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Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is exactly what you’d expect from a Japanese horror game that originally came almost out a decade ago on the Wii U. And how you react to that sentence will tell you pretty much all you need to know about this game and whether it’s for you.

If, for example, you read it and instantly zeroed in on either “Fatal Frame” or Japanese horror, it’s safe to say you’ll be all over this game – and for good reason, too. Whatever its flaws – and I’ll get those in a moment – it hits the absolute perfect notes when it comes to atmosphere. Every moment of the game feels creepy. Whether you want to attribute this to the ghostly looking characters (even the non-dead ones), the rickety old buildings, or the general vibe that something unpleasant is lurking just at the edge of your vision, there’s hardly a moment that goes by here that doesn’t feel unsettling. For a horror game, that’s a pretty important aspect to get right.

What’s more, its core mechanic – you’re armed only with a camera, and you need to take photos of all the ghosts lurking about – is pretty well-executed. That’s been one of the essential elements of Fatal Frame going back to the beginning, and it’s done just as well here. In fact, given how gorgeously creepy the game looks, you could probably even argue that the mechanic has reached new heights for Maiden of Black Water.

That said, it’s important to remember the second half of what I wrote up there: Maiden of Black Water is a remake of a game that first came out in 2014 on the Wii U – and not only does it feel like it, it also has a lot of habits that will make it feel even older.

By this I mean that it’s a very slow-moving game. While this can be a key component in the kind of classic J-horror that Maiden of Black Water draws from, it’s not nearly as fun when you’re the one in charge of the action. There are only so many times you can slowly walk down an empty hallway or through a watery room before it starts to lose its appeal. Likewise, seeing as one of the key parts of the game is escaping from ghosts, it’s kind of silly that the characters show so little urgency, even when they’re running for their lives.

It’s also hard to shake the feeling that this game was built with the Wii-U and its gamepad in mind. While the transition to a more traditional system isn’t terrible, it frequently feels as if the game expects you to be quicker on your camera trigger than it allows for. While I never played it on Wii-U, it’s easy to imagine how it would work on a TV-gamepad combo. Here, by contrast, you’re often expected to switch to your camera without a whole lot of warning or opportunity to do so, which feels at odds with the game’s otherwise slow pace.

Neither of these issues are enough to completely sink Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, of course. As I said up top, it’s all about what you’re expecting out of it. If you don’t mind a horror game that doles out its frights at a snail’s pace, then you’ll find plenty here to enjoy.

Koei Tecmo provided us with a Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B