simplistic gameplay sink what could have been a very good (and very unique) horror game.

Above Average

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