All of the product placement, none of the charm.
Judging by the art style of Stranger Things 3: The Game, developer BonusXP was likely looking to remind players of the 2D action games of yesteryear. It’s successful in doing so but only because nothing conjures up the feelings of ‘80s gaming quite like a terrible game based upon a licensed property that you adore. It’s not the type of nostalgia they were aiming for, but this homecoming features plenty of pain.
The game follows the storyline of the third season of Stranger Things very closely, which actually makes its gameplay make little sense. See, most characters in the show are kept separated until near the end of the season. However, most of the puzzle solving here revolves around switching to characters and using their specific abilities to advance. That means you’ll have Jonathan interacting with Dustin early on even though that pairing would be impossible due to how the show actually plays out. This lack of separation kills a lot of the storytelling and makes it quite laughable at times like when Eleven talks about having a sleepover with Max and then her ex-boyfriend Mike suddenly appears.
One major change to the storyline is that they’ve shoehorned a ton of battles into the early portions of the story that weren’t there. Instead of letting the storytelling be the focus early on, everyone looks dumb as they constantly battle mutated rats and Russians without being able to put together what is going on.
The combat is constantly sloppy as it has an automated lock-on that switches from enemies to random debris inside the room. Thankfully, almost every battle becomes a breeze if you just switch to Eleven, as her blasts do more damage than any of the kids’ attacks. The only battles I actually enjoyed were the boss fights, although they’re mostly just sponges that take a ton of hits while the player avoids their powerful attacks.
Occasionally, some quests pop up that aren’t from the season itself that tie-in nicely to the core story. Like Mike’s mom getting her son to buy her stuff before her planned romantic evening with Billy. However, these moments are few and far between, and the game mostly focuses on delivering the story from the show poorly instead of fleshing out the town and cast of characters of Hawkins, Indiana.
The only aspect of the show that Stranger Things 3: The Game actually nails is in its product placement. The player has to drink cans of New Coke in order to restore energy, which is used for special attacks and abilities. This is just as blatant as in the show itself, so at least it is accurate.
Despite not seemingly pushing the Nintendo Switch’s hardware in any way, Stranger Things 3: The Game still suffers from technical issues. It regularly drops frames just running around the environments and doesn’t get any better with combat. I eventually got used to it, as it just became an accepted shortcoming after a few hours, but it’s ridiculous that such a simple title is running worse than most games on the system.
Stranger Things 3: The Game won’t appeal to fans of the television show as it’s a frustrating experience that reminds you of all of the high points of the third season but never actually reaches them itself. Instead you are stuck with a bunch of dull fights to get through, bland puzzles to solve, and reading pieces of dialogue from the show without any sort of performance by the actors. Don’t tarnish your memories of the third season by playing this.