The title screen for Goosebumps: The Game issues a warning to players in a cute nod to R.L. Stine's corny but effective "reader beware" slogan – but there's more than just Monster Blood to fear here. Novels like It Came from Beneath the Sink and Stay Out of the Basement were enormous in the early to mid-90s, and this author happened to be growing up right at the peak of their popularity. With a new movie bringing the brand back from the dead (house), then, we'd been quietly hoping for a return to HorrorLand – but perhaps we should have been careful what we wished for…
Despite working on some pretty popular original properties, WayForward has become the industry's whipping boy when it comes to licensed products – and this visual novel is no exception. The story (a prequel to the film, apparently) is a bit of a mess, but it's mostly there to tie together as many Goosebumps references as it can muster. This is something that we can actually appreciate, and even after almost 20 years [Sigh – Ed] we remembered stories like The Haunted Mask and Bad Hare Day.
The problem is that, outside of any nostalgia, the game's frankly crap. The original Goosebumps series will never go down as a literary classic, but the writing's senseless here – and reading makes up approximately 72 per cent of the gameplay. When you're not groaning through god awful prose, you'll be moving a glacial cursor across the screen, interacting with items in an attempt to solve asinine puzzles that barely make sense. One section sees you combining a coat hanger with a sink in order to find a key. Another sees you spraying a toy robot with liquid soap.
There are clues throughout the game if you're paying attention, but reading the text is so laborious that you're easily going to miss them. Dialogue trees pop up on occasion but never really go anywhere, and the wrong decision at times will see you staring at a game over screen. Fortunately, there's no real penalty for dying – you just hit the 'retry' option and pick back up more or less where you left off. Not exactly the hairiest ever adventure, eh?
As you can probably guess, the production values aren't exactly going to be keeping you awake at night either. There's some effort gone into the cartoon art style, but it never really pops like you'd hope it would, and it looks like a cheap children's story book as a result. The audio's similarly bland, opting for foreboding synth sounds that are about as frightening as lawn gnomes. We will admit that the game did get us with a couple of jump scares – but in our defence, they're the cheap kind where a character unexpectedly pops up on screen.
Goosebumps: The Game can go eat worms as far as we're concerned. This dreary visual novel is packed with poor puzzles and even poorer prose, and it deserves feeding to the beast from the east as a consequence. The copious Goosebumps references will provide fleeting entertainment for fans – but we'd rather live the rest of our lives at ghost camp than even consider touching this sorry tie-in again.