NIGHT TRAP / Digital Pictures / Sega CD

Night Trap was originally supposed to be the launch title / killer app for a planned Hasbro gaming console that would use VHS tapes. Obviously, somebody in the executive ranks eventually realized this was a terrible idea, but not before the entirety of Night Trap's video was already filmed. This took place in 1987, and the footage would sit on the shelf until 1992, when Digital Pictures bought the rights to it and put it all back together for the Sega CD.

It would most likely be another utterly forgotten experiment from the FMV Era had one Senator Joe Liebermann (then D-CT) not decided that grandstanding about video game violence (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!) would be a great way to rile up the base ahead of the 1994 elections. The Senate hearing he convened focused on the previously obscure Night Trap as well as the not-obscure Mortal Kombat, was full of baloney from people who had clearly never played any of the games involved and had zero knowledge of the medium, and was fueled even further by an opportunistic Nintendo providing cut-up footage in an attempt to take back some of the market share they had been losing to Sega. The whole thing was a complete embarassment for everyone involved, and ended up leading to the formation of the ESRB and those video game box ratings that parents probably don't even look at before buying their kids the latest Call of Screamy Suburban Kids: Boot Up Brown People's Asses installment.

(Not to belabor the point, but if you're curious, here's a partial list of games Smokin' Joe and his highly competent staff passed over in their rush to condemn Night Trap as the most clear and present danger to America's youth: Time Killers, Splatterhouse, Tecmo Knight, Chiller and NARC. I guess NARC was cool in 'Murica because it was a SWAT team mowing down legions of homeless drug addicts, but the others I don't have any explanation for.)

Anyway, the end result of all this for Night Trap was more sales, enough to even get a superior PC port made (it has better video and the ability to save). Sadists hoping to trap and molest young women based on Liebermann et. al's fanciful tales must have been terribly disappointed to get the game home and find that you're actually attempting to save the girls from rather tame and campy violence, however.

The basic premise is actually pretty cool, in a cheesy '80s horror movie sort of way. This seemingly normal suburban family named the Martins are actually vampires on the dl. Their MO is luring groups of youngsters to the house using their teenage children, then sucking their blood. A group of girls who recently disappeared is suspected to have been their victims, so a paranormal commando team called SCAT (yep) plants an agent amongst the ranks of the next sleepover party and also plants hidden cameras throughout the house. The Martins have the house rigged up with traps for their victims, but unbeknownst to them SCAT has taken control of those too with a comically obvious extension cable hanging through a window. You're an unnamed SCAT Man who oversees the operation from a van parked somewhere nearby, switching between the hidden cameras and triggering traps at the appropriate times. Things quickly get even more complicated as a group of gimp-ninjas called the Augers, apparently the hobos of the vampire world, get tired of begging for blood handouts from the Martins and decide to swarm the house en masse to grab the delicious girls for themselves. So most of the game is trapping Augers while also ensuring the Martins don't get wise to what's going on.

Gameplay is very basic. Use the gamepad and B button to select one of the eight rooms to view as the game runs in real-time. If nothing is currently going on, there's just a still shot of the room, but you might jump into the middle of a video clip if a plot event is going on. You also have to catch the Augers in brief windows as they scuttle into and out of the house and between hiding spots. As they cross the screen, a bar increases from green to yellow to red, and when it's in the red you can trigger a trap with C and eject the hapless Auger from the premises (or from existence depending on the trap). It usually only flickers into the red for about two seconds at a time, though, so if you enter the scene too late in the clip, you're screwed.

There's only one other gameplay wrinkle. The sole use of the A button is to toggle between different color codes. The Martins will periodically change the code to a new color, and while the events where they do this take place at fixed locations and times, the actual color is randomized between games. If the wrong color code is currently enabled, you can't set traps off.

What this boils down to is trial-and-error gameplay, and a lot of it. It's basically a matter of knowing in advance what's going to happen where (and stumbling into the code changes is ESPECIALLY critical). Though Mr. SCAT Man is never in direct danger, there's a few ways you can lose. There are unseen periodic checks on the number of Augers you've caught, and if you aren't running about 50% or so at these, Captain Mustachey McHardAss pulls the plug on you. You also get unceremoniously fired if you fail to protect the girls in one of a number of fixed scenes where they get attacked. The first game over for most players will likely come at the end of what appears to be a gameplay tutorial, however. Unbeknownst to you, the game is actually running in the background during this video, and if you patiently sit for 2 minutes and listen to Captain McMustache's instructions, he then pulls the plug on you for not showing initiative! Christ.

Anyway, to muddle through to the end you only have to capture something like 35 Augers in total (out of 95 possible), protect the girls in their attack scenes, and make sure you view all the code changes. The "perfect" ending requires 95 total captures, however, and I see no possible way to achieve it other than cheating with a guide or sitting for hours watching each screen to note when things happen. Jumping between Auger captures and key scenes often is only a window of 5 to 10 seconds, so you really have to know what's coming in advance. The game also doesn't provide an in-game map of the house, so to follow people between rooms you basically just have to memorize which rooms and secret passages connect to which. The rules about following don't apply to the Augers, though -- if you miss a chance to capture one, you don't get a second chance even if it moves on to another accessible screen.

A major problem with the game is that a lot of the charm is in the hammy, almost Troma-esque acting, but if you're stopping to enjoy that then you're missing Augers and eventually getting yourself kicked out of the game. There is some initial pleasure in launching Augers through the roof or inexplicably dropping them into some hellpit from the second-floor hallway, but a lot of these video clips get re-used. It doesn't really work at all as a horror game between the lurching Augers and the goofy 80s hair rock riffs that accompany them, and acting that features the worst Jamaican blackface since Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.   

                  Auger fappin' in the shower

One major positive for the game is that it does run zippy and smooth. The video is shrunken and grainy as Sega CD is wont to be, but load times between screens are very minimal -- less than a second if no video is playing and maybe 1 to 2 seconds if one is.

The original producers tried to get a Kickstarter for a remake of this going in mid-late 2014, but it only hit about 1/8th of its goal. That's probably for the best. The game is a cultural product of the late 80s and really should be left there. If you want to take it in for whatever reason, watching it on YouTube is the way to go; successfully playing it is not only a tedious matter of repetitive trial-and-error and note-taking, but also forces you to miss out on most of whatever hammy charm it has.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
* Senate hearings documentary