Stranger Things 3: The Game review – a love letter to licensed games

The one thing you must know about Stranger Things 3: The Game going in is that it is, in fact, a game. It’s being billed as this companion piece, and to an extent it is, but it’s less interested in adhering to anything beyond the main story beats and more interested in… well, I’m not quite sure what it’s interested in doing.

For players of a certain age, Stranger Things 3 will remind you of licensed games from the 80s and 90s. It uses familiar characters, locales and plot points, but is squarely interested in treading its own path rather than the one you’d assume it would follow to remain true to the source material. In many ways Stranger Things 3 feels like a game that the developers had in their pocket for a while, then happened upon a license they could slap onto it for saleability. To a certain set of über fans, this is probably a big letdown – but I found its deviations entertaining.

Stranger Things 3 plays out in an isometric view of Hawkins, Indiana, with you traveling to places like the Starcourt Mall, the kids’ neighborhood and its abandoned main street via a world map. The game doles out quests like an RPG, some story-based and others mere asides, which give you an arbitrary context for doing the things you do. Again, typical 90s licensed fare: instead of just having the kids sneak into the store room of Scoops Ahoy, they’re going through a labyrinth filled with rats they must hit with baseball bats or solve switch puzzles in the basement of the library just to get a Russian to English dictionary. These moments make little sense in the grand scheme of things other than to make it game-like, and I love it for that.

It has these goofy interpretations of scenes that although technically filling in a plot point, seem silly in practice. For instance, Eleven and Max are having a sleepover, so of course you have to go through the backwoods behind Hopper’s cabin and beat up some spies to get a sleeping bag. To some this might be an egregious waste of time, but I found it entertaining in how it’s so loose with its translation of the TV show.

On the gameplay side, Stranger Things 3 seems bigger than it is. In essence it’s a beat ‘em up, with most of the action between missions involving pummeling monsters or Russians. There’s a smattering of puzzle work to be seen, but nothing that’ll stretch your mind by any means. There’s also an interesting buffing system in which you buy or find random items and combine them to give yourself different abilities. It always feels like there should be an underlying leveling system, but there isn’t. If anything it does a good job of fulfilling a need for collecting doodads and knick-knacks. It’s by no means a shallow form of progression, but you won’t be going out of your way to seek things, either.

While Stranger Things 3: The Game may not be the companion piece its publisher might claim it to be, it did enhance my enjoyment of the show. I was playing the game semi-concurrently with the TV series, and got a chuckle when I’d see a scene of a few seconds that took me 20 or so minutes in the game. The game has most of the main characters as playable and constantly in your party once you meet up with them, and seeing tense scenes with the actual characters versus who I was using in-game also elicited a laugh. Stranger Things 3: The Game isn’t just a love letter to the show, it’s one to old licensed games of yore.

Stranger Things 3: The Game was developed by BonusXP and is available on PC, Mac, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Stranger Things 3: The Game was provided by BonusXP. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.