Okay, so let’s get this out of the way: Night Trap is not a great videogame. Really, it’s not even a good one.
If you’ve never played Night Trap before, you basically play backup for a special ops team as they investigate the goings-on at a house where young girls keep disappearing. You do this by monitoring various cameras around the house, and activating traps when intruders appear. The whole thing is a parody of Eighties slasher films, with wobbly sets, dodgy acting and a theme tune that can only be described as tremendously dreadful. There’s fun to be had if you love B-movies, but ironically you have to keep flicking away from the fun to do the tedious chore of mopping up bad guys.
Night Trap is now getting a 25th anniversary re-release on PS4 and Xbox One, and I couldn’t be happier. Why? Because despite the fact that Night Trap isn’t a good game, it’s both an interesting and important one.
For a start, this is a remnant of the aborted Hasbro Control-Vision (aka NEMO) project, an attempt to merge linear VHS video with gaming technology. After that it moved to the Mega-CD, a format where the simple act of getting video running in the first place was a minor miracle. And then, of course, it was central to the controversy over violence in video games, not only grabbing headlines but even showing up in the US Congress. While it wasn’t the only game that caused the formation of the ESRB, it was certainly partially responsible.
It’s also interesting as a piece of interactive storytelling. It’s up to you which characters you follow, and it’s impossible to see the entire story in one go as different conversations take place in parallel. It also has multiple endings depending on your performance and choices, making it one of the FMV genre’s closest attempts at a truly interactive movie. Bear in mind that all of this had to be achieved on the Mega-CD with minimal delay in switching between video feeds, and with the limitation that only three rooms could be active at any given time. Good? No. But it’s super interesting.
Ultimately, the videogames industry is still bad at preserving its past, and in particular it’s bad at preserving bad games. For better or worse, Night Trap was a key part of the development of videogames as an entertainment medium and it deserves to be preserved, regardless of the fact that it isn’t too much fun to play. Sure, there’s an argument that the grainy Mega-CD FMV is a key part of the experience, but it’s great to know that the original footage will have a high resolution transfer for posterity. Maybe – hopefully – there will even be a retrospective documentary, explaining just how and why Night Trap came to be, and what makes it so important. But if that doesn’t come to pass, well, that’s what we’re here for.