Version tested: Wii
Does the name ring a bell? Ju-On: The Grudge is based on the cult Asian horror movie series of the same name, where a curse is spreading like a virus and once people encounter it the effects are a bit like swine flu, except with more drooling, cackling and bumps in the night. Nope, nothing? It's the sort of thing your trendy friends watch and then instant-message you about, but you never actually watch yourself because you're too busy tweeting about Jedward.
Even if you have seen a film or two, however, the game needs putting in a bit of context. Here you play as Erika Yamada, a young girl who gets in on the grudge when she enters a rundown factory to chase after her dog. The idea, as in the other four episodes that make up the game, is to explore every nook and cranny of an assortment of typically dark and deserted survival-horror environments, snatching up anything not nailed down.
Armed with a mere torch for company, you pace around, shallow of breath, looking for anything glinting in the darkness. The game plays out entirely from first-person perspective, where pointing the Wiimote doubles as both the player's torch and a means of adjusting your viewpoint, pointing it in the appropriate direction moves the camera accordingly, pressing the B button allows you to move forward, and pressing down on the d-pad moves you backwards.
Billed as a 'Fright Simulator', each overly cautious step is presumably meant to emphasise Erika's trepidation about evil things emerging from the inky gloom and murdering her, since they try to do that very often indeed. But rather than build tension, the clunky movement and bizarre pace conspire to murder the game's chances instead. Erika is the slowest-moving person in the history of feet.
The movement speed is so torturously ponderous that a Dalek pumped to the gills with ketamine could probably beat these sloths in a race. The movement system also forces you to point to the left or right of the screen to turn, meaning that you'll frequently find yourself turning suddenly while looking around. As well as this idea works in a fast-paced game like Metroid Prime, in a game as slow as this it quickly proves to be one of many irritants.
Even if you do manage to summon up the strength of character to tolerate the movement and camera system, the gameplay consists almost exclusively of terminally dull exploration. Shambling gamely through dismally dull corridors, you'll methodically check every door, scouring every empty room in the vain hope of stumbling across a discarded key. It's all part of that curious condition known as Survival Horror Syndrome, where your OCD tendencies force you to check everything in case something kills you later because you didn't have enough herbs.
En route, the game always tries to throw in a few obligatory scares in a feeble attempt to approximate the desired "interactive horror experience" that developer Feelplus was shooting for. What it seems to have hit upon, however, is a neat approximation of a half-cut, close-up shot of Lily Allen's face at 3am.
These bizarre encounters with Lily generally coincide with the black-haired lovely croaking something inaudible (hooray, someone took out her voice!), while the game wrestles control away from you for a few moments. As your character's viewpoint lurches wildly around in protest, directional arrows appear at the edges of the screen to instruct you to flail the Wii remote. Get it right and you're punished by being allowed to carry on to the next section, but fail and you're rewarded with a merciful Game Over. A rare moment of relief.
To further keep you on your slow-moving toes, you must also trawl the environment for new batteries, as your frankly useless torch somehow manages to drain one in about three minutes. Perhaps it's bored. Between hunting for keys and batteries, shambling along like a pissed-off ghoul and flailing the remote wildly, you have The Grudge experience summed up in a sentence.
Joking aside, it's a shame, because the developer seems to be aiming somewhere between Fatal Frame and Siren, and that sounds promising. Making the protagonists everyday citizens who can't adequately fight back is interesting, as we delve into the moribund lives of rather helpless individuals caught up in the creeping dread of something they don't understand. I mean, it doesn't work at all in the actual game, and in reviews it really isn't the thought that counts, but somewhere out there in the real world it is.
So it's perhaps unsurprising that The Grudge also fails to make the Wii break sweat in technical terms. Although supposedly based on the real Saeki residence featured in the movie, its approximation of grimy Japanese suburbia is at best generic, and now something of a tired genre cliche. That said, the real problems stem from the fact that exploring these dismal locales is so laborious and slow. You simply have more time to notice how boring the environments really are than you do in a game with a run button, or even normal walking.
But at least there was some unintentional comedy to enjoy as I gallantly battled through the game, like the discovery of future possible internet memes - the regular appearance of a small boy who shrieks like a scalded cat, for example. The game also spreads long black hair over the walls and doors occasionally. It's like a crap cheese dream rather than a nightmare.
Like a cheap ghost train ride, The Grudge also throws in the odd misguided 'BOO!', like a hand grabbing at you from an air vent, or an object lobbed in your direction. Probably the tensest moment in the entire game involves little more than keeping your cursor trained on a moving, contracting circle for a few seconds while Ms Allen whines about how you never make her scream.
And what about the positively miserly two hours it takes to play through the four main episodes? A fifth episode eventually unlocks once you've scoured each and every other one for photo fragments and the like, but it amounts to a flob in the face after repeated knees in the groin. Playing it once through is enough to send you googling for the nearest therapist.
To be fair to publisher Rising Star, it does deserve tremendous credit for regularly bringing unheralded, obscure Asian titles to Europe. More often than not it picks up outstanding games, like Little King's Story, which demonstrate its admirable passion for leftfield offerings that other publishers ignore. Sadly though, in the case of Ju-On: The Grudge, it has picked probably the most excruciatingly leaden survival-horror game of all time, and that took some doing.
2 / 10