I’ll take a cat boy or double-jointed gothic chick over this gameplay any day.
If we had an award for the worst-named game of the year, I’m certain JU-ON: The Grudge: Haunted House Simulator would give anything else a run for its money. It was hard enough trying to figure out where to place the colons in the title here on the website.
But, as advised by a permutation of an age-old adage, we don’t judge games based on their titles. Regardless, however, no matter how you approach it, JU-ON is scary for all the wrong reasons.
Here, we chase our dog through an abandoned factory at the risk of forfeiting our soul
Don't hold a grudge
But let’s start with what’s right. While JU-ON primarily relies on cheap jump scares and startling shocks for its appeal, it does do a pretty good job with its atmosphere. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the game is based on the popular Japanese horror series JU-ON, in which individuals who died a violent death are reincarnated in ghost form, which embodies a “curse”; each person who encounters them thereafter suffers the spread of said curse, and as such, they also then are killed. It’s an interesting formula that produced a string of disturbing films which quickly attracted international attention.
The game does its best to recreate that horror, and it’s mildly successful. While the environments are tragically small, JU-ON manages to elicit the occasional chill by manipulating the player’s tendency to anticipate. There are five levels in all (each one lasting around 20-30 minutes), including an old factory, a haunted hospital, a derelict apartment complex, an office building after hours, and a home that will be familiar to fans of the original Japanese film series. As players explore the environments, armed with only a flashlight, they are assaulted by all manner of spooky phenomena—including freaky kids that jump out at you, bloody handprints being actively deposited on the walls, hands protruding from sandboxes, and so forth.
You can only die in one of two ways. The first is by running out of flashlight battery, which you can extend by locating additional battery pickups throughout the environments. The second is by being assaulted by ghosts and unsuccessfully fighting them off. Granted, the fights amount to little more than performing quick gestures with the Wii remote to match displayed commands in a hectic sequence (flick right, push forward, pull back, etc.), but in spite of their simplicity, these are actually some of the most entertaining interesting parts of the game.
“Great stuff,” you say, “that’s precisely what I’m looking for in a Wii horror title.” Oh, but you haven’t yet heard the full story.
JU-ON: The Grudge: Geriatric Simulator
To turn or look, you move the Wii remote in the desired direction. To walk, you hold the B button (Down on the D-pad reverses). However, calling it walking is actually grossly inaccurate; if it weren’t for the human hand protruding onto the screen, you might mistake your species for a ground sloth or common box turtle.
You see, the first major issue is the fact that your character moves so intolerably slow that it takes literally a couple of minutes to walk a hundred feet. Your character’s movement resembles that of a geriatric with multiple broken bones; you’ll swear you pressed the non-existent slow motion button on your Wii console. Seriously. Rather than walk, you inch. In every situation, no matter how uncomfortable—how dangerous—your character simply inches. If it were me, at first sight of a little kid that meows and hair growing out of the ceiling, I’d be sprinting off the premises, not leisurely tip-toeing as though I hadn’t yet been spotted.
Plus, this problem is compounded by the fact that you’ve sometimes got to retrace your steps. Should you find that a door is locked and you require a key, presumably located at the top of a nearby flight of stairs, your only choice is to ascend the stairs at 0.5 mph, obtain the key (if it’s there), and return back down the stairs at 0.5 mph. Similarly, in later, more open-ended levels, where it isn’t quite as obvious which direction you’re supposed to head, you’ll find yourself backtracking while simultaneously playing with your dog or browsing the IGN Boards.
In roughly fifteen minutes we will have reached the top of this stair section
The speed of programmed movement alone is responsible for artificially extending the game’s length by at least 60%... maybe 100. But in addition to that, the rotation controls aren’t much better. Turning with the Wii remote (free look style) has been virtually perfected by games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and The Conduit, both of which implement some form of customizable bounding box system to better tailor the game to the player’s liking. JU-ON, on the other hand, doesn’t care what you like. Instead, it moves the flashlight everywhere you point and rotates you at seemingly random speeds. It’s a good thing your character already walks so damned slow—and that you can’t die while mobile—because otherwise we’d have people purposefully assaulting their televisions with their Wii-motes.
Speaking of which, the game is actually quite easy as well. My first death didn’t even come until the fourth episode, and at the risk of making excuses, I’m not entirely sure whether the difficulty just spiked suddenly at that point or I just wasn’t paying attention. The double-jointed ghost chick was coming around the corner in the women’s restroom when the gesture command appeared on the screen, and this time, the command painted itself red and sent me straight to the Game Over screen. Problem is, I was something like fifteen minutes into the episode. And where do you respawn after such an unfortunate turn of events? At the start of the level.
Before you go thinking that this is no big deal, perhaps it would be wise to remind you of the glacial speed at which your character moves. This coupled with the fact that the levels are almost perfectly linear in nature means that replaying them is about as riveting as mowing your lawn. Some of the spooks are apparently randomized (and that’s definitely a good thing) but it’s simply not enough to motivate the player to continue.
Above: The double-jointed gothic chick who actually represents the embodiment of hatred. She also works nights at the local club.
On that note, unlocking the fifth and final chapter requires you to collect a number of items throughout the previous four chapters. These items are not always easy to locate, and some of them will certainly require multiple trips through the level. There is a small percentage of the gaming population that will (somehow) stick it out until the very end, but for most of us, the first time we die and realize we’ve got to drudge through the entire level all over again will be the last time we play.
Oh, yes, and there is a two-player mode as well; it’s called Courage Test. This is the same thing as the single-player game except a second player equips another Wii remote and presses different buttons to generate additional jump scares. The scares must be spaced at least fifteen seconds apart, but other than that, there are no goals or any additional variables at play.