Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a Wii U exclusive title that emphasizes use of the GamePad. Without treading on any toes, I think that we can all agree that there have been enough failed motion control schemes by now that any new motion controlled game should be approached with caution (if not outright skepticism). Fatal Frame 4 on the Wii featured terrible motion control and playing through a game that fights you for control is never a good time – I approached this game with trepidation. My concern was unfounded. The new Fatal Frame plays great.
The GamePad has always been quite a good motion controller, but the weight and shape prevents most games from utilizing it. It makes perfect sense in the context of holding up a camera though. I never once had to fight with accelerometers not reading my angle or sunlight disrupting sensor bar connectivity or any other faux pas of motion control past. I was instantly and intuitively able to use my camera. Whether ghost busting, secret unlocking, or peeking around a corner the gamepad never once impaired my experience.
What’s interesting once playing is that the gameplay design is not traditional survival horror. This game is not about disempowering the player or resource management or hiding from certain death. It’s a shooter. Not the guns blazing kind of shooter, but a shooter in the grand Treasure tradition of canvassing your screen with moving patterns that need to be cleared as efficiently as possible.
Here are the variables you’re playing with: A picture with more targets in it does more damage, a picture from up close to the target does more damage, a picture sometimes needs to be focused on a specific weak point, a picture of an enemy taken while they’re in an attack animation gives a “Fatal Frame” special attack for massive damage, and enemies that take damage release floating ghost fragments that act as additional targets to rack up higher damage per photo. Oh yes, and you can’t rapid fire. The camera recharges after every snap.
That’s quite a list there, and it leads to all sorts of fun decision making. One early encounter has the game throwing endless waves of minions at the player that protect a central boss. Tons of weak ghosts charging you gives easy high damage group photographs, but the minions also go out of their way to get between the camera and the boss. So then is it better to destroy the Canon fodder to clear a path to the real target, or is it better to try and maneuver to get them in the frame also for higher damage on the boss? The high score hunter will take the risky road and use the lesser ghosts as offensive enhancements. The first time I played the level I barely survived, but I’ve since gone back and performed exponentially better. Pro tip: The strafe speed with the camera up is too slow to line up a good boss shot. Learn to run in third person and then quick draw that thing like a six shooter.
On top of all that there’s a player controlled difficulty variable within levels also. The more wet your avatar gets, the more aggressive and dangerous the enemies become… but there’s a sweet score bonus in it for you if you can clear a level mostly soaked. Levels are generally short and give score rankings at the end. The campaign isn’t long start to finish, but like all shooters of this style the point is to replay levels in pursuit of optimal play.
In fact, I eventually found myself wishing that this game wasn’t a horror game at all. Once I wrapped my head around how this game works many of the horror trappings became annoyances. Yes yes, you’re very scary game – now can we get to the part where I’m juggling half a dozen things trying to kill me and I only have time for three photographs before I take a score penalty? I didn’t skip cutscenes because it’s my responsibility to the Siliconera readership to experience the story of the game too, but I sure wanted to sometimes.
We’re probably not going to get a Sin and Punishment game for the Wii U – but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Playing Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a blast.