Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer: Hudson Soft
Release Date: 03/09/2010
Horror games have a lot of parallels with the RPG market. Both were started in the west. Early US RPG’s were things like Ultima, Wizardry, The Bard’s Tale the SSI Dungeons & Dragons video games and so on. Early horror games included Haunted House, Uninvited, Shadow of the Comet and Alone in the Dark. Eventually both genres really took hold in Japan and the East began to outdo the West in these genres in terms of quantity, and some might say quality as well. The mid to late 1990’s would be the peak of both genres in Japan. The RPG market had the Phantasy Star games, Shining Force, and of course Final Fantasy VII exploded the genre to new heights of popularity. In the horror market, Japan gave us titles like Echo Night, Clock Tower, Hellnight/Dark Messiah and more. At the same time, although the West’s production of both genres fell during this time, when a game hit, it hit big. Planescape: Torment is an example for RPG’s and The 7th Guest is a perfect example for horror games.
In the past few years though, Japan’s level of quality seems to have slid in both regards allowing some to say the West is back on top in terms of who makes the best in both genres. With games like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, both Vampire: The Masquerade titles and Dragon Age, Western RPG’s have had something of a revival. If we look at our own site, Western RPG’s have won our “RPG of the Year award for the past two years. Again, horror games have taken a similar route. Japan has either taken the actual horror content out of the games with titles like Resident Evil 4 & 5 (They’re now more action titles than ones meant to induce terror), or they have made subpar games that fail in quality and tone like Ju-On. Meanwhile the West has had new life breathed into their horror games, displaying a staggering amount of creativity with titles like The Last Crown, Barrow Hill, Tomb of Zojir and more. Even a title like Becky Brogan, which is geared for younger and/or casual gamers tends to elicit a stronger feeling of creepiness than most J-horror games these days. Now there are obvious exceptions as games like the recent Silent Hill and Theresia that shows Japan is still trying to creep gamers out, but no one would say J-Horror is at the level of quality it was at a decade ago – either in films OR video games.
So now here we are with Calling. In my hands-on preview of the game, I said the game had potential and that I was hopeful that this came could recapture the magic of the quality J-Horror titles of yesteryear. So did Calling live up to its potential, or did we have another Illbleed on our hands?
Although you play as four different characters throughout your experience with Calling , your main character is Rin Kagura. Rin is a 21 year old girl with a heavy heart. Six years ago she was to meet an online friend for a play date. The two had never met before and Rin’s friend was afraid she wouldn’t show. Rin promised she would show and then promptly got hit by a truck. When she got out of the hospital, she never heard from or saw her friend again. This is the crux of the story and although you’ll be playing as four different characters, one of which doesn’t really come into play until after you “beat” the game, everything will always come back to this plot point – even though you don’t get it until a few missions into the game.
In fact, the would-be main story of the game as prefaced in both the manual and the opening to the game is a bit of a red herring. It talks about a sinister website that contains only a visitor counter, but hidden somewhere on the page is a chat room link. There, if your heart has been tinged by darkness, you may receive contact from the dead and be plunged into “The Mnemonic Abyss.”
This all sounds well and good, but it’s kind of an afterthought save for the plot point as to how characters wake up in a strange gloomy place that they know and yet there is no power and the location is filled with bloodthirsty specters.
I don’t want to spoil the story but I will say that although the game has moments of pure creepiness, most of it isn’t very scary. In the first episode (which is also the episode from the preview I did), the scariest thing are the creepy dolls in the level. In the level after that, your would be scares comes from a badly rendered fat ghost schoolgirl who tries to strangle you. In fact most of the scares in the game follow the same pattern. Random occurrences that try and strange you, or Set encounters that try and strange you. The only real change is that the ghosts will have different skins on them based on what episode you are in. Also, the further into the story you get, the stupider the game becomes. Both endings (as well as the events leading up to them) will have you rolling your eyes and sighing at how inane they are. This might be scary to a teenager, but this isn’t even scary by current J-Horror standards.
