Retro Review: Night Trap (SEGA CD)

night trap

Release Date: October 15, 1992

Developer: Digital Pictures

Publisher: SEGA

No. Just…no.

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition just got an August 11th date for the physical PlayStation 4 release. The PS4 and PC will see a digital release on August 15th. Many people, including Digital Crack Podcast mate Dv310per – a smart and thoughtful fellow gamer who is nevertheless wrong – are excited about the release. The retro gamer in me understands the excitement. The realist in me thinks they are on flakka.

The original Night Trap for the SEGA CD was a really big deal back in the day. Despite the controversy surrounding its existence, the game was part of a watershed era for gaming. Games like Night Trap tried to elevate the simple “kids’ toy” stigma that surrounded video games. CD-based games like Night Trap aimed to be more cinematic, combining gameplay with cinematic storytelling to appeal to more than just kids.

This merging of gameplay and storytelling, given the catchy name of “multimedia” back then, was a load of horseshit. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This re-release of Night Trap is not going to be just some half-ass port job. In addition to the original visuals being gussied up to HD levels, there will be lots of deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes gems. It will also feature a “theater” mode that will treat the original SEGA CD game as the movie experience it originally meant to convey. For fans of the cult classic, it’s something that’s worthy of praise. For someone like me, it’s a cool load of extras. At least they distract from my feelings towards the game.

With all due respect to people like Dv309+1prrrr, who are excited about this and want the re-release, I have one simple question:

WHY????????????????

Did y’all forget the shitshow that was “multimedia”? If not, ask yourselves these questions and be brutally honest.

Why haven’t there been 25th-anniversary releases of Sewer Shark and Ground Zero? Those were “multimedia” titles released in the same time frame as Night Trap. In fact, all three titles were developed by the same studio: Digital Pictures. Why are those games ignored but Night Trap is so venerated?

Better yet, where’s the 30th Anniversary release of Dragon’s Lair? It was the arcade game that started the whole “multimedia” craze of video gaming, blending full-motion video with game mechanics. It was also the mastermind of Don Bluth, the former Disney animator who is loved for animated movies like The Secret of NIMH. You would figure a landmark title like Dragon’s Lair would see a much-ballyhooed anniversary release just for that. It didn’t.

But Night Trap does? I ask again. WHY????????????????????

It’s because Night Trap gained a cult following due to its controversy and its extreme campiness. That’s it. I’ll get to the controversy in a bit. For now, I’ll discuss the game itself.

It was a shit game, and it’s STILL a shit game. Just like all of the shit “multimedia” games released in the early FMV days!

Look, I love me some campiness. For evidence, see my article about my love for Night of the Creeps. That movie is near-indefensible, but I love it. So campiness isn’t the problem with Night Trap.

As a further example, I offer the iconic Night Trap party scene that is shown as a testament to the game’s brilliance. I will offer no context, as none is needed. It is campy. It is cheesy. It is 100% everything both right and wrong about the 80s. And it is magical!

Everything about that scene is amazing. And everything about that scene also highlights the abject failure Night Trap is.

To put it simply, THAT IS ALL THE FUCKING GAME IS!!!

The game puts players in the shoes of an operative of the SEGA Control Attack Team (S.C.A.T.).

<<Cue the snickers of the people who recognize what scat is, followed by the horrifying gasps of the people who didn’t know what scat is and Googled it. OK, moving on…>>

After a series of disappearances at the Martin winery estate, S.C.A.T. places agent Kelli Medd (the late Dana Plato) within a group of five other teenagers that are staying over. As the S.C.A.T. operative backing Agent Medd up, you are to monitor the surveillance cameras strewn around the estate and work traps that are set. The ultimate goal is to keep the teenagers and the Agent Medd safe from the Augers, a group of vampiric “enemies.”

The gameplay highlights the main issue with games like Night Trap: THERE IS NO ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

With titles like Dragon’s Lair, gameplay is narrowed down to memorization and attentiveness. At random points through the cinematics of Dragon’s Lair, a prompt is flashed on the screen. Veteran gamers who are looking for the prompts will perform the proper input using the game’s controls. Novice players who just jump in will not know to spot the prompts. Most will have their character, Dirk the Daring, die while admiring the visuals. It takes practice and memorization for players to know when to expect the prompts and input them fast enough to advance. It’s not proper gameplay to many, but at least the prompts kept you on your toes. They were the precursors to QTEs, something which I loathe.

