Ju-On: The Grudge starts off very quickly. After a bizarre cutscene of a curious dog running around, you’re suddenly standing in a dark room holding a flashlight. This is where the dog went, it’s a factory. Pointing the Wiimote around to look, you mash every button and discover that B moves you forward. The room is dark and quiet until you take a step; the footstep echoes off the metal floor and bounces around the room. There are no prompts, the game hasn’t explained the controls yet. Is this real? Where’s the tutorial? There’s a door ahead, you make sure you know how to step backwards before approaching it. Down on the d-pad? Sure, why not. There’s something on the door, it looks like two handprints. Is someone trapped? This is the only door in the room, how did you even get here? All you can do is go through and look for answers.
Ghost! A pale little boy jumps out at you after you open the door. A right arrow appears on the screen over the ghost, WHAT does that mean? You shake the controller wildly to the right, point it right, press right on the d-pad; all in a rushed effort to somehow get rid of the ghost. The controls register, but you’re unsure which one worked because you pressed everything. Left arrow now, press everything to the left this time! Phew, it worked. Is that it? The ghost trails off and leaves you alone for now, but doesn’t appear defeated. What IS this game?
This is the game. What do you do? Nothing. You can’t do anything. Ju-On puts you in situations where curiosity leads you to dangerous places, it drags you along with carrots and pokes you with scares when you get close to something. Lights flicker, objects move, pillars collapse, phones ring. The goal is to follow the weird shit and endure it.
The game is made up of 5 stages, and each stage has you in the role of a different family member succumbing to the curse of the grudge in their own way. The gameplay is very basic and all you can do is look around and walk until something happens. When shit hits the fan you’ve got to shake the Wiimote in certain directions to avoid danger. Here’s a spoiler; the four directions are up, down, left and right. There’s one interesting mini-game where a circle scrolls across the screen, and you have to keep the cursor aimed inside the circle as it moves. It sounds simple but when there’s a bloody eyed corpse staring you in the face and glitching around the room it’s a little hard to focus on the box. As cool as this sequence is, it only happens twice in the game and that’s the extent of the interactions.
The flashlight controls are really bad, and this almost ruins the experience because looking around is all you do. There’s an issue with the dead zone of the pointer, because everything goes out of whack very easily. Move the Wiimote too fast and it gets stuck and keeps sliding sideways for a few seconds. I found it difficult to get used to because I wanted to look around really fast like an FPS, and the characters orientation / eyes couldn’t keep up. Eventually I found the finesse with slow movements, but it’s still clunky and annoying. I suppose this makes the game scarier, but it’s really just poor coding.
Picking up objects is another awkward part of the game. Sometimes you’ll need to grab a key from a desk to proceed through a door, and often it’s a struggle just to bring up the “A” prompt to interact with it and pick it up. You might have to hump an object from multiple angles before it’ll let you touch it, it’s like trying to pick up at a dance club. I had to grab every collectable in the game to unlock the 5th level, and this was a real challenge because of how sloppy it was. For ages I was missing one fragment, which I eventually found by accident as the “A” prompt to grab it showed up, but I still couldn’t see it. It turned out to be a spec of dirt on a high pillar, which didn’t look like anything at all.
The game rates your reactions in each level, and it’s something you can’t really win. If your fear meter is high then you’re a scaredy wuss. If it’s low then you’re soulless, average and lack passion. I was mostly a scaredy cat because I liked to look around at every little thing. It felt like the game was punishing me for being interested, because you get Game Over when the flashlight runs out of battery. It’s pretty easy to pick up spare batteries, but I also found it easy to forget about that aspect.
One thing Ju-On does right is the environments, the game looks amazing and the graphics are consistent and detailed. The scares are well scripted and there’s a lot of frightening moments and unexpected events. I’d really like to see some more experienced developers tackle this again, because it has great direction and promise. I found it refreshing that the game didn’t explain every button and never wastes the players time. It’s a very good horror story, just a poorly executed game with cumbersome controls and very stiff movement. It’s also very short, with each of the 5 chapters lasting 20 minutes each. Ju-On is a game that’s probably better to watch a friend play than to actually play.