As one of the latest in a long line of recent nostalgia-driven reboots, the Goosebumps franchise has managed to drag itself out of the grave for another attempt at success. R.L Stine's series of horror novellas aimed primarily at children was a smash hit during the 1990s, quickly going on to spawn a television programme that would playfully chill spines worldwide. Following tradition, this 3DS title opens with a warning to expect some scares - but has this old zombie still got some life left in it?
Goosebumps: The Game actually serves as a prequel to the recent film, and plays out similarly to a classic point and click adventure game. It's paced slowly but that's surely to cram in as many references to past books and characters as possible, often requiring you to simply go through the motions and read through an abundance of quippy dialogue. If you aren't in it for the throwbacks and nostalgia then a huge chunk of the game's enjoyment is gone, but there's a half-decent adventure at its core that might just keep you on board nonetheless.
Developer WayForward has taken charge of the license this time around, which puts you in the shoes of a boy or girl on their way home from school. Unbeknownst to them, the evil ventriloquist dummy 'Slappy' has unleashed a wave of monsters across their home town, in a bid to seek their revenge against R.L Stine himself. Your home in particular has been totally transformed into a self-confessed "classic haunted house", a creaky shadow of its former self with your family nowhere to be found. Instead, ghosts and unfamiliar characters occupy the twisted halls, so you'll need to clear the place out and investigate what's going on.
Your different menus and inventory are all held on the bottom screen, while you move a slimy green cursor around the environment on the top screen. As the bulk of the bottom screen is blank, this limits stylus control's usefulness to the point where it pretty much just becomes another way to blindly drag the cursor around. Before long we found ourselves sticking to the face buttons and D-Pad for navigation, which thankfully works just fine. Exploration feels similar enough to the Phoenix Wright series, and there's even a small amount of compensation for left-handed players which is always good.
You'll unlock further areas of the house and beyond by clearing puzzles and finding items - often easier said than done. Crucial objects can be tucked away in the corner almost out of sight, and the sheer amount of stuff you'll come across is frankly overwhelming. Your character picks it all up without a second thought; from detergent to trowels, coat hangers to chess pieces - you loot the house bare within the first fifteen minutes. Many of the items are self-explanatory, such as keys and stepladders, but plenty of situations had us sifting through our bulging inventory trying to connect the dots. It's the kind of point and click game that exists within its own vacuum of logic, where solutions range from satisfying to mind boggling.
This is exasperated by the fact that many items aren't even required to complete the game. The screwdriver has a clear use and purpose, but a decorative plate you pull off the wall does not. Nevertheless a handful of standout moments such as a frantic escape from the gushing monster blood beneath the sink, or the mall's security guard stalker, go a long way to break up the routine. The only issue with this is that monsters come and go without any impact, and death only sets you back a minute or two at worst which obliterates any real tension.
What's more consistently jarring is just how nonplussed the main character is by the events of the story. Before you've even reached your neighbourhood, talking rabbits and plant men wreak havoc and you simply shake it off as if it were only slightly unusual. This vaguely carefree attitude undermines a genuinely creepy and mysterious atmosphere that the game manages to build up, especially in the absence of any real voice acting. The writing is generally fine, even offering a few multiple-choice options in certain conversations, but is so prevalent that it ends up pretty grating in longer play sessions. There's a lot of dialogue without a lot of story, and we would have liked to see things taken just a little more seriously.
The game's static viewpoint makes jumpscares easy, though, and we admit that a couple of these actually caught us off guard. The game fiendishly recommends you wear headphones for this purpose, though the actual soundtrack isn't too bad - consisting mostly of moody synth pieces. There are a lot of noticeable loops to certain sound effects however, which is a shame. Much more impressive are the visuals, which manage to remain dark and gloomy even through the use of bright colours and a unique cartoon style. A nice use of 3D helps certain environments pop too, such as dust falling from the ceiling above. Just don't expect much in the way of full animation. Things are distinctly static for the most part, with movement frequently represented by stretching and warping the image. On a handheld this actually makes it feel like a pop-up book at times, which is spooky stuff.
It took about 5 hours to reach the end credits, though this could vary greatly depending on how well you handle the puzzles. An encyclopedic knowledge of Goosebumps lore would certainly help understand the different situations you'll face, while the totally uninitiated will be left to flounder. On the bright side maybe that adds to the mystery of it all... Or just the frustration.
Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay Goosebumps: The Game is that it feels like playing through one of the various "choose your own" adventure books that the series produced on the side when it was in its pomp. It's half visual novel, half point and click adventure, taking some of the best and worst elements of both and mixing them together until monstrously half-baked. Fun visuals and some neat callbacks will keep some fans intrigued, but a weak story haunted by groan-worthy puzzles makes this too directionless and underwhelming to fully recommend.