The game just overuses the main horror aspects to the point where they go from AWESOME in the first few episodes, to “ho-hum” the further into the game you get because you come to expect them and thus they lose all sense of dread and surprise. Everything just blurs together because aside from the pre-rendered graphics of the level and the skins on your ghost, everything follows the same pattern from beginning to end. This wouldn’t be so bad except that once you’ve beaten the game and got the ending, you learn that there is a second “real” ending and to get it (and the new events) you have to replay this extremely linear game that unfolds 95% the same way it did in the first playthrough. By this point the game will have gone from intriguing and creepy to flat out dull and monotonous and you are given the wonder revelation that you have to do it all again. Had Hudson just left the one ending in, or even provided us with a bevy of scares instead of a half dozen overused ones, we could have had a serious horror and/or adventure GOTY candidate. Instead, we have something that like your antagonists, just didn’t know when to give up and die.
Story Rating: Below Average
Like the story, the graphics of Calling are a mixed bag. Aside from ghost attacks, this is very similar to the point and click first person Adventure games for the PC. This means nearly everything except for the items you can pick up or interact with are pre-rendered and static. Even then, many of the things you can interact with don’t move; they just make a noise then you touch them. This makes actually finding things you can interact with a bit hard as everything tends to look alike. There will be things you think you can pick up that you can’t, and things that have always been static items before that you can now pick up in this particular episode or moment. Combine this with items having a small pixel detection area so that your cursor changes into a, “Hey, you can fiddle with that!” icon, and you can often be moving almost on top of, or even over something you can interact with, and you’ll never know it.
Besides these quibbles, the pre-rendered backgrounds are decent. Calling definitely doesn’t push the Wii’s graphics by any means, but what’s here is passable for the experience. There isn’t a lot of detail to the backgrounds and items, but it’s still a hair better than a good chunk of the games out there for Nintendo’s dominant little system.
The cut scenes are of a higher quality than the in-game visuals, but they’re still not as powerful as what we’ve seen the Wii is capable of. Movements are nicely done though ,and I was impressed with the animation quality, if not the detail. Character models are fun too. There are actually a wide range of characters and they all look pretty good. Sadly you only see them really during cut scenes.
Ghosts are the only real moving thing in the game other than yourself, but they range from really well done and creepy (like the first ghost in the game), unexpected (Like a ghoulish arm at the very end of the game that snags a cell phone that you think you are supposed to interact with), or so bad you find yourself laughing rather than being scared (like most of the schoolgirl ghosts).
Overall, Calling looks better than most Wii titles that are out there, but a lot could have been done to really improve this. Point and click titles usually have amazing graphics due to the static nature of the images, but Calling does hit the level of quality this genre is known for, even while surpassing a lot of the crap that clutters the Wii section of your local game store.
Graphics Rating: Above Average
If there is one thing the game does exceptionally well, it’s the audio. In fact, this is arguably the best use for the Wiimote speakers I have ever seen. You see, although the game revolves around the internet, the name of the game and its trademark freak out comes from cell phones. When you are not trying to use your Wiimote to control your tank-like character through hospitals or schools, the Wiimote doubles as a cell phone. You can call people with it, take pictures with and most importantly, receive calls from it. When you do make or receive a call, you’ll hold the Wiimote to your head like a cell phone, although the level of brain tumour inducing radiation is probably lower with the controller. Then you’ll hear a voice talk to you though the Wiimote. I can’t stress how well done this is, nor how freaky it is to get a call from a ghost through the fun, complete with static and ominous rasping. The only downside is that the game overuses this to where it is no longer scary, but annoying, especially when you get constantly calls in succession. I have learned that you don’t have to answer the phone, but the game doesn’t really like that and answering is better than the constant ringing anyway.
Voice acting is well done in both English and Japanese. Often the voice of the character surpasses the visuals and the emotions they are supposed to be conveying. That really saves the game at times, although noting can truly save the plot.
Calling certainly is a one trick pony with its awesome audio features, but it’s definitely worth at least picking up the demo of this game to see just how well done the music, voice acting and most of all, the Wiimote speaker usage are.
Sound Rating: Classic
4. Control and Gameplay
In my preview I mentioned I wasn’t too fond of the controls in this game, and after beating it, I have to say my opinion of the controls has actually decreased. Generally point and click games are really easy to navigate and play through, but actually moving your character can be rather unwieldy. The game uses the Wiimotes infra-red sensor to act as a laser pointer as well as looking in the direction you want to view. There is some lag with moving and your character is hard to steer. It definitely feels like the dev team wanted to make a panoramic Adventure game, and as such, this game would handle far better on a PC with a mouse than with the Wiimote, but then you wouldn’t get the phone call feeling. So, checks and balances.
