Ju-On: The Grudge Review
Ju-On: The Grudge box art
System: Wii Review Rating Legend
Dev: feelplus 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: XSEED 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct. 13, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

The concept behind Ju-On: The Grudge is quite innovative. It's something of a survival-horror game, but it takes place from the first-person perspective and there are no weapons; it bills itself as a "haunted house simulator." Armed with only a flashlight, you explore various spooky locales loosely based on settings from the hit Japanese movie Ju-On: The Grudge (remade as simply The Grudge in English). It's a brilliant idea that, so far as we know, hasn't been tried before, and in many ways it works well. Unfortunately, the game has more fundamental flaws than it should, and thus is works better as an inspiration to other developers than a worthwhile endeavor in its own right.

Ju-On: The Grudge screenshot

On the bright side, this game does create a genuinely spooky vibe, at least when it's played in the dark. While the graphics are only about average for the Wii, and the game steals a lot of the Resident Evil aesthetic (dark, dank indoor settings, items that sparkle so you notice them), a lot of attention was paid to what really counts: the timing, sound, and lighting. The noises and music make you tense at just the right moments. As you poke around in the dark, swinging your Wii-mote like a flashlight, you have no idea when you'll catch a glimpse of a wandering ghost, nearly be hit with a falling piece of ceiling, or even be accosted by the cursed woman herself, Kayako Saeki. Saeki's trademark long, gross hair also pops up from time to time.

This really should get old quickly, and the sight of Saeki moving her head in awkward ways is probably overused, but each scene is so well crafted that it doesn't. The imagery is haunting and disturbing without being overly gory; the game earns its M rating, but not by a large margin. Given the huge risks the developers took (after all, this is some combination of survival horror, first-person action, and rail shooter, minus the weapons), it's amazing it works so well.

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Don't shut off your computer and run to the nearest game retailer, however. Most of this game's flaws are apparent in the first few minutes of play, and they never stop dragging the experience down. One is that, like the old Resident Evil games with their "tank controls," this game pulls off many of its scares by making it difficult for you to handle your character. For example, you walk very, very slowly. This is frustrating when you're racing the clock (when your flashlight's battery runs out, you're dead), and it would feel less fake if it were connected to some sort of "fear" gauge that increased as you battled demons (think the sanity meter in Eternal Darkness).

Ju-On: The Grudge screenshot

The control woes don't end there. Perhaps to make the game playable without a Nunchuk, walking was mapped to the B button, which feels very awkward. Turning is a chore as well; it happens the same way it does in Metroid Prime 3 or The Conduit (by moving your pointer toward the side of the screen), but it hasn't been calibrated as carefully here. Also, because there's no Nunchuk support, there's no strafing, making corners far more awkward than they need to be. Backward walking is mapped to down on the D-pad, and you can do a Resident Evil style 180-degree turn by flicking the Wii-mote quickly.

When scary things happen, the game takes control of your character, essentially putting you on rails for brief periods. This is handled well enough that it never feels cheap or frustrating, but regardless, the overall trend in horror games has been to afford the player greater control. Also, since you have no weapons, the only way you can escape ghosts who grab hold of you is to complete quick-time events. This usually involves waggling your Wii-mote in various directions, but can also entail keeping your pointer aimed at a circle on the screen that moves and gets progressively smaller.

Ju-On: The Grudge screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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