Have you ever watched a movie that's so bad it's good? One that you know you rationally should not enjoy, but do anyway? If you have, then you might understand the appeal of Paranautical Activity.
Paranautical Activity is a bit like a mashup of three separate games in three disparate genres. The core gameplay mechanics feel like an old school first-person shooter, like Doom. Aesthetics are heavily influenced by Minecraft and level layout is completely random, similar to Spelunky.
In classic mode, the game's main attraction, you must survive a series or seven randomly generated levels. Beyond this there's hardcore mode, which adds a ghost which will randomly attack and cannot be killed until you have cleared the seventh floor, thus opening the game's true final boss. The third and final mode is an endless mode, in which players will battle their way through as many floors as they can before submitting to the demons that inhabit this strange world.
At the beginning of each run, regardless of mode, you can select from a number of pre-built loadouts which influence a number of stats, from speed to damage to HP. There are no options to customize your loadout, but you can find weapons to pick up as you play through the game. Speaking of features, Paranautical Activity is pretty light on them; there's no multiplayer, co-op or otherwise. There is, however, a built-in achievement system. Completing certain feats, such as clearing a floor unscathed or beating a certain number of floors unlocks an achievement; each achievement comes with an item, like a new boss or a new secondary weapon.
The controls are standard for the FPS genre. The left analogue controls movement, while the right controls the camera. The gamepad's ZR button is reserved for shooting, while ZL is used for jumping. The L button will switch between either of your two weapons, and the minus button toggles between displaying the full game or the map on the GamePad screen.
At this point you may be wondering what part of this sounds bad, and you would be right to ask that question. Unfortunately, Paranautical Activity performs terribly on the Wii U. Loading times are both long and frequent. Once you're in a level, things don't get much better. The game frequently pauses for about a second when enemies are loading into a room and the frame rate is unstable, causing frequent stuttering. The soundtrack is also an awful fit. It's frenetic, loud and grating and just doesn't work with the action presented onscreen. The pace of the game begs for something much more down tempo.
Paranautical Activity is a great example of a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. While we were busy bemoaning the long load times, bad soundtrack and minimal features, we found ourselves unable to put the GamePad down.
If you like retro-styled graphics and old-school FPS games, you'll find plenty to like here; if neither of those appeal to you then you may be out of luck. If you like the concept and can overlook the technical problems here you may have an unexpectedly good time.