Hand’s On Preview – Calling (Nintendo Wii)

Calling is the upcoming survival horror game from Hudson with a tentative release date of March, 2010. Recently Hudson sent me a demo of the game to try out. Always a fan of survival horror that is more terror than gore, I was pretty excited to give this a chance especially as the crown jewel of Wii horror games, Fatal Frame 4 is never coming to North America.

Speaking of Fatal Frame, Calling does take a few cues from it in terms of visual style and the fact you can use a camera to see things not visible to the naked eye, but instead of a regular camera, you’ll be using the one in your cell phone.

As you might have guessed from both the name of the game and the previous statement, Calling‘s gameplay centers around cell phones. Your Wiimote is actually used like a cell phone. You’ll hold it like one and instead of noises coming through your television, ghostly rasps and taunts will come through the phone. I thought this was a nice touch, but it can be cumbersome to use the wiimote’s D-pad to make calls, take pictures, or the like.

Movement controls involve using the numchuk add-on controller. You’ll use the analog stick to move fowards, backwards and side-to side. Pressing the Z button twice lets you do a quick 180 turn ala Resident Evil, holding the Z button down lets you run, and holding down the C button lets you crouch. Looking around and turning involves the Wiimote’s infra-red controls. To turn or look up or down, you’ll want to point the cursor to the edge of the screen and your character will turn in that direction. It can be really sluggish using the side turning, so the 180 option is your best bet. Be careful though. Sometimes when you use it, you see something you probably weren’t meant to see…

The game’s story is a hodge podge of things cribbed from other J-horror bits. There are obvious elements of Kairo, One Missed Call and Hell Girl. The ghosts are similar in appearance and design to those of Fatal Frame and there is even a bit of Fear Dot Com and Ringu present. If you can get by all the obvious bits taking from other J-Horror products, you’ll find a pretty intricate story. For those of you not used to J-Horror however, some things are purposely left unexplained rather than the hand holding you get in a lot of western horror products that take time to explain every little nuance and Raison d’être.

The story of Calling, or at least what I got from the demo involves a website called “The Black Page.” This website is supposedly an empty blank screen where people can enter an alternate world and meet the dead. Calling gives you the opportunity to play as four different characters, each with their own motivation and reasons for going to “The Black Page.”

The demo starts off with people talking in a graphic-less chat room about an occult magazine “Samsura” that talks about “The Black Page.” Suddenly all those in the chat room have their cell phones go off and ghosts appear behind them. The screen fades to black and we get a numerical counter that rises by three digits. Then the screen gives you groggy visuals of a boy waking up in a bed that is not his own to the ringing of a cell phone that isn’t his either. When he answers the phone a ghostly voices speaks to him…

From there you’ll be playing as Shin Suzutani, whose name is also spelled Shin Suzantani in the info sheet given to me by Hudson. The demo is only about thirty minutes long, but it actually turns out to be rather creepy. As Shin, I explored my room until there was a blackout. Then I had to get out of my room and navigate a long traditional Japanese one story home until I came to a particular that triggered the first of two ghost attacks in the demo. Combat is interesting because you can’t hurt the ghost. You can only drive it away by swinging your Wiimote and/or pressing the A button at the right time. If you do it right, you’ll be fine, but the longer you take the more your horror meter rises. The horror meter is basically a one level heartbeat meter that reminded me of the old Sega Dreamcast game, IllBleed. The more scared you get, the higher the intensity of the heartbeat. Get it too high and well, your ghosts will have a new playmate.

After scaring away the ghost, I got into the first of two off-limits room. The first was filled with doll parts and one particularly creepy doll that was finished and staring at me. The next room was one that I could only open the doors part way, which was an example of the next control scheme of the game. At certain times you’ll be able to peep through a crack in a doorway or keyhole and look what awaits in the next room. In this case it was a ton of creepy dolls and then…a dead old lady (who I believe is one of the four playable characters in the game) lying on the ground beneath them. This triggered the next control aspect of the game, which involved some doll parts falling from a box behind me and a head rolling to look at me. This triggered caution controls, which meant I could not move, but only look around until I could find the source of the disturbance. Well as I looked around, I ended up finding the source right behind me. All those dolls in the room beyond were now looking at me through the crack in the door, laughing and bobbing their heads up and down, trying to get to me. CREEEEEEPY.

This triggered the second of the ghost attacks in the demo and from there I fled to the bedroom I started the game in only to get a phone call from a doll saying, “Gotcha.” As my character put down the phone, a creepy ghost girl with a stuffed animal came up from behind me. This triggered a cut scene where she backed my character into a wall and then other ghostly arms wrapped themselves around me and…demo over. Nice touch.

Although I wasn’t really a fan of the controls and I found it hard to open drawers at time, I really liked how the emphasis was on story and creepiness rather than “Have a gun. Go kill zombies.” Which so many survival horror games have become, thus making them merely action games without any real sense of dread or foreboding. Even better the eventual release version of Calling promises to let you play as four different characters. There is Shin, the anime and action figure nerd you play as in the demo. There is Rin Kagura, a young girl who is searching for a friend she only has encountered in a chat room before, Chiyo Kishibi, an elderly grandmother given a laptop by her grandson who has not gotten over the lost of her husband five years ago, and Makoto Shirae, a newspaper editor whose colleague died investigated “The Black Page.” So of course Makoto decides to pick up where his dead friend left on. I take it he’s the stupid one of the four.

Calling seems like it has a lot of potential, although I’m not in love with the controls to put it nicely. As long as “battles” stay atmospheric and the game is more about the story, an aura of creepiness and exploration, I’ll be able to live with them. If I have to fend off three or four ghosts at a time with these controls ala Cursed Mountain, well I won’t be too happy there. Still, Calling has my interested piqued and I’m sure I’ll be spending some time with the full-on release come March.

You can learn more about Calling by going to the official website. Check back here in March (unless it gets pushed back) for our full review of Calling and our final thoughts on the game. There’s also another website called Kuro Eight that you might want to check out as well…

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