Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: JU-ON: The Grudge

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            Rising Star Games’ latest release is markedly different to the titles the publisher has most recently become known for. Though still intrinsically Japanese, JU-ON: The Grudge is a step away from the pastel coloured Role-Playing Games and offbeat Puzzle titles that line-up in Rising Star Games’ portfolio. This interest in expanding their market is echoed with recent international partnerships and the collaboration with Gamebridge which will see the publisher working with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 markets for the first time, but Nintendo consoles are where the publisher has made it’s name, and JU-ON: The Grudge follows Baroque as a title with an interesting hook that could easily be misunderstood.

            Designed by Takashi Shimizuan, an acclaimed Japanese director, JU-ON: The Grudge is described by Rising Star Games as a “Fright Simulator”; a more accurate description of the contents than simply attaching the “Horror Game” tag. Played from a first-person perspective the Electronic Theatre Imageplayer uses only the Wii Remote to control their limited movement. The Wii Remote pointer technology acts as the guiding hand for your torch, casting light on the very dingy locations you’ll be visiting, with the B Button for forward movement and Down on the D-Pad to reverse. Your motion will always follow the angle to which you torch points, and the slow ambling of your character makes for some incredibly tense moments from the very first room.

            After choosing your gender and zodiac sign, the player follows their dog into an abandoned factory with only the aforementioned torch for company. Soon, the light glances the face of what appears to be a young boy, beckoning the player further into the darkness. Needless to say, from this very early introduction the scene is set for some monumental scares, and JU-ON: The Grudge rarely disappoints in that respect.

            Just as with the finest moments in cinematic horror, JU-ON: The Grudge demonstrates that much of the intensity is evoked from not just atmosphere, but association also. The player is constantly governed by the need to gather spare batteries, or else be plunged into Electronic Theatre Imagedarkness, and this need to progress, pushing yourself further into the madness, creates as much tension as the elaborate set-pieces lined-up at nearly every turn. Each Chapter is filled with staged occurrences to get the heart pumping, and a meeting with “the curse” will require the player to respond to an on-screen cue in a short space of time. At the end of each Chapter, the player is assessed based on the input from the Wii Remote movement; the more wild the actions, the worse your appraisal will be.

            The crux of the game is it’s puzzles. Though never once attempting to tread on Resident Evil’s shoes, JU-ON: The Grudge has a fair share of it’s own ideas. Mostly founded within real-world scenarios, many of the puzzles are spoilt by the glowing items that can be spotted even without being directly illuminated with the torch, and backtracking – though still providing it’s fair share of scares – can become tiresome at the lethargic pace.

            Once a Chapter has been completed it can be played through a second time in Courage Mode. While much of the tension is diminished on a second Electronic Theatre Imageplay-through, an additional player can become involved at any point with the use of a second Wii Remote. The additional player can call upon Panic Mode actions, introducing new freights as they please, keeping that first player on their toes.

            JU-ON: The Grudge is a stunning looking game. Much like Condemned using the minimal draw distance to draw top tier visuals from the Xbox 360 early in it’s life cycle, JU-ON: The Grudge uses the mostly still and enclosed environments to render individual items with a much greater degree of detail than is typically expected of Wii, easily putting the likes of The Conduit to shame. The sound effects are, or course, suitably eerie and the lack of speech only adds to the feeling of desolation.

            For all the challenges that videogames face when addressing the connection to other media, interactivity is the keyword that’s most often used to favour with abandon. While many have argued that videogames need to make advances with characterisation and building relationships with on-screen characters to harness this ability to make the participant more than just a bystander, few have argued for the need to convey sensation quite as much. JU-ON: The Grudge is an answer to a question that hadn’t even been asked yet, and for that it’s the of the most progressive titles Wii has yet offered to the recognition of the story-telling ability of videogames.

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