Halloween might be long gone for 2009, but Japanese horror is fashionable all year round. Or at least Hudson hopes to make it so with Calling.
As the name suggests, there's an awful lot of cell phone usage in the horror/adventure game. During a demo given to games journalists by the Japanese director, a poor woman finds a haunted mobile phone that just wouldn't stop ringing. Even worse, she keeps answering it and the ghost on the other end keeps giving her updates on its progress (e.g. "I'm on the second floor landing..."). I imagine it would have been scarier in context, but at the time, it was downright funny. Especially because I had no idea which floor the girl started on, so I wasn't sure if the ghost was really close or just taking forever to climb the freaking stairs.
Also, if that haunted phone was the ghost's phone — and she said it was — what phone was the ghost calling from to provide the status updates?
What Is It? Calling is a horror/adventure game with four main characters for the player to guide through a branching storyline. There are multiple endings, ghostly encounters and creepy environments to explore and hopefully survive.
What We Saw After watching the demo, games journalists were given the chance to play through a single level starring a male character trapped in the empty apartment of a traditional Japanese doll maker.
How Far Along Is It? Still in alpha — the game isn't due out 'til some unspecified time in 2010.
What Needs Improvement? A Little Bit Waggly: For the most part, the Wiimote's motion controls are limited to gentle flicks to open doors or slide screens aside. However, there were two instances in the level where a ghost got the jump on the player and to get free you either had to mash the A button with perfect timing (like a quick time event), or just waggle furiously until the ghost let go. Guess which method is easier?
What Should Stay The Same? It's Actually Kind of Scary: There was a part in the game where a guy comes upon a room where the sliding doors only open partway. Looking through the door and down, you can see the dead body of the doll maker. After sighting this grisly thing, I turned the character around to go into another room — but I stopped because I heard shuffling and giggling behind me. So I turned the character back around and — gah! — there were dozens of the creepy little dolls filling the slit of the partly-opened doors. Their hair fluttered and their eyes blinked and they were tittering at me in the creepiest way. It was genuinely upsetting.
Movement Is Controlled With The analogue Stick: This is the best possible way to control motion from the first person perspective, I think.
Final Thoughts I came down pretty hard on Ju-on not because it was a nuanced Japanese horror experience (which Calling also strives to be), but because it fell flat on its face in the scary department. I realise minimalist storytelling is a big part of Japanese horror films — but I think this cost Ju-on dearly in the gameplay department. So already, Calling is a cut above where Ju-on wound up even in this early stage of development. Here's hoping the final product goes even farther toward that ideal scary experience.