Full motion video games, or FMV’s for short, were all the (short lived) rage back in the early 90s. CD technology had been around for a few years in the music industry, but, by 1992, it was finally mainstream to the point where just about everyone had traded in their cassettes for CDs. The same was becoming true for the video game industry as well. Cartridges were being touted as the technology of the past. In order to harness the true power of your video game consoles, you needed to slap on a CD-ROM and experience the additional graphical, video and sound capabilities it offered. The Sega CD was preceded by Turbografx-16’s CD attachment by two years, but the Turbo CD was an add-on for a relatively poor selling console in North America and Europe. The Sega Genesis had sold millions of consoles by 1992, so there was a larger built-in audience hungry to create their own Marky Mark & Kris Kross music videos. Welcome to the glorious world of full motion video, and one of the most infamous games of the genre.
Night Trap was an original North American launch title for the Sega CD in the fall of 1992. The plot of the game involves a group of young women staying overnight in a house, Bed & Breakfast style, which happens to be run by (Spoiler Alert!) a family of vampires, who look and sound like a typical American family. Dana Plato, of Diff’rent Strokes fame, plays one of the young women staying over, but she’s actually an undercover agent for S.C.A.T. (Sega Control Attack Team) attempting to find answers to what happened to other women who went missing after staying at the house. In preparation for this assignment, S.C.A.T. discovered a series of traps as well as hidden cameras placed in strategic locations in and around the home. The traps were initially set up by the vampires to help capture their victims, but you’ve managed to override the control system for access to both the cameras and the traps. As the player, your job is to man the hidden cameras off-site and set off traps to catch Augers, who are vampire lackey’s whose job is to capture and drain the blood of potential victims.
The vampires can and will change the security code (in the form of colors) to the traps at various points in the game, which means you need to be a step ahead of them and do the same. If you don’t have the right security code set up ahead of time when you’re attempting to set off a trap, it won’t work. If you’re unable to capture the Augers in the traps, they will eventually overrun the house and kill not only the victims, but also some of your S.C.A.T. team members. If too many Augers take over the house, or certain key members of the party you’re in charge of protecting die, the game is over.
So what makes Night Trap so “infamous”? For starters, it was terribly dated. Most of the footage used in the game was originally shot in 1987 for a failed VCR-based gaming system by Hasbro. Sega acquired publishing rights to the game when they began working with Digital Pictures, who owned the game and footage by the early 90s. You spend much of the game moving from camera to camera, eavesdropping on the homes occupants. Sometimes the scenes are informative, such as when members of the vampire clan unintentionally inform you that they are going to change the security code and to what color it will be changed to. Other times, you’re treated to inane and pointless conversations between the girls, humorously cheesy singalongs to the original track created for the game, or one of the girls preparing to take a shower.
Hmmm, taking a shower, you say? Don’t get too excited, the game doesn’t show anything that might titillate unless you’ve never seen a woman in a nightgown before. The aforementioned bathroom/shower scene is the scene in the game that was repeatedly highlighted during the U.S. Senate hearings on violent video games in 1993, and the main reason Night Trap is considered infamous to this day. Its depiction of violence against women, as the character in the game is attacked by Augers and her blood is sucked out of her screaming body using their “auger” device, was called “sick” and “disgusting”. By today’s standards, this scene wouldn’t garner more than an uptick of an eyebrow. My opinion is that because the game uses real actors instead of pixels and sprites, parents were naturally more concerned with having their 12-year-old play a game that shows a real-life actor get the blood sucked out of her neck by a machine than him or her knifing a street thug to death in Double Dragon. You can thank this game for helping to usher in the ESRB ratings systems that all video games are now subject to. There is also a version for the 32X/CD, with larger, clearer video than the regular Sega/Mega CD version as well as a port for the 3DO. All copies of the 32X/CD version as well as some later released Sega CD versions are censored, shortening some of the more “graphic” death scenes.
For a FMV game, Night Trap isn’t the worst I’ve played. Sure, there is some pretty bad acting, Dana Plato aside, and even more groan-inducing dialogue, but the gameplay can be fun if you know what you’re doing. Eventually, you get the hang of where the Augers are going to be at certain times while knowing when to change the code. This requires a lot of repeat plays, which can make things a bit repetitive until you’re able to move forward by mastering the early portions of the game. Night Trap also features multiple endings depending on who you are able to save and the choices you make. There is one ending in particular that involves Dana’s character suffering an odd and cruel fate that really needs to be seen as opposed to read about.
Hands down, the best or most campy scene in the game is the party singalong scene, where one of the girls sings into a tennis racket to the original track made for the game, naturally called “Night Trap”. Eventually, she convinces the rest of the gang, including the vampire daughter, to join in the singalong. The other young male vampires enter the room and crash the party, but not before vampire cousin Tony shares a moment with one of the girls. When asked how old her cousin is, the vampire girl, Sarah, responds “Older than you think.” It’s a classic 80s scene in a classic 80s script, but for a 90s game. “Night Trap! That boy will find you! Night Trap! Watch out behind you! Night Trap!” A close second would be the ending I alluded to with Dana Plato’s character and her untimely demise, but so few people actually get to see that scene as opposed to the singalong scene which takes place early in the game.
Kelli Medd, Dana Plato’s character, is the heart and soul of the game. As the woman on the inside, she has to play along with the girls in order to prove to the vampire family that she isn’t an imposter. At the same time, she has to make sure S.C.A.T.s mission isn’t compromised and get the necessary information she needs on the family to tie them to the previous disappearances. She will also speak to you directly to nudge you in the right direction or remind you of what needs to be done. If you are unable to save her at the end of the game and she calls you out on it, it feels pretty devastating, trust me.
The traps themselves can almost be considered a character in the game. These traps are comical in how effective they are in spite of themselves. Here are some examples. A door opens filled with steam that blinds the bumbling Augers while another door on the opposite side of the hallway opens up and pushes them into the steam. Hidden doors open in corners and bookcases magically sucking the Augers into the walls by sheer centrifugal force or something. Lots of trap doors in the floor that drop Augers into what I’m guessing are pits filled with lava (just a long shot). My favorite trap has to be the spring loaded trap on the roof that launches an Auger high in the air where it lands, presumably, in a pit of lava? Or maybe the fall breaks its neck. Who knows, really, as the fate of the disappearing Augers is not immediately clear, but in my mind, it’s always lava.
Night Trap is far from a perfect game. It’s cheesy as hell, the video footage is grainy, the gameplay is confusing at first, and having to repeat the same scenes over and over in the early going gets tedious. Night Trap only gets better as you get better at manipulating the cameras and traps. It’s not a game that immediately rewards players with non-stop action, so you need to spend some time with it to catch on to what it has to offer. There’s a slow burn quality to Night Trap that demands repeat plays, not just to become proficient, but to also revel in all of its FMV brilliance.