Despite its reputation as a family friendly console, the Nintendo Wii has an impressive collection of B-list survival horror games. In the past four years the console has seen Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Alone in the Dark, Obscure II, Dead Space and more. None of these games are spectacular, but they introduce you to annoying characters and offer a few cheap scares. Now Hudson Entertainment is looking to jump into this crowded sub-genre. Unfortunately, now that I've played through Calling I can honestly say that this is one call I would let go to my voice mail.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Calling tells the story of a spooky website (comically known as "The Black Page") with an evil counter. That's right; it's the mysterious, devilish, creepy visitor counter ... OF DOOM!! All mocking aside, it's said that this counter is actually a body count of the victims of this evil, scary, no-good website. But really, who's going to believe a crazy story like that?
To call this game derivative would probably be a compliment. This set-up is straight out of The Ring, One Missed Call and way too many other horror movies to name here. Heck, it even has all of the obvious Japanese horror movies cliches. It nails the tone, features annoying characters, and yes, there's a scary dead girl that pops up when you least expect her. This game doesn't even attempt to mask its influences. The only thing keeping this from being a game based on The Ring is the film license.
Calling tells the story of four different people trying to get to the bottom of this Black Page mystery. Each of these characters has a personal motivation, some of which is fleshed out throughout the course of the game. Rin Kagura, for example, made a promise to a chat room friend that they would someday meet, only now nobody knows where she is. Shin Suzutani read about the Black Page through his favorite occult magazine. Makoto Shirae started investigating the Black Room after his colleague mysteriously died. And at the age of 67, Chiyo Kishibe has been trying to reconnect to her late husband via the internet. These are intriguing branches that ultimately lead to an interesting mystery.
This set-up would be fine if the actual gameplay wasn't so dull. Calling is played in the first-person perspective, which means that you control your movements with the analog stick and all of the looking around is done with the Wii's remote. Although this is a little awkward at first, you soon get used to it and spend most of your time in a state of utter confusion. Where am I supposed to go next? What is it the game wants me to do? These are questions I continued to ask myself as I played through this boring, plodding adventure game.
Most of the action seems to take place in the dark, which means that you're going to be walking a lot of corridors without any sense of what's in front of you. Of course, they do this in order to have ghosts jump out at you when you're least expecting it for one of many cheap scares. The object in most of the levels is to simply walk around and locate doors you can open and objects you can interact with. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that if you had even the slightest sense of what you were supposed to do.
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. Early in the game Rin (a confident 21 year old student, the instruction manual tells me) wakes up to discover that she's locked in her own school ... WITH THE LIGHTS OUT! Keeping her composure, Rin looks around and discovers a ringing cell phone. A voice on the other end informs her that he's at the exit and really, REALLY wants his cell phone back. Then a few seconds later he calls her again, apparently he's on the second floor. Then he's on the third. Oh no, he's going to come and get us. Except, that's not what happens. Instead what you do is clumsily look around the school hoping for something to happen.
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