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Stranger Things 3: The Game is the video game adaptation of the third season of Netflix’s hit series, Stranger Things. It is developed by BonusXP, the same indie studio responsible for 2017’s Stranger Things: The Game, a mobile game that accompanied season two. Like the season of the show it is based on, Stranger Things 3: The Game tells the story of a small town named Hawkins in the state of Indiana, that is plagued with a growing assortment of sci-fi mishaps. Since the show is set in the 1980’s, Stranger Things 3: The Game has a retro visual style but with notably modern gameplay mechanics. Video game adaptations of movies and tv shows are often lackluster at best, and considering how merchandised Stranger Things has become, there’s a possibility that this could be an easy cash grab. Is Stranger Things 3: The Game an quality indie adaptation, or another attempt at cashing in on a popular show?
The Summer of 1985
If Stranger Things 3: The Game gets one thing right about adapting a show into a game, it’s keeping the story accurate to the source material. The game is described as a “companion game” to season three of Stranger Things, and that’s a very good way of putting it. The game is broken up into chapters based on the eight episodes of the television show, summarizing the story content into bite-sized playable quests. Scenes from the show are depicted almost line-for-line by the pixelated characters, and all of the major locations of interest are represented and fully explorable. As such, it’s very hard to describe the narrative of Stranger Things 3: The Game without spoiling moments from the show.
That said, the narrative follows Mike, Eleven, Will, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and an assortment of other characters living in Hawkins. The main cast of characters are a group of young friends on summer vacation, along with the town sheriff Hopper and various family members. Stranger Things 3: The Game assumes that you know a decent amount about these characters and have seen the show, as their character development is confined to little more than small bursts of text dialogue and loading screen tool-tips. At the beginning of the game, Hawkins is bustling with excitement after a brand new mall opens up. The introduction of the Starcourt Mall has added a burst of color and culture to the small town, but at the cost of small businesses losing customers and foot traffic. Hard timers become harder as tensions rise among friends and odd events begin to pop up.
As mysterious Russian gangsters start to show up in town things get far more serious, and the group of friends take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of things. This leads the cast on a winding adventure full of sci-fi action, cheeky 80’s references, and pixelated violence.
Save the Lifeguard, Save the World
The game plays from a slightly isometric view, allowing players to explore locations that are interconnected by an overall world map. You’ll start out in the Starcourt Mall as Mike and Lucas, checking out various shops and activities. Since the story and quests often involve various characters at any given point, you won’t stick to playing as one person. With the simple tap of the trigger buttons, you can switch between any of your unlocked characters at any given time. Whether you play solo or with a friend, there will always be two characters on-screen. Each character has a unique attack and abilities, and you’ll often need to use them to progress. For instance, Dustin can hack through electronic locks and chests, while Lucas can blow up rock formations with his bombs.
You’ll always have some sort of quest or overall objective, leading you to new locations as you unlock characters and power-ups. In addition to main story quests, you can also find fun side missions scattered throughout the world. These range from standard fetch quests and light puzzle solving to combat scenarios and humorous collectible hunts. The world is also littered with objects that you can destroy, often rewarding you with loose change or valuable items. Some items can be combined together at crafting stations to make trinkets, which provide passive upgrades to your attacks, movement, and abilities. You’ll find these side missions and collectibles through exploring areas thoroughly, so Stranger Things 3: The Game rarely feels middling or repetitive by rewarding your curiosity.
Generally speaking, the gameplay in Stranger Things 3: The Game is straightforward and easy-to-follow. Despite its various RPG elements, everything is laid out in a digestible manner that doesn’t feel stilted by too many tutorials. Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or just a Stranger Things fan that barely plays games, Stranger Things 3: The Game is welcoming and accessible. Like the show, it takes a bit of time to get going, but once you have a decent party of characters and a full understanding of the various mechanics, Stranger Things 3: The Game feels rewarding and enjoyable as its own experience.
Super Stranger Things
The immediate draw of Stranger Things 3: The Game comes from its charming 16-bit(ish) graphical style, which resembles a late-era Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo game. Every character and location is presented in a charming pixel art style, adding a hefty amount of personality to the experience. Watching memorable scenes from the show play out in this retro format are an absolute treat. The visual style, accompanied by various musical queues and songs make the game feel appropriately nostalgic.
That said, I did run into some stuttering issues during my time with the game. It’s not something that ruins the experience, but it does pop up pretty frequently. It’s more pronounced when using melee characters, as the camera has a tendency to lock up for a few frames following an attack. Beyond the occasional stutter, the game is solid on a technical and presentation level, and I rarely ran into any glitches or bugs.
Should You Play Stranger Things 3: The Game?
At first, Stranger Thing 3: The Game might see like a pretty straightforward retro adaptation with easy-to-learn controls and a simplistic gameplay loop. However, you’ll quickly learn that the game has plenty of personality itself, and a surprising amount of nuance in its combat and exploration. As you begin to unlock more characters and the game’s puzzles and quests get more difficult, you’ll find that Stranger Things 3: The Game has far more substance than you might expect. It’s also a blast to play with a friend and great for both gaming veterans and newcomers.
Stranger Things 3: The Game offers a good chunk of content for its low asking price of $20. It took me approximately 6 hours to complete my adventure in Hawkins, and that includes finding more than half of the hidden collectibles and seeking out all the extra side missions. Several difficulty levels and a New Game + option give this game some decent replayability as well. I went into Stranger Things 3: The Game will decently high expectations, and they were surprisingly met. If you’re a fan of the Netflix television show it’s based on, you will probably love playing through Stranger Things 3: The Game.
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This game was reviewed on the Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher.