The other night I made a mistake. An awful mistake that, even today – almost two days later – I’m still paying for. Through my Gamefly account, I rented Ju-on: The Grudge. For those that don’t remember it even coming out (and chances are, you don’t), it released in October of 2009 on the Nintendo Wii. I don’t expect pity; it’s not like I should have expected much considering that this was not only a licensed title, but also a game that labeled itself as a “Haunted House Simulator”. If the 2004 film gave you any chills, then the game is bound to terrify you beyond belief – just not in the way it should.
If Clerks’ Randal Graves thought The Lord of the Rings movies were an entire boring saga of nothing but walking, then Ju-On: The Grudge would drive him to suicide. From the moment the game inexplicably starts to the moment I had to turn it off (approximately 1 hour into it), the player is forced to walk at a painstakingly slow pace through dimly lit environments. To counteract against the engulfing darkness, you’re equipped with a flashlight; one that has apparently been outfitted with a bulb from one of those LED keychain lights from the ‘90s.
I’d love to comment on the graphics, but I’m not so sure what I was even looking at. I can tell you with confidence that the in-game doors are nothing to write home about, but were designed well enough to be recognizable as a door. Beyond that, there may have been a foldable ladder; some scattered televisions in hospital rooms; and maybe even some turned over desks in a rundown factory. If there were some adequate source of light beyond the battery draining flashlight, the environments and textures that the development staff at feelplus seemingly worked hard to include may have actually been distinguishable.
The story of Ju-on is, for lack of a better phrase, complete crap. Through text-based descriptors at the start of each level, we learn that the game follows a family’s ill-fated encounter with the infamous specter from the film series, Kayako, and other unknown spirits (onryo). Beyond that, Ju-On offers no excuse for its events – and really, there’s no reason why it should go to the trouble of fleshing out this terrible game.
Ju-on is a “Haunted House Simulator”, which is not quite a Survival Horror Title and is far from being even a remotely good idea. Haunted attractions thrive off of atmosphere, something that can be quite difficult to create in a video game. It’s not just the jump scares that make an attraction effective but also what happens when you’re not being intentionally scared. Ju-on attempts to play up these side aspects of a haunted attraction by mixing together random loud noises, “spooky” encounters with elusive ghostly figures, and a feeling of helplessness against the supernatural foe. In this execution, none of it works. You would think not being able to see anything would increase the fright factor, but it really winds up frustrating you into thinking you’re missing some cool or super spooky visual gag; and honestly, I can’t attest to whether or not something was happening on screen.
At certain points of the game, you will encounter Kayako as she struggles with you in a one-sided hand-to-hand grapple. With a few random shakes of the WiiMote, you’ll free yourself of the spirits grasp with ease – officially turning the creepy long haired girl into the least feared horror antagonist. Rather than outfit your character with a health or psyche bar that could decrease with each encounter, you have to scour the impossibly dark environment for scattered batteries. If the battery on your flashlight runs out, Kayako looses patience and finally kills your character. Essentially, the entire game is timed – a factor that very few gamers actually enjoy.
Ju-On: The Grudge isn’t all that bad, though – it worked plenty well as a sleep aid. I’ve played bad games before and can typically find some form of enjoyment out of them. With The Grudge, there is no enjoyment to be had.