App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Movie and TV tie-in games are almost never good, particularly on the mobile front. A lot of the time, these games are ad covered, free-to-play traps that try to squeeze as much extra money and attention as they can from you rather than provide any sort of experience that is… you know… fun. So imagine my surprise when I booted up Stranger Things: The Game and found a game that's nothing like that at all. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but Stranger Things: The Game is a neat little homage to the old guard of tie-in video games, and a pretty great one at that.
The first thing to get out of the way about Stranger Things: The Game is that it's a free game completely devoid of in-app purchases, ads, or any other modern monetization scheme. It's simply an action adventure game where you take control of Chief Hopper and other members of the show's cast as you work to defeat the monstrosities of the Upside Down and the nefarious agents trying to cover up its existence.
In a lot of ways, Stranger Things is reminiscent of older movie tie-in games, like Jurassic Park for the Game Boy. The whole game is played from a top-down perspective, and you wander an open world, picking up collectibles and new characters with unique special abilities. With these new characters and their abilities, you can enter dungeon-like areas and solve ability-specific puzzles to reach and defeat the bosses to progress the story.
It's hard not to look at Stranger Things: The Game as anything other than a marketing tool, but the game also doesn't seem to go out of its way to sell you on the show it's promoting at all. Of course, it features familiar characters, locales, and other odds and ends from the show, but beating the game doesn't inform you much about the events of season one, what may happen in the second season, or even when said second season premiers.
There are some collectibles you can find that do unlock some promotional content, but that's something you have to go hunt out yourself if you want it. Because of touches like this, Stranger Things feels delightfully retro. Instead of feeling like a love letter to the show it's based on, Stranger Things: The Game actually feels like it's honoring the show's era of gaming history, which is a move that is both appreciated and pretty darn clever.
The Upside Down(side)
As cool as it is that Stranger Things is designed to be like older games, taking this approach certainly has its drawbacks. There are times when playing it where you can get stuck between enemies and die, accidentally steer your characters awry, and re-load the game only to see you've been set back farther than you would have liked.
Also, if you're a fan of the show but not so familiar with older games, Stranger Things: The Game could be a bit puzzling. It makes clever little references here and there to stuff in the show, but it also features all sorts of things that are typical of older games and have little to nothing to do with the show at all. This, combined with some of the minor mechanical issues with the game, could make the entire experience off-putting or otherwise just confusing.
The bottom line
Stranger Things is one of the most surprising tie-in games out there. It's a clever homage to the show's setting and the kinds of games from that era, it's fun to play, and it's completely free. It may not do much to capture the same tone of the show and some of its gameplay might feel dated, but that's ok. Stranger Things: The Game is a fun experience that treats its audience with some respect, which is a thing few other tie-in games can claim.