Following the events of the recently released third season, this old-school action-RPG lets you play as twelve characters from the show as you uncover Hawkins’ latest mystery. Players can freely roam the town, discover side-missions beyond the story of the show, and even team up for two-player local co-op to help fight monsters and solve puzzles.
Stranger Things 3: The Game took me back to a simpler time. Not to the 80s, when the show is set, as my ‘memory’ of the era only comes from shows like Stranger Things, not personal experience. It also didn’t take me back to the 90s, the era from which this game’s 16-bit, isometric style is clearly influenced by, from consoles such as the SEGA Genesis or the SNES. No, instead, this simply took me back to a time when many video games were released dutifully to tie-in with a licensed property.
Growing up with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360-eras of gaming in the 2000s, I distinctly remember a time when licensed console games were everywhere; an expected, natural extension to the experience of watching a movie or TV show. But all that changed with the smartphone revolution, which saw a shift in where movie and TV studios saw their markets for gaming. It is where you could find Stranger Things: The Game in 2017 – a standard, free-to-play mobile game. So consider me surprised when I saw that Stranger Things 3: The Game was, as if by the power of nostalgia, a console release available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
But what makes Stranger Things 3: The Game so… odd… is that it operates like the perfect portable experience. In fact, it made me long for another thing the smartphone revolution overtook: the portable console. This pleasantly simple extension to the largely wonderful third season of the show would have been a blast to play on something like the PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS, with physical buttons over using a touchscreen-only phone. While I suppose Switch users will nab that benefit, those playing it on the Xbox One (such as myself) or PS4 will have to enjoy the game for its retro quirks to get the most out of it. A fully-fledged console version this is not, barely clocking at a gigabyte in size, and the reason why Netflix and developers BonusXP decided to release this game first (if at all) on consoles, and only on mobile devices later seems to be yet another of the many mysteries to come from Hawkins, Indiana.
This is not to undermine BonusXP and Netflix’s efforts here. As mentioned, once you can accept that this is a cheaper, purposefully (and excusably, given the source material) old-school style ‘beat-em-up’ adventure, there is a lot of fun to be had, especially if you’re a fan of the show. ‘Simple’ is the word here – one button attacks, and you can use the directional pad to swap between characters with different attacks. For example, Lucas has a ranged slingshot ability, whereas Mike has a close-range baseball bat. Commands can also be given to order your company around to help solve puzzles for those playing solo, and there’s even dialogue options to choose during conversations (and for the die-hard fans and completionists, these give extra replay value).
There are also collectable gnomes to be found and items that can be crafted to help during your quests, as well as what I found to be my favourite aspect of the game: the new, unseen side-missions. This extension of the world and story was always my favourite aspect of licensed games, and I enjoyed it just as much here. From uncovering more of the mayor’s shady dealings to the satisfaction of giving the cruel Billy a rotten pretzel after he demands you buy one for him, exploring the town is a real treat for fans.
Much like its third season, Stranger Things 3: The Game takes everything back to basics for an entertaining, easily accessible adventure that is extra fun to enjoy with friends and family who love the show. It doesn’t break any new ground or move into a bold new era for the licensed game, but for around £16 on Xbox One, it comes as a recommended extension to your binge.
Author: Tom, Prestwich store