Night Trap takes the inane controls and dumbs them down even further. Here, the majority of the controls focus on switching between different surveillance cameras. The events of the night happen during the game like the script of a movie. The idea is to watch the proper surveillance camera at the right time. Doing so allows the player to spy on the important event that happens during that time in the game’s script. The goal is to prevent the demise of Agent Medd and the teenagers at the hands of the Augers. How do you prevent their demise? Well, traps that are set around the manor can be sprung. If you’re watching the right camera at the right time, you can spring the right trap to prevent the right murder.

That’s it. The point of the game is to watch cameras and stop dumb vampires from hurting teenagers by activating traps. Essentially, it’s a really shitty video game version of Rear Window. Watch the right camera at the right time, find the murderer.

So why is it a big deal? I refer you to the above video. That’s all there really is to Night Trap that anyone really cares about. As a game, it’s shit. Once you memorize all the events that happen at the specific time frames, gamers just switch to the proper camera to prevent the bad thing from happening. Entire speed runs are dedicated to doing just this.

One thing I will recognize, however, is the cultural upheaval this game started. You think Grand Theft Auto has triggered controversy? You have not seen anything like Night Trap! Much of the vitriol for the game was based on the “realism” that “multimedia” titles like Night Trap portrayed back then.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of quotes have been thrown into this article. There’s a reason for that. Everything with respect to this style of gaming was so new back then, simple words needed quotes. The United States Congress, however, replaced kitschy tech buzzwords in quotes with hyperbole and scare-mongering. And Night Trap was one of their scapegoats.

Back on December 9th, 1993, United States senators Herbert Kohl and Joe Lieberman got a particularly large hair stuck up their asses. They became very concerned with the role of video games in the lives of the youth of the time. Williams’ arcade hit Mortal Kombat was a favored whipping horse at the time, and Congressional hearings were held to discuss the effects games like it had on children. Night Trap was thrown into the conversation because it was considered overly graphic for the time. Full-motion video was new then, and the senators felt that graphic imagery such as the “killing” of people would harm children.

These hearings highlighted what I believe to be the biggest difference between video game rivals Nintendo and SEGA: whereas Nintendo tried its best to be squeaky-clean and accessible for all ages, SEGA was willing to push the envelope and embrace more “adult” content. Games like Night Trap gave SEGA the “adult” edge that differentiated them from “kiddie game” Nintendo. And Nintendo went out of its way to portray SEGA as “irresponsible” and complicit in violent acts by gamers.

(Look, I know I’ve overused the quotation marks. Again, it was the olden days!)

These hearings did have one unintended benefit: it sparked the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in North America. Game developers and publishers had the foresight to realize that self-policing was better for business than letting the government dictate what is good for consumers. The ESRB set up a ratings system for video games that is still in use today and determines the audience suitable to play certain games. A similar system, Pan European Game Information (PEGI), rates games for the EU.

In my opinion, that is Night Trap’s biggest contribution to gaming. It helped set up a coalition that rates games based on content. The game’s content is only noteworthy in that context.

Still, I have to admit that its campiness is charming. Playing old Sega CD games elicits that charm. Remember, these were the early days of “multimedia” gaming. The silly scenes in those games were scripted and acted out with sincerity. Although the results cause eye-rolls and sighs now, they were the epitome of high-tech back then. And they do have a quaint air now.

Does Night Trap still hold up? Depends on who you ask. I will unequivocally state that it does not. Gamers like Dv3(2*5)PRDMPR will swear that it does. It depends on how you feel about the nostalgia attached to cheesy clips and near-comatose gameplay.

That said, I’m actually intrigued by Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition. The deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes clips would be worth the price of admission alone. As much dislike as I have for the original game, I love delving into gaming’s history. The theater mode will also allow me to experience all of the campy scenes without having to memorize time codes and camera locations.

Basically, the game can go fuck itself. But the 25th-anniversary release sounds pretty awesome.

Good: Cheesy cutscenes; awesome campiness

Bad: Very little gameplay in this “game”

Final score: 2/10

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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