The Legacy of Night Trap


By: Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)

The nostalgia trip of remakes, reboots, and re-releases continues as Screaming Villains has announced a 25th Anniversary Edition of the infamous Sega CD game Night Trap, due out on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this spring. Limited Run Games is providing a brief run of physical copies of this otherwise digital-only title. So now would be as good of a time as any to take a look back at this game that holds a place in gaming history.

Night Trap (under the original title Scene of the Crime) was filmed and developed for a little-known, never-released console by Hasbro, the Nemo, in 1987. When it tanked, Digital Pictures scooped up the rights and released to the Sega Genesis add-on Sega CD in 1992. It was later ported to PC-CD. Taking advantage of the then-new compact disc technology, Night Trap was a game that featured interactive full-motion video (known as FMV games) where a player would hit a controller button at a precise moment to trigger a new film clip on the screen. This is where it was “interactive,” but the problem with games like these, as one could guess, is that these games become extremely repetitive very quickly until you play it all the way to the end. It becomes more of a memory challenge – or in days before Internet FAQs, a taking-notes-on-a-pad-of-paper challenge – and less of a game. Playing a game like this repeatedly on Sega Genesis hardware was especially a chore, given it was only able to render 64 colors on a screen at once, giving FMV games like this, Ground Zero Texas, and Wirehead among others a grainy, washed-out look. FMV games were all the rage for a brief amount of time, but flamed out very quickly when games on forthcoming Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn showed what CD technology could really do with gaming.

But the legacy of Night Trap far outlives the quality of the game itself. The plot involves vampires employing hunched-over henchmen (named Augers) who entrap scantily-clad teenage girls and string them upside down to drain their blood into champagne bottles for a midnight bubbly. A SWAT-like team of officers is sent in to try and stop them, and the player is in control of hidden cameras throughout the house, trying to trigger traps to catch the Augers before they catch another victim. Because this is an FMV game, it employed real actors, including the late Dana Plato (best known from the TV show Diff’rent Strokes) as the lead undercover agent, and Andras Jones (from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) as one of the occupants of the house. And also because this was all FMV, it played out like a movie as opposed to an animated video game, making the violence and situations realistic. But although the filmed footage is corny and played like a bad B-movie, the plot of the game got out and more than a few feathers became ruffled.

Before the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was formed, Sega had their own in-house ratings system and Night Trap was rated as MA-17, meaning for Mature Gamers aged 17 and up. But this was not enforceable and, like how most impressionable young boys are (the target audience of this game), the buzz around Night Trap started, and parents began buying the game without knowing what they were getting. When they heard of the plot, the controversy started. And it went almost all the way to the top.

Do a quick search on YouTube and you’ll find some archival footage from hearings in Congress – yes, Congress! – about Night Trap and the increasing violence in video games. Games like this and Mortal Kombat – which was out at around the same time – ought not be available to a civilized society, it was argued. Violent content like this will only increase deviant behavior and encourage real life crime… well, some things never change. Night Trap was removed from shelves of a few major retailers during the holiday shopping season in 1993, and the hearings continued through 1994. Famously, the 16-bit era “Console Wars” spilled over into the controversy, with Nintendo of America President Howard Lincoln slamming Sega and claiming, “Night Trap will never appear on a Nintendo console.” Many wondered how many of the congressmen actually saw or played the game or if the outrage was merely blind. Digital Pictures CEO Tom Zito and producers and actors testified that there was no graphic content – either nudity or violence – was ever filmed, nor included in the final release. The resolution of all of this ugliness was that Night Trap and Mortal Kombat inspired the ESRB ratings system that we have today. Quite the legacy for what was once an abandoned title destined to languish on an add-on with a low install base.

Cashing in on the controversy, Night Trap was re-released later in 1994 – with new cover art and a shiny new “M for Mature” ESRB rating – on multiple platforms, including the original Sega CD, the Sega CD 32X, PC and 3DO, with a Macintosh version coming in 1995.

So while the final game wasn’t that good at all, it has a certain level of B-movie charm to it. Players who loved the game back then still have a fond place in their heart for it. Its upcoming new 25th Anniversary Edition – which at time of this writing, new features and extras have not been announced – is sure to be a hot seller, especially as its physical copy emulates the 1994 cover art and will be limited in supply. Incidentally, the rating of the Anniversary Edition is not an M, but a T for Teen – an amusing footnote.

Would I recommend Night Trap today to someone new? No. I probably wouldn’t have recommended it to anyone back in the day, either. But I love it. It appeals to a niche of gamers out there and that it will be remastered in near HD quality will send its fan base into a frenzy. For anyone else, the game may not hold much value in terms of quality, but it has it in spades in terms of legacy.

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