GAME REVIEW: Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (2015)

By Nick Durham

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I've had a love/hate relationship with the Fatal Frame franchise since its inception. They aren't bad games, not one bit, for me personally, the promise that each game in the series offers gets overshadowed by sloppy mechanics and overall lack of execution. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is no different, although it does offer its fair share of positives along the way.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Fatal Frame games usually put you in the shoes of a buxom Japanese babe that somehow winds up combatting ghosts and other supernatural elements, using a camera that attacks the spirits by snapping their pictures. The better picture you get, the more damage you dish out. Rinse, repeat. While never a household name of a franchise, the Fatal Frame games have their fan base, and while I kind of shit on it a little bit in that opening paragraph, the games themselves usually end up being fairly entertaining. This game, the fifth in the franchise, is no different.

You play as various characters at different points in the game's story, running around collecting items, solving very slight puzzles, and taking pictures of spooky ghosts. There's a mystery unfolding as the game goes on, taking place on a mountain range that is infamous for being a hot spot for suicides. Things get a tad confusing from that point forward, but I've never played these games for their stories in all honesty. Nevertheless, there is plenty of creepy atmosphere and haunting moments that take place throughout. Quick shots of ghastly apparitions swinging from nooses or leaping off cliffs really help give the game a sense of dread and spookiness. In the atmosphere department, Maiden of Black Water delivers the goods.

The game's biggest strength however also ends up being its biggest weakness. The game takes full advantage of the Wii-U's massive gamepad controller to use as the game's Camera Obscura (i.e., the name the franchise's spectral camera is called), and it uses it pretty well. Aiming and taking shots of the ghosts is simple and fun enough, and in fact this is the best use of the gamepad I've seen done in a long time. I've owned a Wii-U for a long while now, and not nearly enough games for it take advantage of the pad at all. Maiden of the Black Water happily does. That being said, when things get panicky (i.e. when there's a few ghosts teaming up on you), things get kind of cumbersome control wise. While in camera mode, your character can still move around, which is good, but if you back up against a wall, you wouldn't really know it until you realize you're not moving anymore. Then it's drop out of camera mode, and run a bit to give you a little distance between you and the ghosts to finish dispatching them. This wouldn't be that much of a bad thing, were it not for the fact that the character movement controls themselves are really, really fucking clunky. Trust me when I say: when things get hectic, you're going to get frustrated.

Graphically speaking the game looks good and there are some impressive lighting effects as well. The environments are nice and the character models and ghost effects are pretty good as well. From an aesthetic point of view, Maiden of Black Water kicks ass, especially for a Wii-U game. That, and the occasional gratuitous ass shots don't hurt either.

My biggest complaint about Maiden of Black Water however isn't so much the game itself, but how you have to play it. Now over in its native Japan, this game received a physical, disc release. Over here, it's digital only. Now that's really not that big a deal, but considering the game is close to being 10 gigabytes, and the Wii-U itself has a tiny ass hard drive (mine is 32 gigs for fuck's sake), this shit just doesn't fly. Now the one positive to this is that, at least for now, Nintendo is offering the first three chapters to play for free. Once you get through them, you can purchase the full game for 50 bucks if you feel so inclined. Considering that price tag, there isn't enough here to warrant that, at least for me. Plus Nintendo has apparently censored a number of revealing unlockable outfits for the female protagonists, replacing them with Princess Zelda and Zero-Suit Samus outfits instead. My penis weeps.

Anyway, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water isn't a terrible game one bit. Give it a try for free while you can and see what you think. It's not worth the full 50 bucks, at least for me, but you may enjoy it much more than I did. So with all that in mind, give this a shot. There really isn't much in terms of survival horror to find on the Wii-U, and hey, I guess this winds up being better than that other Wii-U exclusive survival horror game The Letter right? That's not much of an accomplishment though, but that's besides the point; getting kicked in the dick by an ice skate is more enjoyable than that fucking game.

Rating: 3/5

Posted by Alan Smithee

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