The upside down shenanigans of Hawkins, Indiana ignites sparks of adventure in us all, evoking desire for nostalgic companionship and retro aesthetics that BonusXP have compacted into 16-bit style. Defending the town against that pesky Mind Flayer from the comfort of your pillow fort has never been easier with the second Stranger Things game released from BonusXP (ST 2: The Game must be hiding with Barb) and a neat companion to have on hand during the after show blues.
To avoid every spoiler imaginable, gameplay should not commence until after you’ve binged Season 3 on Netflix, as the game plot follows it’s TV counterpart thoroughly but to its own detriment. Also broken into eight chapters, game progression is predictable and drags during cut-scenes and a majority of the on-screen dialogue. Some minor extensions to the narrative prolongs combat and looting but is not integral to the overall story. These continuations, however, seem nonsensical and pretty pointless at times with little reward.
With twelve playable characters to unlock and explore various locations of Hawkins in isometric view, this SNES reminiscent brawler offers little more than a couple of hours of novelty. Beat ‘em up games are a joy to play when they have other components to support the repetitive and unchallenging combat consisting of A button bashing, but Stranger Things has minimal assistance with this. The iconic synth score from the show is reduced to one or two monotonous loops and there is no attempt to stray from the source material and delve further into the lore that the Duffer Brothers created. It’s almost like watching Season Three back with pixelated graphics and a sore right thumb.
Supporting local co-op allows you and a friend to complete quests together via split screen – kickstarting your D&D gang – while single player gameplay supplies you with two characters to play with at all times, toggling between the two via “buddy commands”. Each of the twelve PC’s you unlock stay in your party and can be switched in and out of your active double-act, as some characters have special abilities to cut through chains or crack some vault door codes. Looting involves pulverizing very random items such as bushes, scattered handbags and residents televisions (rude) that sometimes spit out crafting materials and/or energy that allows your characters to use their special attacks. Collected materials are an homage to the eighties era and the money collected from eliminating a shit tonne of Russians, baby Mind Flayers or rats is viewed as pocket money. Cute.
Assuming your hellbent on completing every mundane side quest – like picking up a new hair dryer for Mrs Wheeler – gameplay should last around the ten hour mark, that is if you don’t get stuck near the beginning, scratching your head over the vaguest of puzzle clues. Once you’ve completed the standard run-through, Eliminator Mode is unlocked for you to play again, except this time if a member of your party dies, they’re gone for good. I can’t imagine anyone having the patience to complete it a second time.
Viewed purely as a complimentary throwback to retro gaming and the show itself, the game is mildly entertaining and may actually be 100 percent more enjoyable if you’ve never seen an episode of Stranger Things. It’s compact nature is perfectly suited to the Switch or mobile platforms but perhaps not for consoles with your 4K flat-screen. Nobody needs to see a pixelated Scoops Ahoy that closely.