The early 90’s were a fraught time in video game history. Advancements in hardware were leading developers away from cute 2D platformers like Mario and into more mature fare like the bloody Mortal Kombat and Doom. Congress and parents took notice, and in an effort to protect the future of our children, a now infamous Senate hearing was held on December 9, 1993 zeroing in on one game in particular – the Full Motion Video vampires vs coeds game Night Trap.
As with most Congressional hearings, things quickly went south when a bunch of Senators with agendas and little understanding of what they were actually talking about lambasted Night Trap as featuring gratuitous violence and promoting sexual aggression toward women. Despite the creator’s attempts to explain that you are actually trying to defeat the vampires and save the women in the game and that the game contains relatively little violence or blood, eternal blowhard Joe Lieberman and his team refused to listen and found the game to be even more appalling than the fighting game where you literally rip your opponents’ hearts and spines out. These hearings would eventually lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and the game being pulled from the shelves of most major retailers.
Even though I was the rare kid who owned a Sega CD and loved the cheesy FMV games its library was filled with like Sewer Shark and Fahrenheit, young me would never know the B-movie glory of Night Trap. The game had seemingly been lost into the ether until the 25th Anniversary re-release gave all us 90’s kids a chance to experience the controversy once and for all.
After months languishing in my Switch eShop wish list, a 50% off sale led me to finally pull the trigger and spend one glorious Saturday night playing the cheesiest and best combination of an 80’s horror movie/video game imaginable.
The game opens with you being briefed about the situation at a mansion in wine country by a group of special forces soldiers who appear to be the stand-ins for a much lower budget version of Predator. Instantly, I was all-in on what was unfolding before me.
The gameplay itself is quite simple and relatively boring. You switch between 8 cameras in the mansion to find bad guys lurking throughout the house. Once spotted, you wait for an indicator to tell you when one is near a trap, and with a simple button press you lower the number of murderous fiends trying to ruin the world’s weirdest slumber party. If you let too many bad guys through or accidentally trap one of the girls, you could be abruptly fired by the commander prompting a game over. Of course this leads to wonderful questions about if the commander is then just abandoning the girls by firing you mid-mission, but that’s just part of the charm.
In order to truly enjoy this game, I recommend playing with a guide telling you what times and locations bad guys appear at so you can instead focus on the true highlight of the Night Trap experience – the gloriously bad and shockingly tame horror movie unfolding in the other rooms. Sure you could just look up all the great moments on YouTube but there’s something special about stumbling onto another gloriously campy scene.
Seriously, five minutes into the action one of the characters lip synchs the theme song to the game using a tennis racket. It is everything I could have hoped for and more, and it alone was worth the 27 year wait.
At around the 12 minute mark, the moment highlighted in those hearings occurs – we get to see a woman in a fairly mild night gown attacked by the augers who are actually pretty easy to trap ensuring the woman’s safety. It was definitely fun thinking back to a simpler time when this would have been considered risque, but it was also becoming increasingly obvious why the game that helped create the ratings board now only holds a “Teen” rating.
The rest of the game unfolds over the course of about 30 minutes or so as the situation for our somewhat oddly scantily clad heroines (I can’t tell if it’s just weird 80’s clothing) becomes increasingly dire as both the invading augers and the homeowning vampires (still not quite sure what the difference is between the two but who cares) begin to make their moves. Nerdy neighbors with laser guns and meddling kids all make their way into the mix ratcheting up the camp. Hell, there’s even a sad lost love story about one of the teen vampires that’s as compelling as anything featured in Twilight.
Overall, Night Trap is a fairly enjoyable time capsule of a game providing plenty of laughs due to its schlocky nature and the meditation on rapidly changing cultural norms. It may not be a lost masterpiece, but it’s a fascinating game. I would highly recommend playing this with a group of friends and some libations to maximize the experience. Most importantly, it’s good to know that even all these years later, Joe Lieberman still sucks.