Stranger Things is a bona fide mega-hit for Netflix. And with the recent release of its third season—which follows a group of middle schoolers in the tiny fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, as they fight world-threatening monsters in the mid ’80s—this intense, at times horrific, TV-14 drama is once again water-cooler fodder from coast to coast.
With that universal popularity in mind, it only makes sense, then, that someone has now created a retro-feeling game to tap into the same nostalgic vein that propels the retro-feeling show. So what does the T-rated Stranger Things 3: The Game have in store for fans who just can’t get enough of this creepily compelling franchise?
First of all, the game plays out in something of an 8- to 16-bit graphics style—exactly the sort of vibe you’d have expected from a Nintendo Entertainment System game back in the mid ’80s to early’90s. It’s an old-school look that definitely mirrors the show’s timeline. (And the throw-back graphics also keep the goopiness of monster mashing and baddy bashing to a pixelated minimum.)
The action here follows Stranger Things’ third season storyline pretty closely, too. Diabolical Soviet thugs and scientists seek access to monsters from another dimension, as well as a boss-like beastie dubbed the Mind Flayer, an entity that’s far more potent than the power-hungry humans expect. But the story’s gaggle of outcast adolescents and a few hapless adults hope to stop the Flayer from taking over their minds, their town and maybe even all of mankind.
Of course, the game doesn’t mimic the show beat-for-beat. This is a game, and not just a story, after all. So although gamers play as the show’s main characters and walk through the same general plotline, the missions here (single-player or local co-op) mostly feature a mixture of lots of beat em’ up gameplay, some go-fetch quests and a number of step-on-a-switch type puzzles.
ST3 features 12 unlockable characters who fight in tag-team pairs through eight chapters. Each has his or her own main attack, special ability, etc. Mike, for instance, swings a pretty mean baseball bat, while his pal Lucas has a long range slingshot and Dustin can poison foes with his spray can of deodorant. On the special ability side, Dustin is good at hacking electronic locks, Lucas can get his friends past rocky blockades, and Lucas’ little sis, Erica, can crawl through small passageways, etc.
Exploding rats and Russian goons are a big part of the Netflix show, and they’re the main bashable foes here, too, along with zombie-like Mind Flayer pawns, mad scientists and some inter-dimensional beasties. The playable characters also have access to items (both purchased and crafted) that offer stat boosts to their life and pummeling abilities. Not surprisingly for a game like this one, its difficulty keeps ramping up from level to level.
Is the game fun? Well, yeah, it is for the most part. But there are a few minor drawbacks: The repeated thumping of scores and scores of often unexplained enemies—who fall over and fade away, sometimes leaving items in their wake—can get a bit old. And the quests themselves can sometimes feel like a grind, too. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, the title’s 16-bit action is far less messy than the show it’s based upon.
In addition, the game’s language (all printed out, with no spoken dialogue at all) is limited to some minor name-calling with uses of “dingus,” “dweeb,” “scumbag” and the like. And the adolescent make out sessions and adult salaciousness of the TV show are only winked at in the missions and printed dialogue, here.
By the end of the roughly eleven hours of retro gameplay and story questing, you end up with a pretty decent, old-school, sci-fi adventure that packs plenty of nostalgic charm. Of course, if this quirky dose of button-crunching and monster-besting ends up motivating kids to watch the much more profane and messy Netflix show itself … well, that’s another bucket of squirming rat guts altogether.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.