In March 2010, a highly under-the-radar Wii game named Calling
was released in the U.S., a few months after its Japanese debut. This horror game was immediately panned by critics,
and currently holds an abysmal 49/100 on Metacritic.
I'm a sucker for anything that even remotely resembles horror, so a friend and I got it through Gamefly and played the entire thing from beginning to end. It's cheesy, it's linear, and it's filled with more Japanese horror cliches than you can shake a stick at.
Well, maybe I'm also a sucker for stuff that other people tend to hate, because I loved every second of it.
The premise of Calling
isn't award-winning -- There's a website called the Black Page, and it has nothing but a counter that shows how many people have died after visiting the site. The main character, Rin, goes to the Black Page because she promised she'd visit a little girl in the hospital. When the girl wasn't there, she checked the website, which the girl also frequented. It all spirals downhill from there, getting more and more people involved.
I honestly can't tell if this guy is enjoying himself or not.
The reason the game is actually called Calling
is because cell phones play a huge part. You're called by spirits, you call spirits, your phone's camera can see the supernatural, etc. One of the things that pulled me in is that once you find a phone number, you have to dial it yourself. While you're dialing, you could be attacked, or even in the middle of a fight that's already started. Since you don't actually fight back, you have to run fast enough and far away enough to pull your phone out and dial before you're killed. Since you have to use the d-pad to get to the numbers on the phone, this can get a little annoying, but there's only one spot in the game that actually makes this overly difficult, so it's not terrible. This manual use of the phone also brings the Wii Remote's speaker into play. I've always thought that the only really good use of that speaker was to emulate a phone, and this game is no exception. When you hear spirits talking to you through your phone, you actually have to hold the Remote up to your ear to hear their voices, which is a lot cooler than just sitting there and hearing sound come out of your TV.
Speaking of the Wii Remote, let's talk about the controls for a minute. I had played Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
and Ju-on: The Grudge
prior to playing Calling.
As much as I loved Fatal Frame
was an insult of a "game"), it had one major problem: The controls were terrible. Instead of using the Sensor Bar that comes with EVERY Wii console, aiming in both games was taken care of using the actual motion in the controller, making it very unresponsive. Calling
completely does away with that terrible design flaw, and actually uses accurate, line-of-sight IR aiming goodness. Not only that, but there's a run button mapped to the Nunchuk, so the game can be as quick or slow as you want it to be. I've always believed that the Metroid Prime
games always had the best controls on the Wii, and Calling
comes pretty close to those.
The gameplay itself, as I said, isn't anything a fan of horror (especially Japanese) hasn't seen, but I love that stuff, so I welcomed it with open arms. There are some genuinely scary parts in the game that you wouldn't expect to see, because they break the fourth wall a lot. There's one particular spirit who doesn't do anything except look at you for about half a second before he disappears through the bottom of your screen. This ghost ONLY shows up if you do a quick turn or even exit a menu to get back into the game. The menu will fade out and here he'll be, out of NOWHERE, and he'll just disappear as soon as you see him. There's no reason for him to even exist outside of making you wet yourself, which is the kind of cheesy stuff that I love, especially when he wasn't there at all when you first went into the menu screen.
There's one feature in particular that I want to talk about, something that NONE of the reviews on Metacritic touch on -- Trust me, I checked. Calling
has an absolutely EXCELLENT interactive feature with the Wii's Message Board. When you quit playing the game, you'll find that you have a message on your console. But when you go to read it, it won't be in a nice, neat, white envelope like normal, oh no. It'll be in a burned up, decrepit envelope, and when you open it, it'll show you a picture of who's going to die next in the game. This... is awesome. I don't care if you hate this game's guts, you can't deny that this is a cool feature. And it doesn't end there. Throughout the game, you'll find another spirit that has no bearing on the story -- She's just there to creep you out. She's known only as the Girl in Red, and she's the nastiest, most unnerving thing in this game. When you find her, you'll get a message on your Wii in a crimson-colored envelope. The writing won't be all nice and typed -- It'll be scrawled messily on the digital paper. One letter I got literally said "I was watching you today," with a giant eye drawn under the foreboding words. NOT ONE SINGLE REVIEWER mentioned this feature, and it's probably the coolest thing I've seen in a video game this generation. To my knowledge, no other games on ANY other platform actually do anything like this. It's totally unique and a hell of a scare, and no one mentioned it. It blew my mind then, and it blows my mind now.
This is actually a message received in the Wii Message Board -- OUTSIDE of the game.
Now, the game was panned, and that's because it wasn't perfect. The story was very, very lackluster, even though it wasn't the worst I've ever seen. There are no plot twists -- What you see in the beginning is what you get throughout the entire thing. The voice acting is also probably one of the worst attempts I've ever heard in gaming, so it's a damn good thing you can switch to the original Japanese voices instead of suffering through the English dub. The replay value is also moderately low, although there is an extra chapter to unlock and all the Girl in Red appearances to go back and get.
may not have been the greatest game ever released, and it may not have been the scariest. But it certainly wasn't a bad game. I immediately bought a copy once we were done with the Gamefly rental, and I've been happy with it ever since. The Message Board integration is unlike anything else I've ever seen, and takes the happy feeling of the Wii and turns it upside-down, leaving you sweating even after the game is turned off. No other game I've played does that, and I think Calling
deserves recognition for it. If you have a chance, give it a shot if you're as much of a horror lover as I am -- A little cheesiness never hurt anyone when it's presented this well.