It’s Dangerous To Go Alone…
The heroes of Hawkins need your help! BonusXP initially released Stranger Things: 1984 in November of 2017 as Stranger Things: The Game, free on Android devices. You can still download it for free on Google Play, but Netflix has since revived and exclusified the game for their new, in-app gaming library. So yes – that means, while the game is technically free, you can no longer play it without an active Netflix subscription. There are, however, no additional fees or in-app purchases.
Players will join the whole Stranger Things cast in a loose retelling of the show’s events. While Netflix and the developers only intended for the game to be a promotional piece for the show, it features a clean, stylized retro action-adventure-inspired art style. The bouncy, 16-bit sprites are reminiscent of classic Zelda titles on the SNES. A crunchy, chiptune remake of the show’s theme song greets us at the menu. The developers clearly have an affinity for the inspired genre and art style. The settings are simple: turn the music and sound on or off, reset your save, view the credits. Press start and choose between normal and classic difficulty. The latter of which is for hardened retro action-adventure fans. Time to go back to 1984!
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Things take off pretty quickly when Hopper awakes at 1:35 AM to a distressing phone call. Flo calls from the police station to tell us in a clicky, letter-by-letter text box (similar to Animal Crossing or Banjo Kazooie) that four kids have gone missing. ”It’s that Byers boy and his friends.” Hopper drops the phone on the receiver, jumps in his truck and heads to the Hawkins National Laboratory.
Throughout the 6 chapters, players will rescue or visit each member of the show’s cast in various locations that fans of Stranger Things will recognize. The team at BonusXP lovingly recreated the entire town of Hawkins, which acts as a fully-explorable overworld. Major locations have become sprawling dungeons. Once rescued, players can switch between characters on the fly – each one performs a unique action. Clocking in at six to seven hours, 1984 doesn’t out-stay its welcome. Even if players choose to hunt for every collectible, the game maxes out at about eight or nine hours of play-time. Enough time to soak up the colorful, carefully laid-out dungeons – and kick some butt – without getting sick of the lonely town.
Players control their characters by simply tapping the spot they want to head to or dragging a finger across the screen. Engaging with enemies and objects is, again, a simple tap. The game breaks dungeons and the overworld into different screens. Reaching the edge of a screen will fade to black for a brief second before the next screen fades in. Sometimes, a locked door blocks access to a screen, but the right keycard will leave the door tappable – opening its respective screen. So, the gameplay itself is quite simple. Perhaps understandably so, considering its inspirations and simple objective of promoting the Netflix original show.
Aside from the basic controls, each character offers unique tools and abilities. As is action-adventure tradition, you’ll often notice interactible objects strewn across the overworld and dungeons that you don’t have the proper tool or character to interact with yet. For example, one character might fit into areas that Hopper can’t. Another character can use a ranged weapon to attack or trigger distant switches. This will have you tracking your way back and forth across Hawkins to uncover goodies. Even dungeons will become increasingly complex. As previously mentioned, there are several collectibles to scour the town for, including unlockable costumes for each character.
Additionally, each dungeon contains objects scattered throughout, which the player-character will comment on when tapped. There are TVs, computers, books and the like. For example, tap on a glowing TV as Hopper in the first chapter and he’ll say, “These buddy cop shows aren’t very realistic.” There’s not a lot of depth to it, but it adds an appreciated – however shallow – layer of interactivity to the world. In the end, players will find that they know Hawkins like the back of their hand.
Hawkins Welcomes You!
Overall, Stranger Things: 1984 is a short but enjoyable visit to Hawkins in the 16-bit. You could even follow it up with BonusXP’s Stranger Things 3: The Game. While it is disappointing that Netflix has now, arguably, locked the game behind a paywall of sorts, I’d say any Stranger Things fan with a Netflix subscription should give this a shot.
Is It Hardcore?
Stranger Things: 1984 isn’t especially unique, but it should be a good time if you love the show and retro video games.