Stranger Things: The Game
Genre: Adventure/8-bit
Publisher: Netflix
Developer: BonusXP
Platforms: iPhone/Android

A Review by Jameson Hampton

Now that autumn is here, many of us have been waiting impatiently for the two most important things that happen in the fall: Halloween and the release of Stranger Things Season 2, which was finally released today! Fortunately, Netflix knows us and understands our impatience, so they gave us a gift to tide us over — a retro-style Stranger Things mobile game that came out on October 4th as a surprise release!

In the true spirit of the show, Stranger Things: The Game is delightfully retro, with the art and music designed to look and sound like a long lost SNES game (And the app icon looks like a cartridge! How cute is that?!) The colors are vibrant, the character models adorable, and the locations artistically distinct enough that it really gives you the impression of traveling as you move around the reasonably large map.

The plot is pretty simple, although I wasn’t expecting much more from a tie-in game. Go to different locations from the show and fight (or sneak) your way through, collecting the key items you need to rescue the other characters who’ve gotten themselves into tight spots. This story could have become tedious, but it stays fresh and exciting throughout because each time you save a new character they join your party! Each party member has a unique play-style and skill, allowing you to access new areas that were previously unreachable to you alone. Plus their special powers match up in a really cute way with their characters, like Dustin for instance, who throws pudding cups in order to distract and lure away enemies.

In fact, pretty much everything about the game is really cute. You get to explore all the little locations that made their way into the show. You get to collect Eggo waffles! (Collect them all to unlock Eleven as a playable character!) Even the Upside Down is pretty adorable, certainly a lot cuter than it is in the show, and I definitely got a rush of adrenaline when I was able to travel there and explore a little bit.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s not punishingly hard, at least not on “Normal” mode, although it also has a more challenging “Classic” difficulty. It features a nice mix of puzzles and fighting, with the puzzles being generally a bit more challenging than the combat. It does have areas that can only be cleared by stealth, which is sometimes a red flag in games because stealth levels can be notoriously difficult and frustrating. I did find the stealth sections to be probably the toughest parts of the game to clear, but I actually had a really fun time with them! Figuring out the patterns and learning from my mistakes was rewarding, and it didn’t get too repetitive or frustrating.

Exploring the map is also a major part of the gameplay, and there’s a lot to do and see beyond just rushing through each of the six dungeons. There are plenty of people to talk to, locations to visit, secret areas to unlock, and things to collect! The side quests are cute, and I was having fun doing them at first, but near the end of the game navigating the map started to feel pretty tedious. While you get the ability to ride a bike near the beginning of the game, enemies in the overworld respawn, and you can’t attack while you’re on the bike so you’re constantly in danger of being dive-bombed by owls.

Getting all the collectibles and doing all the side quests involved a lot of backtracking, so the size of the map was a burden. Eleven is the last character you unlock, and she has a power that lets you teleport around the map via swimming pools, which I thought would alleviate my navigational woes, but it didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. It isn’t clear which other pool you’ll teleport to when you enter one, so unless you want to take the time to memorize them all, it feels like you’re just randomly warping around all over the map.

I felt like I was doing some of the side quests just to hit 100% completion, but there were some that were really worthwhile. My favorite? If you collect all eighy VHS tapes and bring them to the movie theater, they’ll show you a brand new, three minute trailer for Stranger Things Season 2! (Yes, it occurred to me that I could’ve probably just found it on YouTube, but it felt very rewarding to have earned it by playing through the game.)

Verdict
Play it! It’s free so there’s really no downside. It was a lot more fun and a more rewarding experience than I expected out of a free tie-in game. The combination of the new (excellent) trailer and the inclusion of locations from the new season of the show got me really excited for its release. Plus, even though I got to 100% completion in the game, there’s still one character that won’t unlock until after the new season comes out, so I’m excited to find out who that is today! The purpose of a tie-in game is to get me pumped about the franchise and Stranger Things: The Game achieved that beautifully. I also got to spend a few hours immersed in the strange world of the show, which was totally worth it for me.

Jameson Hampton
jameybash@gmail.com
Jamey is a non-binary adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they’d have time to visit every coffee shop in the world. They write code, like plants, record podcasts, categorize zines and read tarot cards. Ask them about Star Wars or Vampire: the Masquerade if you dare.

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