Blue Stinger is more of an action arcade game than it is survival horror. It’s just a weird coincidence that the goal of the game is survival, and that most of the enemies are horrors.
Put on your cut-off jean shorts, stock up on pop-top Hassy’s, and sail on over for some fun in the sun with your best ephemeral, glowing, alien girlfriend! It’s Christmas time on Dinosaur Island! Sure, there may be some mutated biomedical monsters roaming around, but it’s the holidays; the more the merrier, am I right?
If you’ve no idea what I’m saying, then you’ve never played Blue Stinger, the Activision-published Dreamcast launch title that wormed its way into the hearts of we early adopters. If that’s the case, go get yourself a copy as soon as possible and experience for yourself this ludicrous romp through the world of Japanese-styled survival horror. If you’re already initiated with the joys of Blue Stinger, come with me as we take a stroll down memory lane.
The second coming of survival horror?
This game was one of the more hyped releases on that glorious September in 1999, when the Dreamcast descended from heaven and landed in living rooms across the USA. Touted as that system’s very own Resident Evil, Blue Stinger would fall a bit short compared with Capcom’s masterpiece.
The original Resident Evil was legendary for its blood-chilling scares and extreme, long-lived tension, but Blue Stinger is just a different beast altogether. The truly frightening moments are few and far between, and more often one finds oneself laughing at the generally absurd nonsense happening on screen.
Zombies wear Santa outfits, bosses take the shape of a hermit crab merged with a sport-utility vehicle, and there’s a seeming obsession with plushy, stuffed animals and cute, biomedical mascot characters.
Let’s not even discuss the voice acting.
OK, maybe not so much …
Yes, things are more wacky than scary. Everything’s just so damn colorful! Blue Stinger is like Space Harrier with zombies. When you kill an enemy, little glowing coins come bouncing out like you’ve just broken a brick in some weird game featuring Italian plumbing brothers. It’s not that the game has no tension, it’s just that it’s not of the truly frightening variety found in some other survival horror games.
The tension that’s present is the type that comes from worrying about running out of ammunition and taking damage from the game’s extremely strong enemies. Just because that four-armed mutant is wearing a Santa hat doesn’t mean it’s a pushover, and if you’re not careful, it will quickly be game over. But at no moment is the player ever dreading that next hallway or afraid to open a door for fear of what might be lurking behind.
This lack of atmospheric tension is certainly a result of the aesthetic, but it could also be a byproduct of a pretty big decision by Activision when bringing the game over from Japan. In the previous version, originally released in 1998 in Japan, the camera used a fixed perspective, similar to Resident Evil. This system placed the camera in stationary locations chosen by the game’s developer, Climax Graphics. The camera worked well to provide a more cinematic experience and increased the fear factor in areas where creatures would emerge dramatically into the frame, or in close-quarters where things would feel claustrophobic.
But maybe the Japanese version?
Early previews of the Japanese release by American gaming journalists lambasted the game as having horrible control, mostly due to the camera positioning, prompting Activision to implement an entirely new third-person perspective. This perspective, like the ones found in Tomb Raider and Zelda, would follow behind the character from a distance and be controllable by the player. It helped to make the game a little bit more playable, but it also killed some of the tension. Instead of unknown and unseen monsters making terrifying noises off-screen, the player immediately sees from where the threat is coming and can pretty easily dispatch it with a rocket-launcher.
Because of this, the Japanese version is superior when it comes to scares, but the US version is slightly more playable. In a survival-horror game, it makes sense that things should be as scary as possible, but exactly which camera system is better is a matter of opinion.
Ahhh, yes, the sound effects …
Another area in which it seems the designers failed to read the design brief is the soundtrack. The sound effects are nice, and do the job, but the music is far from creepy. Survival horror games are expected to have some level of dread imbued in their music. Cellos and violins should scrape and moan as rusted hinges yawn slowly open, and melancholy tunes should give way to frantic cacophonies whenever monsters are threatening the main character.
In Blue Stinger, everything is so clinically clean, and the music is like something from a Japanese shopping mall mixed with Jingle Bells. I understand it’s Christmas time, but we’re not making a documentary here. It wouldn’t have hurt to include some dread in your carols, Climax. Still, all this does seem to blend together to make a strange dichotomy of terror. That is, we wonder what type of sick and twisted criminal brain could come up with a game so sickeningly cheerful and morbidly bloody at the same time.
“It’s a game that’s fun to play, challenging and entertaining, without instilling that feeling of nauseous dread that so often accompanies games of this type.”
Blue Stinger isn’t a bad game, by any means. In fact, it’s a favorite of mine. It’s just not scary in the atmospheric way of some of the genre’s standouts. It’s a game that’s fun to play, challenging and entertaining, without instilling that feeling of nauseous dread that so often accompanies games of this type. It’s delectably “Japanese” in its presentation.
With vivid and colorful graphics, quirky characters, and fun music, Blue Stinger is more of an action arcade game than it is survival horror. It’s just a weird coincidence that the goal of the game is survival, and that most of the enemies are horrors.