Two decades later, is Megan any less obnoxious?
I remember the Video Game Violence senate hearings like they were yesterday. Who knew that my bright pink Lethal Enforcers light-gun would turn me into a raging psychopath? Or that the clunky Mega Drive port of Mortal Kombat was such a threat to society? Then there was Night Trap, the Mega CD game that rewarded players for assaulting teenage girls. Or something.
It’s easy to look back and laugh at the ridiculousness of such a furor, but it really wasn’t funny at the time. As a gamer it was fucking annoying being treated like a sociopath by the media, whilst having to defend your hobby to your parents, who now thought you were huddled upstairs over Murder Simulators. Thank God gaming is treated with less hostility and more reverence today… right?
For anyone who missed out on that particular period of hysteria, indie-outfit Screaming Villains have just the flashback you need. 25 years since it was pulled from Toys ‘R’ Us, the lobbyist-worrying and youth-corrupting Night Trap is back, ready to ruin a whole new generation of children’s minds. Has time been kind to the notorious title, a staple of many “Worst Game Ever” lists? Let’s dive headlong into a plume of dry ice and find out.
Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (PS4 [reviewed], PC)
Developer: Screaming Villains
Publisher: Screaming Villains
Released: August 15, 2017
Night Trap sees you join unfortunately-named badasses SCAT (Special Control Attack Team) who are currently investigating the Martins, a well-off couple whose daughter, Sarah, hosted a party from which its guests never returned. Having hacked into the Martin household’s intricate surveillance system, the player must spy on Sarah’s latest slumber soiree via a selection of CCTV cameras, utilizing a series of traps, hidden around the home, to capture anyone (or anything) that may have bad intentions of harming the five girls in attendance.
As the 30-minute story progresses, the mystery surrounding the missing guests unfolds, with chaos ensuing as the house becomes over-run with vampiric creatures, known as “Augers.” It is the player’s responsibility to capture the Augers, take down the Martin family, and save the ’80s haircut-rockin’ babes, all whilst resisting the ever-present and overwhelming urge to drop Megan, the “funny” one, down the chute yourself. Pretty exciting stuff.
It is in execution, however, that Night Trap loses its luster. Running in real-time, gameplay essentially boils down to the player clicking from room to room, trapping the bin-bag wearing Augers as they shuffle throughout the house in scenes replayed ad nauseum. Should you miss a certain percentage of Augers, it’s Game Over, meaning you have to be so on-point with catching the baddies that gameplay becomes entirely robotic.
Any time spent watching the hilariously awkward drama will cause you to miss Augers by the bucket load; even ten seconds spent in one room can be five seconds too long. Frustratingly, you can be locked out of the trap system entirely if you don’t pay attention to the game’s dialogue, as vital hints are dropped as to when to reset the colour-coded security system.
As such, Night Trap is a game that is defeated by its own concept. There are often numerous narrative scenes happening simultaneously, but you have no time to watch them, you’re needed in other rooms, trapping the blood-sucking chumps. Then you might find yourself suddenly locked out of the system because you missed a crucial piece of dialogue. First-time players may find it a very frustrating experience in trial-and-error, and for a game that isn’t particularly playable to begin with, frustration is the last thing your audience desires.
At least the game has an undeniable charm to it. The characters are amusing in their flatness and some woeful effects and acting help keep things amusing. Once you approach the story’s finale, it’s quite easy to become caught up in the wacky, low-budget chaos that unfolds on-screen. Defeating the Martins is a ridiculous, yet somehow satisfying experience. For all its technical flaws, at least Night Trap can still raise a smile.
Screaming Villains have added some delightful new features to spruce up the stale gameplay. The video itself is as crisp as it’ll likely ever be, and even includes some never-before-seen footage. The thumbnail menu representing the camera feeds are now video previews, giving the player a heads-up of when and where danger lurks. This release also features a new mode; Survivor, which has you take down an endless stream of randomized Augers until they eventually take over the house. It’s a fun addition.
Some neat aesthetic options include a newly-designed HUD, as well as recreations of the HUDs from previous releases of the game. The trap system’s current code setting is even reflected in the colored lights beaming from the PS4 controller, a minor, but very cool touch which made me squeal with delight.
The 25th Anniversary Edition also has an interesting selection of extras, unlocked after various in-game conditions are met. These include a new 2017 interview with co-creator/director Jim Riley and some nostalgic production materials. The best feature, however, is a full recreation of Night Trap prototype Scene of the Crime. This is the first time that this has been readily available ever, and as such it is a pretty notable piece of gaming history.
Screaming Villains took a “barely playable experience” and have worked damn hard to transform it into a “somewhat tolerable game.” At its relatively budget price, it’s a nice purchase as a cute museum piece, a cheesy slice of gaming history. It certainly has its appeal, and some very smart extras. But it must be clearly stated that the game itself, whilst definitely improved, remains as linear, as short-lived, and occasionally as frustrating as it has always been.
The fact is, regardless of any review, you already know whether or not you’re going to buy Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition. You knew as soon as it was announced. Maybe you’re thinking of picking it up out of nostalgia, or irony. Maybe you missed it the first time around, or maybe you just want to see all those scenes of hardcore sex and violence you were warned about. That said, maybe you simply think it will always remain a terrible atrocity on gaming, one that should have remained buried in the mid-nineties.
For whatever it’s worth, I like Night Trap. It is a bad game, but I like it. Screaming Villains’ love-letter to one of the most notorious video games of all time has to be the most oddly-conceived re-release in gaming history. But I can’t think of another game, that’s so bad, that somehow deserves the recognition so much.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]