Review: Calling

People like to criticize cheap scares, but I frankly love them. A slow walk down a dark corridor followed by a shameless “BOO” moment works every time. Don’t get me wrong, creepy psychological horror is great, but sometimes you just want something to jump from behind a bush and scream at you. 

This is why Calling looked so promising. It is a shameless collection of Japanese horror cliches — long black hair, scary little girls, sentient dolls — and an equally shameless purveyor of cheap thrills and by-the-books shock tactics. Unrefined, unoriginal, but certainly a laugh. 

Oh, but how wrong I was. Calling may provide all the cheap scares in the business, but when the fear evaporates, you need something substantial backing it up. Does Calling have that backup? Of course it doesn’t. Read on as we review Calling.

Calling (Wii) 
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Released: March 9, 2010
MSRP: $39.99

Calling casts players as four alternating characters as they navigate The Otherworldly Realm of Japanese Horror Tropes. Take The Grudge, mix in Ringu, and spice it up with every other Asian horror movie you can think of, and you’ve got Calling. It’s got the scary girl, it’s got the obligatory school and hospital environments, it’s got black hair plastered everywhere, and it’s got spooky telephone calls. Calling is shamelessly unoriginal, which actually works in its favor. By sticking to the classics, it at least manages to possess a tried and tested horror atmosphere. 

At first this atmosphere really works, too. The first two levels are tremendous for building huge amounts of tension, and scaring the player with loud noises, faces appearing in windows, and ghosts jumping out to attack. Unfortunately, however, the scares soon dry up as players get used to the familiar tricks, and what’s left is a very boring, very unimaginative experience that frustrates and tires more than it terrifies. 

Most of the game is spent wandering around in near-blackness, wondering where the Hell to go next. Very few directions are given, and the game is so dark that you can barely see where you’re going. The vast majority of the gameplay, such that it is, involves walking along corridors, guessing which doors can be opened, and searching rooms for items that may or may not be so small and insignificant that they may as well be invisible. If that’s your idea of fun, then Calling‘s slow, plodding, mostly weary offering is for you!

The central gimmick is the use of cellphones. It’s something that has been done on the Wii before (No More Heroes springs to mind) but Calling takes it one step further by constantly harassing you with “scary” phone calls that bark from the Wii remote’s speaker. As the game progresses, players will use their cellphone to transport from one area to another, record ghostly sounds to receive messages, and speak to other characters. 

While a neat idea, the developers decided that the cellphone gimmick should be more long-winded and annoying than it needed to be. For one, you have to manually input phone numbers every time you need to make a call. The cellphones won’t remember them. Also, if you close the phone for any reason while halfway through putting a number in, you have to start again. This is infuriating during a particular section when you have to phone your way out of a room full of ghosts, but the ghosts keep grabbing you while you’re putting the number in and you have to keep starting over. It also means you’ll wind up with a sheet of physical paper full of numbers if you want to play the game with anything approaching convenience. 

Combat in the game involves, unsurprisingly, waggle. Although it’s not really combat, per se. Every now and then, you’ll get accosted by a ghost who grabs your arms and gets in your face while making stupid noises. You simple wave the controller around, and press the A button when prompted. The prompt lasts for a fraction of a split-second, so it’s quite common to miss. If you miss, your “Horror Meter” rises until the ghost is shaken free. The Horror Meter is basically health, and when it climbs too high, you get game over. 

To break up the repetitive combat and the dull exploration, Calling throws some of the laziest, most vapid puzzles in the world. Sliding panel puzzles, maths puzzles, they’re all here, and they’re all boring and something you’d expect to find in the back of a magazine as opposed to a videogame. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where the puzzles were taken from. 

While we’re at it, the game’s unskippable cutscenes, some of which are boring reams of white text on a black background, and in-game dialog text that can’t be skipped until five seconds after you’ve read it only help to bog down an already tiresome experience. 

We can at least be somewhat positive on the game’s presentation. Graphically, it looks and sounds just about acceptable by Wii standards, although the environments look rather drab and substandard. The lighting is effective (when there is light) and the sound remains relatively creepy throughout. The atmosphere is Calling‘s only outstanding point, but it’s an atmosphere you easily get used to once you’ve trudged down five identical corridors, opened five identical doors, and explored five identical rooms with nothing in them. As accomplished as the spooky aura is, it’s simply not enough to make up for how mediocre the experience is. 

Calling is, essentially, a waste of time. I’ll happily tell you that I never saw the end of this. I got to a point where I’d explored every single room of an area but had no idea how to get out. I’d opened every cupboard and every door, and figured that maybe I was missing an item that was small and obscure, as I had done so many times before. Either way, it was more than I could stand. The game is mind-numbing in how repetitive and murky and simply uninteresting it is. The worst part is that it had plenty of promise as an unoriginal-but-fun fright fest. It traded in the scares for grinding repetition and long walks down black hallways that stop being creepy as soon as you realize that the game is just stalling for time and has no intention of surprising you. 

A miserable little game that does nothing for anybody. 

Score: 3.5 — Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)

Jim Sterling