For those unaware, Netflix recently dropped a major nostalgia bomb on their streaming service called Stranger Things. Created by the identical Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is a loving mashup of every 80’s movie you might’ve loved as a kid, from The Goonies and E.T., to Stephen King adaptations like It and Stand By Me. Infusing childhood innocence with supernatural occurrences, this mix makes for an incredibly thrilling 8-part television series — and could also be a pretty kick-ass game. Let me tell you how!
This article contains SPOILERS for Stranger Things.
Imitation, the highest form of flattery…
One of the most intriguing mysteries early in Stranger Things is the presence of a large, black mass of organic matter contained in the depths of a Hawkins Power lab. As we eventually learn, this was but the first of many opened gates into another world — a dark mirror of our own, badly decayed with strange snowflake-like spores falling from the sky. Does that sound familiar?
The Duffer Brothers themselves admit that the biggest aesthetic influences for the Upside Down (the mirror world) were Alien and Konami’s Silent Hill, the latter of which sprang immediately to my mind when watching. Taking this into consideration, perhaps a survival horror game along the lines of that defunct series is the way to go?
Stranger Things’ small town of Hawkins, Indiana circa 1983, could certainly serve as a nice stand-in for the titular Silent Hill setting. With a modest population of quirky locals, murderous bullies, and creepy woods as far as the eye can see, the possibilities are certainly exciting to consider. In the final episode of the series, the nearby high school even serves as an intense backdrop for a bloody confrontation with the “Demogorgon,” the monster responsible for so many deaths. The original Silent Hill notably picked up steam with such an event at Midwich Elementary, so the parallels are definitely there.
As the Demogorgon moves into and out of our world, it leaves behind portals into the Upside Down — and this could serve as our gameplay transitions. Perhaps the main character of our Stranger Things video game is hot on the trail of this monster, following it across dual versions of familiar locations to complete their personal mission. But who is this character, and what might that mission be?
The Netflix series itself focuses primarily on the perspective of ordinary (albeit nerdy) kids, and this lens is where much of its charm stems. It would be a shame to forgo this angle for a game, but how combat-ready can a pre-teen really be? The boys from the series are armed with little more than a slingshot, and it proved useless in their fight. Since hide-and-seek games like Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent aren’t my cup o’ tea, there definitely needs to be some way to fight back.
Police Chief Hopper mentions that six people have gone missing throughout the course of the series, at least two of which were hunters. If our game is to remain canon with the show, I propose that one of these individuals is our protagonist, having escaped the Demogorgon’s clutches following a struggle. They could use their wilderness training to their advantage while searching for scattered remnants of their hunting supplies. This would easily explain away the existence of hidden weapons and bullets. But why wouldn’t he seek help immediately? Simple!
Our hero was wounded during the initial scrap. Since the Demogorgon can sniff out blood more effectively than even a shark, it chases them relentlessly. What begins as a desperate escape from isolated woods soon dissolves into a realization that killing the beast is the only way to survive. This means much of the game will transpire in faraway hills, farms, and even caves much like Alan Wake. Halfway through the game we reach the town, but are constantly pulled into the Upside Down and must navigate its darkness while fending off attackers and hunting our aggressor. Yeah, you read that right — attackers, plural.
While Stranger Things featured only one primary monster, it offered glimpses of other creatures originating from the Upside Down. There were those tentacle-like things that impregnated captured people in a very facehugger-esque way, later giving birth to small slugs of some kind. Let’s also not forget the large egg that was spotted at one point, possibly hinting at a new threat for a second season. Who’s to say there aren’t more critters existing in other areas, waiting for intruders like our hunter?
Bringing back old school survival horror staples like limited ammunition and resource management are an absolute must. There could also be a few puzzles involving interaction between our world and the Upside Down, creating a nice throwback to gaming days of yore.
They do everything else, so…
If we were to abandon canon and go for something based on the events of the show rather than adhering strictly to them, there’s another direction to go. Telltale Games could do amazing things with this property in their own signature style, just as with countless other franchises.
I could definitely see such a game beginning with players in the role of Eleven, the little girl with exceptional powers. Opening in the secret Hawkins Power lab, an intro tutorial could show us the many ways she can interact uniquely with the environment, moving objects with her mind, reading thoughts of nearby characters, and sensing energies from the Upside Down. This would also endear newcomers to her quite quickly, as she is treated like a mere guinea pig by the enigmatic Dr. Brenner, whom Eleven meekly refers to as Papa.
We could then cut to Mike Wheeler’s house, where he and his friends Will, Lucas, and Dustin finish up their 10 hour Dungeons & Dragons tabletop campaign. Perhaps we even play as their created characters in this imagined tale, squaring off with the dreaded Demogorgon (whose name the boys later assign to the Upside Down’s monster) until a wild dice roll ends the fantasy. Regardless, the events of this game would play out like an exaggerated version of the show from this point forward.
The variety would come from the game’s large, rotating cast of characters. Eleven’s escape from the lab would be a dramatic scene forcing her to defend herself from security personnel. Will’s abduction into the Upside Down would lead to intense segments where he must use his wits to evade and outsmart the monster, all while trying to send messages to his mother. Chief Hopper would be searching for clues about Will’s disappearance around town. Hell, Will’s older brother Jonathan could even have Pokémon Snap-like moments where he… okay, scratch that! Some scenes are best left out of a video game.
Talk about old school…
There are plenty of ways to more thoroughly toy with the 1980’s setting of Stranger Things. Whether it’s a text-based adventure along the lines of Zork, or an adventurous 2D platformer like Pitfall!, there are near endless ways to handle such a video game adaptation.
Would you like to see an official Stranger Things video game? How should it play? Pitch us your own vision in the comments below!
*Stranger Things pixel art created by Reddit user Super_Famicom