‘Stranger Things: The Game’, Reviewed
That a game like Stranger Things: The Game exists is as fantastical as the show it is based on. A free-to-play game without ads or in-app purchases, with a deep storyline that expands the mythos of its franchise, should not exist. Not in a market where developers earn top-dollar with these so-called “micro-transactions”. But that was what Netflix did when they developed a mobile game (in collaboration with BonusXP) to promote the second season of Stranger Things—and unsurprisingly, the game delivers.
Players begin as Hawkins’ finest, Jim Hopper, as he wakes up to the news that Will Byers and his friends have gone missing once again. The game’s events happen in succession to the events of the first season and preceding the second one. Therefore, players should be aware that there are minor spoilers; if you haven’t seen the first season and don’t want spoilers, steer clear.
Upon receiving the news of the children’s disappearance, Hopper scrambles to the Hawkins National Laboratory, where players are introduced to deceptively simple laser puzzles. It’s also here where we meet and obtain Lucas, whose character is able to make long-range attacks. Crucial because some of the obstacles aren’t beatable by Hopper’s punching.
Switching between characters is easy. It’s located at the far-right of the screen, along with key metrics like health and currency, and key features like an item bag and the dungeon map. The whole of it echoes a Zelda-like experience; doubtless a gesture to mirror the show’s nostalgic nature. There are some Super Mario touches, too. These references to video games of old lend to the series’ knack for referencing 80’s pop culture and cinema. If you’ve enjoyed that aspect of the series, you’re bound to like the game.
The gameplay is deep, with various complicated challenges and puzzles, including the first dungeon at the Lab and a Sokoban-style puzzle at the Hawkins’ middle school. These take strategy and time to complete, making each victory lasting and worthwhile. These, too, open up plenty of room for exposition—an invaluable gift to fans of the series. Since the bloody aftermath of the first season, Will has returned but is still afflicted (by something from the Upside Down) and Joyce, in a bid to retain normalcy and balance for her sons, decided to get a boyfriend.
A minor gripe, though, is the controls. The attacks, while simple, are pretty confusing to get to. There’s an icon that pops up below the character icon on the right side of the screen. If you’re not familiar with the game, you’re bound to reflexively tap it instead of the enemies you’re trying to vanquish. A joystick-like control panel would have worked better and could have made the already impressive gameplay deeper and more complex.
But then again, it’s hard to complain. Stranger Things: The Game is an impressive mobile game that’s “no strings attached” but has plenty to offer. I’m excited to see if Netflix will ever expand from this too. I think Netflix should.