“Player beware… you’re in for a scare!” Headphones locked in as recommended, I had been cautiously optimistic about Goosebumps The Game.
Positioned as a prequel to Sony Pictures Entertainment’s movie revival, Jack Black’s comic timing is absent and we’re instead left to deal with the imaginary monsters that inhabit author R. L. Stine’s terrifying universe alone.
His dark and often chilling tales had been a large part of my childhood. When I wasn’t reading through a borrowed book from our local library, the television series was an equally haunting alternative whenever I came home from school.
Stine’s creations have captured the imagination of many, the books alone having sold more than 350 million copies worldwide. But, as with Goosebumps: HorrorLand before it, this attempt at crafting a game experience around the many monsters that he has conjured fails to bring them together in a memorable way.
It is WayForward that had accepted the challenge to do so, a developer beloved for their own work in creating the Shantae and Mighty Switch Force! series. Most would attribute their expertise to the platformer genre, but with Goosebumps The Game the developer has chance to provide their own take on a point-and-click adventure.
That is achieved with middling success, the narrative revolving around mischievous ventriloquist dummy Slappy’s sudden desire for payback in response to R. L. Stine locking the dangerous creatures he creates away inside his books.
With his creations suddenly free from their papery confines, that allows for an adventure that is packed with referential nods. But, it is only those that are familiar with the numerous Goosebumps books that will have the accumulated knowledge required to appreciate everything that is riddled throughout the five-hour escapade.
More explorative by design, the player will find themselves in the role of a young boy or girl on their journey home after a day at school. Unaware of Slappy’s evil plan, it isn’t long before you encounter the monsters that have poured out of the Goosebumps universe. The problem is, there is never a sense of any real threat to your survival let alone your silent character ever becoming alarmed by the sudden monstrosities that appear before them.
As with others in the genre, Goosebumps The Game largely tasks you with collecting an assortment of items that you will stumble across in your surroundings. Somewhat problematically, they aren’t all necessary to see the game all the way through to the credits sequence – leaving many to clutter the inventory screen that is present on the Nintendo 3DS touch screen. An old shoe, toy dino, jelly jam and a deco plate, these are just some of the junk that you will needlessly carry around in your backpack for the remainder of the adventure.
It could be argued that their inclusion is purely to leave the player perplexed as to what they are used for. But, that confusion is only heightened by puzzles that often border on complete obscurity. That will be welcomed by those that long to wrack their brains until they uncover a solution, but, given the younger demographic that the game is targeted at, seem rather at odds with the carefree tale. Players can use an in-game cell phone to call their ‘Mom’ for guidance, but this reduces your phone’s battery life and it can only be charged when you reach The Mall. Even so, any error that sees you meet a grizzly end will still let you retry – meaning that you will only ever lose a minute’s worth of progression.
Even navigation soon becomes an irritation, players being required to hold down arrow icons for brief periods at a time before they are allowed to shift between scenes. It felt particularly sluggish and even using buttons on the D-Pad as an alternative input didn’t dramatically lessen the frustration. Given WayForward’s history in developing for the Nintendo 3DS, some of the choices behind porting the game to handheld truly baffled.
It’s a shame as the game’s overall presentation is likeable, the chosen art style seemingly aiming the replicate that used for the illustrations on the series’ many covers. That isn’t matched by the soundtrack, which is always fairly low key with sound effects thrown in whenever you trigger an interaction.
Goosebumps The Game disappoints, standing as an incredibly dated entry in a genre that has advanced far beyond the experience that it presents. Lacking in any scares, it will only be those that with a fondness for the source material that will overlook its shortcomings.