I’m not going to bother with my usual tirade about movie-licensed titles. The song remains the same as it’s always been: plug a license into a generic game design model and watch the hypothetical dollars roll in. Innovation is rarely a concern with these sorts of titles, which makes Ju-On: The Grudge sting even more than it should.
Based on the series of Japanese films that share its name, Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator (I’ll just call it Ju-On for brevity’s sake), decides to forego traditional game trappings for, well, a haunted house simulator. Instead of being concerned with combat or conflict or other traditional game trappings, Ju-On instead tasks you, playing as one of five characters, with the singular goal of escaping from a spooky location (apartment building, factory, etc.) before your flashlight runs out of precious battery juice. Along the way, you’ll be confronted by the two infamous ghosts of Ju-On, the yowling cat boy or his croaking sister.
While the mechanics seem novel and fairly refreshing, and they certainly are, they are unfortunately hamstrung by positively broken controls. In theory, the Wiimote-only based system is almost elegant in its outright simplicity: pointing the Wiimote will aim your flashlight in the direction you wish to go, and a squeeze of the trigger will send you walking in that direction. At least, this is how it is supposed to work. In reality, the absolutely horrendous tracking will alternate between locking you into a single axis or spinning you until you get the Wiimote back into the “sweet spot” where it will stay at least partially still. This is a nearly constant problem, and kills whatever sense of dread the game is trying to build by frustrating you to the point of screaming anger, which is truly tragic given how minimal the game’s genuine frights are.
Alas, therein lies the real rub of Ju-On: as a haunted house simulator, it simply isn’t scary. It tries its little digital heart out, dropping random chunks of crap on you from above and occasionally introducing you to the two ghosts. Unfortunately, the ghosts themselves aren’t much of a threat, with the boy doing nothing more than meow at you and the girl being easily avoided by waggling the Wiimote in response to onscreen cues.
True, these sort of cheap scares are the bread and butter of real-life haunts from the lowliest community effort to the epic corporate affairs, but they simply don’t work in a digital format. Here, stiff graphics and the aforementioned awful controls work constantly against your sense of immersion, insuring that the lame scares become almost comical in their execution. When the boy popped in the bottom of the frame like Scorpion’s fatality in Mortal Kombat II (“Toasty!”) I was roaring with laughter, not screaming with fright.
There’s really no reason for anyone to purchase Ju-On. It’s an offense to fans of the film, it’s an affront to gamers, and an unacceptably bad licensed game to be released in the same year as Ghostbusters, Riddick, and Arkham Asylum. Novel idea or not, this Grudge really is a curse.