Ju-On: The Grudge Review

By Darryl Kaye on November 10, 2009

The Grudge came to the attention of the world in 2004, when the film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar hit the big screens. However, in Japan, where the series originated from, Ju-On: The Grudge was actually the fourth installment. The American version was a complete remake of the Japanese film, but since 2003, when Ju-On: The Grudge and Ju-On: The Grudge 2 were released, there hasn't been a film released under that name. The only thing that's followed are some lower budget American films, the most recent of which went straight to DVD and was released in May, 2009. However, this didn't stop feelplus from reviving the franchise on the Nintendo Wii by creating what they describe as a Fright Simulator.

Focusing on the events of an average Japanese family, the game follows each of their individual challenges. Taking control of each family member in a separate episode, players must try to overcome the curse and avoid Toshio and Kayako, the two antagonists from the films.

It could actually be a good premise if the story was elaborated upon more, but ultimately there is no real reason why players should care about any of the family members aside from them being inflicted with the curse. It's disappointing, because generally what makes horror films great is the emergence of a character that the audience can sympathise with. Ju-On: The Grudge fails in its attempt to do this, as essentially the only introduction players get is about 40 words long. It only serves to explain the scenario and because the game is displayed from a first-person perspective, there's nothing that players can use to associate with the characters themselves.

Unlike the majority of survival horror games, Ju-On: The Grudge doesn't give players the option to attack, only to try and defend themselves. It's actually quite a nice change, because it makes players feel a lot more vulnerable. Exploration is generally the main gameplay focus, as players have to try and escape from the situation they find themselves in. They are armed with a torch/flashlight, which doesn't actually provide much illumination, and they must try to find keys in order to progress through the levels.

Unfortunately, the controls are terrible. Instead of utilising the full array of controls that the Nintendo Wii offers, the developers decided to only use the Wii Remote. This means that the B button is used to walk forward and it's actually quite puzzling why the Nunchuck wasn't used. It would have made a lot more sense. When stationary, the movement of the torch is actually quite good - save for some really weird issues with the sensor bar - but walking causes the torch to become really stiff and awkward. It's disappointing, as when combined with the ridiculously slow walking pace, it really saps the life out of the game. There's no run button, and it can actually be quite agonising sometimes, especially if there's literally nothing happening.

There are actually very few objects to pick up when wandering round the rather linear levels. It's essentially just keys and batteries. Batteries are essentially the player's life bar and when the battery power runs out, that's game over. The game over status can also be achieved by failing a Quick-Time Event, which is how the player can defend themselves. Arrows pop-up on the screen, and the player must move the Wii Remote in the correct direction - it doesn't really seem to be that responsive though. Sometimes waggling the Wii Remote in random directions seems to work perfectly fine, but others, even if the correct motion is done, it doesn't register properly. One of the defensive mechanisms is actually quite ingenious though, as it requires players to maintain a steady hand and point the Wii Remote's cursor at a circle which becomes increasingly smaller. It's actually a really good idea, but it's one of the few present in the game unfortunately.

The game must be given credit for attempting to create a daunting atmosphere, but it doesn't really achieve its goals. The audio is actually quite dire and not convincing at all. After hearing the same audio file for the umpteenth time when walking through a door, it gets pretty tedious instead of unnerving. Graphically the game isn't too bad, but there are noticeable things that help to ruin the illusion, like every character's arm looking identical, and shadows looking rather un-believable. Some of the elements that are put in to scare players might have an effect, but the majority of them fall flat as there's no real interaction. The appeal of the game quickly wears off, and the attempts to scare players get quite old, quite quickly.

There are four chapters to play through, but each one can be completed in around 15-30 minutes. Upon completing levels the player's courage is measured, but it seems entirely random most of the time. Having a game over screen is actually more like torture, because the whole level has to be repeated, and the elements are identical every single time. The same applies to playing the game though a second time, there is literally no point as nothing will be different. It's possible to slightly alter the experience by involving a second player, but again, it gets old very quickly. By pressing buttons on the Wii Remote, they can cause random scare moments, but there is only a very small finite amount of scares. If players are good enough investigators, they will actually be able to unlock a fifth chapter, but overall the game is very short and offers almost no replay value. There is a mode called 'Courage Test', but there doesn't seem to be anything which differentiates itself from the actual game aside from the menus all being disabled. The only way to quit is to literally turn the game off.

Final Thoughts

Ju-On: The Grudge has an interesting premise, allowing players to only defend themselves against Toshio and Kayako. However, it tries to ruin this premise at every opportunity. The story lacks any real substance, and the controls make the game very tedious and boring. On top of this, it's also exceedingly short and with no real replay value this should only be recommend to the hardest of hardcore fans of the movie. Everyone else will probably be left wondering what they are actually playing, and why they are still playing it.

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