The controls are pretty straight forward. The infra-red controls your directional view, the nunchuk analog stick lets you move. The Z button is for running, the C button is for crouching and the D-pad controls your flashlight. The rest is your standard point and click game, where the A button replaces your mouse clicks and is used for talking, interacting with objects, examing things and solving puzzles. Again, the game would play easier if the pixel detection range was bigger than what you are given. An example is in the second mission where a voice comes over the phone telling me it is slowly climbing up floors look for me and then it stops on the floor below me. I walk all around the floor, but I can’t open the doors to go down. Then on my second go through I try to interact with anything and everything. Nothing. It turns out in this glowing room I tried the door and windows of, that I was indeed supposed to click on the window to peer into a crack – it just wasn’t changing my cursor unless I let it sit on the window, and then only in a certain part of the window. A good Adventure game would have had the cursor change instantly and the amount of pixels that would have triggered the cursor change would have been far greater. This makes playing Calling somewhat frustrating and often times it will feel unintuitive because you will swear you are doing what you are supposed to and you ARE; the game is just not responding.
The only other real controls you need to worry about are when you are attacked by a ghost. When one grabs you, you’ll first get a chance to dodge by pressing A at the right moment. If you do this, they go away until they come after you again. Otherwise you’ll have the shake the Wiimote to get them off of you. The longer you take the more your heartbeat will rise. If it gets too high, you’ll die from fear. There are other situations that can raise your heart rate, and standing still or resting can decrease it. Think of it as Illbleed but better. You’ll find dealing with ghosts to be exceptionally easy, but then the same ghost will generally attack you every few seconds after your first encounter with it until you get to a “safe” area that the ghost can’t get to. So expect what is a tense and freaky situation at first to quickly become tedious. You’ll go from swearing in shock to swearing due to the repetitiveness.
Calling is neither a bad nor awful game to play through, but it’s also not very fun. Had the game been shorter or not so repetitive, it could have been a lot better. The controls feel like they are better suited for a PC game and the developers seemed to have no idea of the concept of overkill.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
Calling is an exceptionally linear game. You can’t deviate from the exact order that events must occur in, and with all the flaws in the game, you’re counting your blessings when the credits roll. Then you learn it’s a fake ending and you have to play through everything AGAIN. All the missions you’ve already beaten along with some new stuff that really isn’t worth repeating the tedium for. Most of the added bits feel like they should have been in the game during the first run or you could have just replayed SOME of the game to highlight key differences – not repeat things that go exactly the same for the second time. Honestly, what’s the point of that?
It should take you about five hours to get the first ending and then a Herculean willpower to play for the real ending. God knows the only reason I kept going was for review purposes and so little changed, even in the endings, save for one or two details (like one you talk on a phone to someone while the in other you talk TO them) so it feels like a cheat. If you weren’t pissed at the game when you thought you had beaten it, you WILL be when you actually have. It almost not worth playing for the real ending, it will be that tedious.
Replayability Rating: Bad
It’s funny, but trying to find an item (or once you have, to pick it up) can be harder than any of the ghosts you deal with. Aside from the rare ghost that can instantly kill you, you should never have a problem shoving a ghost off or at least keeping your heartbeat regularly. The ghosts are more a garnish to the story than an actual threat.
Aside from the times where you are searching for what to do next, you have the puzzles. Most of the puzzles involve getting keys, finding passwords to unlock computers, slide puzzles or combination locks. Nothing is especially hard as there are clues scattered here and there in the episode the puzzles take place in, but if you don’t find those clues it can be a bit hard as you’ll be reduced to guess and check. As well, the game doesn’t pause when you are using the phone or the like, so if a ghost is after you and the phone rings, you might want to wait to pick up. Don’t worry – they’ll call back.
Calling‘s not a challenging game and for a teenager or casual gamer, this would probably be a fun (but safe) title to play late at night with the lights turned off. There are some novel ideas here, but adults will find it as much a pushover as it is boring.
