I have a confession to make. I’ve never played Night Trap before! It sure seems like something I’d have played, doesn’t it? I’ve always wanted to try it, but I never had a Sega CD and I just never got around to playing the later ports. On the plus side, this means I went into this completely untainted by any nostalgic bias.
The first thing I noticed about Night Trap was that it was indeed a very dated game. It was originally designed as a VHS game and it definitely shows, for better or worse.
From the characters, the sets, the plot, the dialogue, the tone, the music, and everything else, this game just bleeds 80’s-ness. It all feels very much like some kind of cheesy made-for-TV horror movie that you would have seen in the early 80’s. The kind that’s so bad that it’s hilarious. Personally, I count that as a plus, as I admittedly have a bit of an 80’s fixation, but I can see how this would be potentially off-putting to younger fans.
Unfortunately, there are some definite downsides to being such a dated experience. For one, this game came from an era where games very rarely bothered to explain how to play them within themselves. Games back then just assumed that you had read the manual and got right to business, and this one’s no different. The intro video tells you the basic premise, that you’re supposed to be switching between the different cameras and trapping every creature (known as Augers) you see, and if you don’t catch enough you lose, but it doesn’t actually tell you how this works, and unless you were one of the very few people that managed to get one of the very limited run of physical copies of this, you’ll notice that there is no manual to check.
It’s actually all very simple when you know what the controls are and how they work, but if you don’t and no one tells you, it goes downhill rather quickly. When I first started, I pressed the wrong button while trying to figure out how the controls worked, which apparently rendered all the traps unusable, which led to a very quick game over, and I had no idea what happened or what I was supposed to have done. I had to search online to find that the colored light below the clock is the indicator for when to press the trap button and that other buttons changed the “color code”, which if set wrong, makes all the traps stop working.
Oh, that color code. I am not a fan of that thing. So like I said, you need to have the color set for all the traps to work, and it starts out on the default color without needing to be touched until someone changes it. When does it get changed? Well, good luck finding that out. You have to be watching the right camera at the exact right time to hear characters talk about changing the code and there’s absolutely no way for you to know when this is happening. You can try guessing, but unless you get lucky you’ll most likely end up missing too many captures to be able to win by the time you find the right one again. Basically, you’re going to need to look up a guide unless you want to try brute-forcing it by trying to watch every single scene play out to find the exact code change times on your own (and of course the color is always random). I don’t know about you, but I am a bit bothered by games that can’t be played without a step-by-step guide on hand at all times.
The trolling doesn’t end there either. There are also certain trap scenes that will cause key characters to die if you miss them and a few nasty trick moments where the game prompts you to activate a trap at the wrong moment, which can hurt your progress or even give you an instant game over. Who would have thought such a simple sounding monster trapping game could be so difficult? The game actually is surprisingly catchy once you get the hang of it, but that sense of enjoyment can plummet down pretty quickly when you find your whole run ruined by a single missed button press.
I’ll tell you right now, in general, you’re not going to have any time to stop and watch any of the many story scenes AND trap enough Augers to avoid getting a game over either. It’s a shame, because there are so many story scenes and if you’re into this kind of thing you’re going to want to see them, but you just can’t do it. There are so many things happening simultaneously that you can’t spare a moment for even the most important scenes because the Augers almost never let up. On the plus side, this version of the game has had a Theater Mode added in that you can unlock by winning once, which lets you go play videos you’ve seen, so you can sort of experience the story, though unfortunately not in any kind of linear order.
So you’re probably wondering if I actually liked this game or what. Well…the gameplay can be surprisingly catchy once you get used to it, the 80’s factor is through the roof, the remastering job and the extras that have been added by Screaming Villains are excellent, and while the base game is very short, there’s still a relatively large amount of content here for a very low price, but…the original game itself is just so very, very flawed. I guess when it comes down to it, I think that as a piece of video game history, it’s a fascinating experience, and one that will be a treat for fans of 80’s culture, but as a video game, well, it’s just not a very good game. If you don’t have a huge interest in the 80’s, you’ll probably only find a source of archaic frustration here.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition was provided by Screaming Villains. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.