“In the past years, some very violent and offensive games have reached the market, and of course I’m speaking about Mortal Kombat and Night Trap.” It was 9th December 1993, and the then-president of Nintendo of America, Howard Lincoln, was giving a statement at a US congressional hearing on violent video games. Mortal Kombat had already been released on the SNES, but it was a heavily censored version: the blood had been replaced with sweat and its notorious fatality moves had been removed.
As for Night Trap – the Mega CD game that featured full-motion video (FMV) of scantily-clad teenagers in mild peril – Lincoln was more scathing. “Let me say that for the record,” he told the hearing, “I want to state that Night Trap will never appear on a Nintendo system. Obviously, it would never pass our guidelines.”
In hindsight, Lincoln’s speech was less a moral crusade and more an attempt to keep the senators happy and make Nintendo look like the good guys. As soon as it became clear that the blood-soaked Mega Drive version of Mortal Kombat was vastly outselling the censored SNES one, those guidelines Lincoln spoke of were changed pronto. Mortal Kombat 2 was released fully uncut on Nintendo’s system, with fatalities and gore a-plenty.
Night Trap, meanwhile, never did make it to a Nintendo console during Lincoln’s reign, but that was more likely due to technical reasons: the company’s refusal to embrace CD-ROM meant neither the SNES or the N64 would have really been able to handle a game that consisted entirely of video clips. By the time the GameCube launched and Nintendo had a system with adequate storage, the FMV genre was already dead and Night Trap was ancient history. That was then, though. They say you should never say never, and what we have here is a shining example of this. An entire quarter of a century later, despite what Howard Lincoln promised, Night Trap has appeared on a Nintendo system, in a 25th anniversary remaster.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, the game puts you in charge of a bank of eight security cameras, each set up in a different room of the Martin household. A bunch of teenagers recently disappeared after a trip to the Martins’, so it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on by using the cameras to keep an eye on a second group spending the night there (one of whom is an undercover agent working for you).
It quickly becomes clear that the house is swarming with Augers, a group of shambling, toothless vampires who need to use a special claw tool to extract blood from their victims. It’s up to you to catch the Augers by activating one of the many traps littered around the house. Press the trap button just as an Auger passes over the right spot and they’ll be caught: miss too many of them and it’s game over.
The trick, then, is scanning through each room, attempting to catch as many Augers as you can while still trying to eavesdrop on the various conversations going on throughout the house. It’s important you do so, too, because sometimes the residents – suspicious that someone’s onto them – will change the security colour code for the traps and you’ll need to change yours accordingly in order to keep catching the blood-sucking bad guys.
Since it’s essentially just made up of a bunch of video clips, Night Trap is an extremely linear game and a short one at that: a perfect run takes around half an hour. The fun comes in trying to achieve that level of perfection, though, by slowly but surely memorising the sequence of events and learning which dialogue scenes you should watch and which can be ignored. If you prefer your games to be a completely different experience each time you play, then Night Trap certainly isn’t for you. This is about playing the events of one evening over and over, Groundhog Day-style, until you figure out how to handle it flawlessly. There’s a brilliant reason for doing so in this version, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
This 25th anniversary edition of Night Trap – originally developed by one-man team Screaming Villains and ported to Switch by Limited Run – delivers by far the best-looking version of the game. At the time it was originally released on Mega CD (and later PC and 3DO), CD-ROM video technology was still in its infancy and the extreme compression meant the video quality was horrendous. Footage was blocky and grainy, the video window was tiny and the frame rate was cut heavily in order to fit everything in.
For this version, the developer was given access to the original tapes containing all the footage shot at the time. This meant the game had to be rebuilt almost from scratch, but the result is picture quality that absolutely demolishes the ‘90s versions: the video window is satisfyingly big, the detail is far greater than before and the frame rate has been brought up to movie standard.
There are some issues, though. The game over scenes – in which your commander gives you a piece of his mind for messing up – were shot years after the other footage, and so high-quality versions of them don’t exist. As a result, these scenes appear in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, which is disappointing. The original tapes have also suffered some damage over the years, so there’s some visible picture tearing and interference in some scenes near the end – though it could be argued that this just adds to the cheesy ‘80s VHS aesthetic.
The Switch port, in particular, has its own quirks not present in the previously released PS4 version. Video can occasionally be a little janky in handheld mode and a couple of the longer scenes – the infamous ‘party’ scene where the actors all ham it up to the official Night Trap theme tune being the most notable example – are noticeably more compressed, presumably to help the Switch handle them a little better.
That’s the game itself, then: ultimately, it remains as divisive as it was when it first launched back in 1993. You’re either going to love the way it cleverly uses and interconnects video clips to give the impression you’re genuinely analysing the goings-on in this house, or you’re going to hate its linear gameplay and the fact that every game plays out exactly the same way. What’s less arguable, though, is the quality of everything else you get in this anniversary edition.
As well as the remastered version of the game itself, this shiny new Night Trap package also includes a bunch of bonus features. Some are fairly throwaway: the Survival mode randomly arranges clips of Augers in the house and tasks you with catching as many as possible, which should amuse you for a while but is a bit soulless. Far better are the other goodies. Theater mode appears when you beat the game and lets you replay any of the dialogue scenes you stumbled upon, giving you the chance to enjoy them uninterrupted without the need to jump to another room to trap someone. Meanwhile, there are two brilliant documentaries – one recorded in the ‘90s shortly after the congressional hearings and a more recent one shot in 2017 for this new edition – which are well worth a watch.
Even better, get a perfect game by capturing all the Augers and you’ll unlock Scene Of The Crime, the unreleased 1986 prototype of Night Trap that was created as a sort of proof-of-concept when the idea was being pitched to toy company Hasbro for the NEMO game system. This is an absolutely incredible addition: for years Night Trap fans had only seen tiny, seconds-long snippets of Scene Of The Crime, so to not only see the full thing but actually be able to play it too is beyond belief.
As a game it’s fair to say Night Trap is an acquired taste: on one hand, it has limited interactivity and B-movie acting that’s cheesier than Wallace and Gromit’s fridge, but on the other, its inventive use of FMV and unique trapping mechanic has earned it a cult following. There’s no denying the quality of the surrounding package, though, and regardless of your thoughts on Night Trap itself, the addition of a pair of lengthy documentaries and a playable version of its fabled prototype make it fascinating for gaming historians.