Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is everything I enjoy — and expect — in a Fatal Frame game. It's a little clunky, a little cheesy and extremely spooky, with combat that outclasses anything else in the pure survival horror genre. Maiden of Black Water doesn't change anything structurally, but it does offer the best gimmick the series has ever seen, using the Wii U's gamepad in a novel way.
In terms of its structure, Maiden of Black Water feels like classic, PS2-era Fatal Frame; you play as a ghost hunter with a special camera obscura that allows you to see and fight off evil spirits. It was a very clever way to implement combat mechanics into a spooky exploration game back in 2001, in the very first Fatal Frame, and since it's never really been overdone, it still feels like a clever mechanic.
Despite some clunkiness in the way the game generally controls outside of combat (it feels like a throwback to the PS2 era Silent Hill games), fighting ghosts is as fluid and fun as ever.
When a ghost comes a-calling, you whip out your camera and get ready to do battle in first-person. The creepies will come at you, wailing, and taking their picture does damage to them. You're able to lock on to their faces, and hitting the shutter at just the right moment as they're about to attack gives you a "fatal frame" bonus where you do extra damage and get a bunch of free shots for a few seconds. There's a sense of rhythm to the fighting that just feels good, and it's still cool to fight ghosts by simply taking their portraits.
There are different camera lenses that offer combat buffs, which you can equip as needed for different ghouls. And there's impressive enemy variety; some ghosts are more aggressive than others, but all of them are freaky, baring the signs of what actually killed them.
Combat feels even fresher here, since Black Water uses the Wii U gamepad as the camera itself. When battling ghosts, or looking around environments for clues, I held up the gamepad and tilted it accordingly. The gamepad-as-camera quirk works beautifully, and actually helped with the immersion — I felt like I had a tiny window to another world right there in my hands.
The story concerns three characters: Yuri and Miu have a sort of private eye/ghost detection agency and Ren is a client and friend of Yuri's, looking for a connection to his ghostly memories. It's very classic Japanese horror, much in line with previous games in the series. For me, it served well enough as spooky window dressing, an excuse to get into this rich, creepy world and fight some freaky apparitions.
After a few hours with Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, I know I'll be returning upon its release on Oct. 22. It's a clever twist on the classic formula, with an inspired use of the Wii U hardware, and a spooky, pitch-perfect Halloween game in its own right.