Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

In the rich tapestry of games history, full motion video (FMV) is a niche chapter – dangling from the narrative along with 90s virtual reality, scratch and sniff (FIFA 2000) and Wii Fit. The advent of early CD-ROM consoles promised great things; CD quality music and…the answer to what extra Mega/SEGA CD et al brought to the table is undefined. FMV is one type of game not possible on the likes of SNES and Megadrive/Genesis and a poster boy for the iteration on the generation. There is a lot that can be said of Night Trap’s colourful history but here we are in 2017 renewing the conversation. What is this game and what is the fuss all about?

On starting the game, a short clip explains the premise. You are working with a military response team investigating a seemingly normal family house in the heart of Americana where five teens have recently gone missing. There are eight video feeds to watch from in and around the house. Pressing triangle or circle activates one of the hidden ‘night traps’ in each room – hopefully snaring some of the mysterious Augers roaming the property. Imagine being Kevin McAllister in Home Alone and you get the idea. I remember Night Trap from the furore around it in the wider press plus screenshots/articles in games media. We’re not going into bans etc but one thing that was never explained at the time was; how do you actually play it?

After giving you a quick taste of how to use the night traps, the difficulty spikes as a colour coded system is layered onto the activation system. Listening carefully to the conversations between the characters gives you clues which colours to use. Let too many augers overrun the house and you are promptly fired from your role of god in the house. Now the difficult bit.

Evaluating Night Trap is a difficult task. The gameplay is obtuse, pushing back on the player. Persistence and patience is needed to access the game beyond ten minutes or so of gameplay. Like all unforgiving puzzles though, the moment you figure out a section, understanding something you couldn’t previously, is rewarding. The game then becomes something akin to Majora’s Mask where you watch, analyse and connect the events unfolding in front of you. Each repeat play through (expect a lot of game over screens FYI) moves you a bit closer to achieving success in the game. We found ourselves edging a little further each time. Ironically considering how cutting edge it was in 1992, the gameplay is more closely related to 70s/80s arcade games – learning patterns to beat it. Having just come off a review of Until Dawn, it shows in stark contrast how much quality of life features in games narrative have evolved over the last 25 years. Anyone looking for this to compete with a Resident Evil 7 will struggle but this edition needs to exist for a different reason. It isn’t here to compete with the bleeding edge of survival horror in 2017. 

Without any doubt, the acting in Night Trap is more Sharknado than Jaws. It becomes a metaphor for what the game is; a game of its time. SEGA’s modular upgrades to the Megadrive/Genesis are too mirrors of Night Trap and its steep accessibility bar. Whilst most 16 bit games are readily accessible through retro consoles, compilations or re-releases, there is a pocket of games like Night Trap from Mega/SEGA CD, 32X and Saturn which are lost to the sands of time or the sands of eBay – with high entry barriers. Collecting these systems and games plus making them talk to modern televisions is a chore (speaking from experience). What this edition presents is the game released all of those years ago. There are options to adjust the display to be in line with subsequent re-releases or in an updated 2017 mode. There are also additional scenes as well as video content exploring the conception of the game. Fans of the original will enjoy the unlockable extras. But the big question is; should you play it? 

When Night Trap released in 1992, the types of game it was surrounded by were the (excellent) Sonic 2 and Super Mario Land 2. Mortal Kombat was also unleashed on the world that year and is perhaps the closest (graphically) to Night Trap. The aforementioned three games are required reading in the history of how this industry evolved. Night Trap should also fall into this category. If you go into this game with your Sharknado hat on or simply want to explore a niche genre with DNA from the past and future it is worth venturing into the game. I am glad this exists on PS4 and hope more of the missing era of games in between the 16 and 32 bit eras can find their way to be released. If you want to see what the future looked like in 1992, give it a go.

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