Balance Rating: Decent
There are two things this game does that are extraordinarily clever. The first is the use of the Wiimote as a cell phone. The second is something a lot of gamers may completely miss. Let’s say you play a couple adventures. You know in the lower right hand corner of the screen where the Wii shows how long you played a title, along with any announcements or emails that you get? Well after playing the game, wait a few seconds (or minutes) and the amount of messages will update. Click on the box and there will be an eerie envelope (or more) for you. Look inside for an unexpected bit of creepiness. This was a fun touch.
The rest of the game though? Yeah, not very original. You can see things taken from One Missed Call, Pulse, Hell Girl and things sniped from other J-Horror games, films and cliches, right down to the main ghost being a black haired girl with something stringy black stuff. Oy.
I’ll be kind and give it a thumbs in the middle as the game balances some pretty original additions to the horror and/or adventure genres while giving us a very paint by numbers plot filled with horror things you used to tell each other ’round the campfire as children. “I’m on the first floor.” … “I’m on the second floor.” So on and so forth.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
For the first hour or so, I was pretty glued to the game. The first episode gives you a rather tense and creepy atmosphere, and the second episode starts off okay, but it all goes downhill from there. The game overuses its original and clever ideas until you are sick of them. Ghosts are far too frequent and yet far too easy which degenerates the entire process into an eye rolling, profanity inducing humdrum experience. I’m still unsure who thought it was a good idea to basically make you play the game twice, but they need to be drug out into the street and shot.
I really had a hard time wanting to play through this and I generally love Adventure games with a horror theme. Don’t get me wrong – had the game been cleaned up a little, streamlined more, a lot of dead weight cut from the game and some larger item/action detection areas, and this could have been a good game. Instead it’s merely a forgettable one. Unless you really love “scary” games, you’re going to find it as hard as I did to complete this thing.
Addictiveness Rating: Poor
9. Appeal Factor
We don’t have a lot of exclusive horror options on the Wii. There’s Escape From Bug Island, which is awful. There is Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, which is awesome. The sequel, The Darkside Chronicles is decidedly worse. Dead Space: Extraction is a lot of fun. House of the Dead: Overkill is another good horror game for the Wii that I can think of. Other than that there is Fatal Frame 4 which Nintendo paid a good amount of money to ensure the series would go Wii-exclusive…and then decided not to bring it stateside. Other than that, there are a lot of HORRIBLE Wii games, but not a lot of HORROR. As such, gamers are going to see this and be rather hopefully as to the quality of this title. Especially as the budget price tag. Unfortunately, the game is bound to disappoint many, if not most, of them.
I didn’t hate Calling; I just found it forgettable. It has a few good ideas but then it runs them into the ground. Perhaps a less discerning gamer can have more fun with this than I did, but with EBGamestop not letting brick and mortar customers preorder this, it’s going to be lost even to the niche audience it would otherwise have. Still, if you need a horror fix, you could do a lot worse on the Wii and not much better unless you like rail shooters.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
It was nice to see Hudson Soft try some new gameplay ideas with the game. Every new thing they added was a lot of fun…until they overused them to the point of nausea. I’m also happy the game is set ten dollars below the standard MSRP, which might help to counteract EBGamestop’s refusal to let customers preorder this.
This wasn’t a bad game by any means – it just wasn’t a very good one. It was just too much of the same thing with little to no deviation and it went on far longer than a game with these particular flaws should have. Still, Calling is at least worst a rental or the nifty gameplay ideas, but I can’t say it is worth owning or even beating. There’s not enough substance and far more padding than any game should subject a player to.
Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Although Calling sports some very original ideas in regards to one what can do with the Wii, it ultimately overuses the ideas to the point where what seemed innovative at the beginning of the game ends up feeling like a dead horse that the developers have beaten to death, revived using unholy necromancy, and then beaten the undeath out of as well. The story likewise starts off ominous and creepy but quickly degenerates into tedium. It’s also nice to see a return to the Clock Tower and/or Echo Night‘s, “You can’t hurt these apparitions so run like hell” gameplay, but the ghosts are as easy to push away as they are numerous. So any sense of terror is replaced by a combination of boredom and irritation at having to push away say, the same fat schoolgirl ghost for the second dozen time as you attempt to make it to the staircase. With a little bit of control tightening, a better story, and cutting out the padding (which makes up roughly half the game), and Wii owners could have had a really solid horror adventure experience. Instead they get something that is worth experiencing for the novel gameplay additions, but which is ultimately forgettable and better left as a rental than a purchase.