The third season of the Duffer brothers and Netflix’s original series Stranger Things was one that not only further developed beloved characters, but also took risks in embracing its horror themes to deliver a story as good, if not better, than the original season that made many fall in love with Hawkins, Indiana. Stranger Things Season 3: The Game tries to serve as an interactive companion to the season and a first-time console debut for the property, but it unfortunately does not have as much of the same heart as its source material.
The second game with the Stranger Things name by developer Bonus XP, Stranger Things Season 3: The Game is a 16-bit, top-down adventure beat em’ up where you play through the events of the latest season with just about the entire main cast of the show, twelve characters total. Each character has their own special abilities uniquely represented in that retro style. The entirety of the game is played with two characters, with the second being controlled by the game or by a local co-op partner. Characters like Jonathan, with a camera that can stun enemies, and Lucas, whose equipped with his handy slingshot, have traits that make sense with their on screen characters. Other characters like Nancy Wheeler with her scissors, make a little less sense, and the game doesn’t really make use of its large cast apart from certain sections where you need a specific character’s ability. This creates a feeling of wanting a little bit more, and it’s present throughout Stranger Things Season 3: The Game.
Creating a lengthy beat em’ up to appeal and keep the attention of a modern audience is not an easy task, and Stranger Things Season 3: The Game is perhaps proof of that. For eight chapters retelling the events of the eight episodes of Season 3, you will spend your time punching through hundreds of flayed rats and scary Russian henchman and scientists. While the addition of new characters and craftable upgrades makes action a bit more interesting, it’s not enough to make adventuring through the game’s dungeon like levels of Starcourt Mall and Hess Farm engaging past the first hour of many in the main quest line. On Nintendo Switch, when the action gets too hectic, the game is also prone to stutter and drop frames.
Outside of the critical path are side tasks you can do for the residents of Hawkins, and while some do have fun interactions that add flavor to the world, most of them involve you needing to collect X amount of Y item. Even so, that small amount of flavor is welcomed here because one of the most disheartening features of Stranger Things Season 3: The Game is how this adaptation is missing much of the spirit of the series.
Scene-by-scene and sometimes word-for-word, the game reenacts the events of the season its named after, but missing is most of the charm, drama, emotion, and levity audiences come to the series for. Of course developer Bonus XP is somewhat limited by the 16-bit style they are working within, but the lack of character emoting, variety in character portraits that go along the text only dialogue, and the exclusion of tailored audio and music cues during major moments contribute to an overall feeling of something missing. This feeling is intensified when memorable moments from the season are compared against each other, and while the game’s soundtrack is serviceable, it does not have the same spark as the music made by series’ composers Kyle Dixon and Micheal Stein. Which is partly due to a lack of variety in this soundtrack.
Stranger Things Season 3: The Game leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s still some fun to be had in exploring Hawkins along with Eleven and friends. Whether it be time or budget constraints that held this latest attempt at a Stranger Things game back, the idea of teaming up with the series’ crew in a playable adventure is still one worth pursuing. For now, it may be best to satisfy that Stranger Things thirst by re-watching season 3.
A copy of this game was provided by the game’s developer and played on a retail Nintendo Switch.