Ju-On is a seriously scary film. Fact. Oh sure, it might be your good old ‘vengeful spirit in haunted house’ flick, but it’s directed by Takashi Shimizu, responsible for not only the Japanese Ju-On series but a stack of other haunted shenanigans including the surprisingly decent American remakes.
He’s also responsible for this game.
If you don’t know the plot of the films, a social worker is sent to a house to find something much worse than a tab-smoking teenager and a mother addicted to bingo. The mother and son in this house really are dead. Except, of course, they’re not, being very much alive in the prototypical pale-skin-and-bulgy-eyes way that Japanese ghosts tend to favour. Even better, they can’t be stopped. There is no solution, nobody you’re ‘gonna call’ when they appear. What’s more likely is that you’ll just die. Which everybody does.
Remember: the writer and director of this film is also responsible for this game, which, like the film, is split into five ‘movements’. Each one starts with a (badly-written) explanation of why you’re there, generally something spurious like – no joke – ‘your dog has run into an abandoned warehouse’. You go into said warehouse, armed with a torch, and try to find the dog.
What you find instead is the worst control system on a game since…no, it’ll come to me, but I can’t currently think of a worse one. Essentially, your Wii remote acts as a torch and the motion controller while you hold down the B button to walk forward. Occasionally, you’ll have to shake the controller to wave away a rogue entity or follow a series of directions to stop yourself from meeting an unfortunate end.
In the very first room I found myself a split-second from throwing the controller at the TV, something which regular users of YouTube will know generally results in both screen-break and heartbreak. Even just getting around the pile of junk in the middle of the space was the single most irritating gaming experience of my life as I attempted to find the key for a door that I didn’t want to go through anyway.
This game shows its hand way too early, presenting you with one of the ‘main’ ghosts in the first few moments. Your character wouldn’t want to go in there for obvious reasons, but still does. You won’t want to go in there either, because the ghost is crap, but you will in the hope things might improve. Which they don’t.
Your ‘life’ is measured by the amount of battery power left in your torch, and you’ll find spare cells scattered around in a Doom medipak-type way, along with keys so that you can progress. Both shine in the light and are easily found, but because moving around is such a drag, you might go mad trying to actually obtain them.
Maybe that’s the point – anyone coming into contact with Ju-On either dies or goes mad – but somehow I doubt it.
And God forbid that you might need to get over to one at speed, as you are limited to one extremely slow walking pace. Imagine trying to play one of the Elder Scrolls games without the Run option (but also without the need to regain fatigue points) and you can imagine just how frustrating this is.
Equally infuriating is the lack of checkpoints, which can lead to entire sections having to be repeated. As this is often the fault of the control system not recognising you doing the right thing, you will want to be doing the killing instead of weirdy woman. (At this point I will reiterate that there is no excuse for this kind of thing. If I want to save the game, let me save the bloody game.)
The game is marketed as a ‘fright simulator’, a deeply odd concept under scrutiny. Surely you’re either scared or you’re not, as opposed to some fake state in-between?
Well, even more oddly, that’s where I was. I wanted to be scared. It appeared that I really should be scared. I think I was probably making myself scared as that was what walking around in a very dark place with strange noises was supposed to do. It was like being in one of those Pasaje del Terror-style attractions where you know nothing can hurt you and probably know exactly what’s going to happen, but put yourself into that frame of mind anyway to get the best out of the experience.
The easily-bothered will get something out of this. There is something inherently creepy about limited light and the knowledge that anything could be about to happen. But the irony is that you’d probably experience the same effect with nothing happening.
Science has already proven that you can give somebody a VR headset of a dark, graffiti-covered room and they will freak out for no apparent reason. If the same room had a regular occurrence of a not-greatly-scary apparition, the effect would, no doubt, wear off.
Takashi Shimizu didn’t become famous for appealing to people who would shriek at the sound of their central heating pipes contracting. Sadly, that’s the only kind of person who’s going to appreciate this.
With the lights off, on Hallowe’en, in a creaky house: three stars. For everyone else: two.
Ju-On: The Grudge is out now.