Netflix Games shows promise, but a lack of compelling new content had me wanting more

Let the Squid Games begin

This past week, Netflix officially made its next large leap into the video game industry. The Netflix Games umbrella has now arrived on Android devices, giving us a first look at what the streaming goliath may bring to the table.

For the past few days, I’ve dedicated some time to explore the five mobile games available at launch. On November 3rd, Netflix released the following titles: Stranger Things: 1984, Stranger Things 3: The Game, Shooting Hoops, Card Blast, and Teeter Up. All of these games are now available to download and play for free as long as you have an active Netflix subscription and are able to sign in to your account.

From a development and publisher perspective, Netflix partnered with a Texas-based studio BonusXP to develop Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3: The Game. Shooting Hoops and Teeter Up stem from publisher Frosty Pop. Rounding out the bunch are Amuzo & Rogue Games, who brought Card Blast to life.

Across the five titles, Netflix Games currently ranges from casual to more immersive experiences. Let’s take a look at each game to see just how successful the first wave of Netflix Games is for the mobile market.

Stranger Things: 1984 (formally known as Stranger Things: The Game) is a pretty robust pixel-based adventure game centred around Netflix’s premier Stranger Things series. It’s packed with retro nostalgia, not solely based on the material but also how the game looks and plays. You can play as a number of core characters, solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and cruise around the city of Hawkins. I had a lot of fun with this one as it invokes a lot of NES-era energy.

As for Stranger Things 3: The Game, the game still holds a very retro feel while playing. However, the scope of the game is a bit more expansive. The game serves as a companion piece to the third season of the series. You can play as one of 12 characters and team up with friends for some classic beat ‘em up action. The game also offers really unique puzzles. Fans of the show will also appreciate some of the character moments depicted in the game.

Teeter is a game that is not based on an established Netflix IP. Here, you’ll balance a ball on a board and try to guide it into a hole by tapping the screen to raise the board. It’s simple in concept but challenging in execution, as the game throws more physics-based puzzles into the mix. While still remaining on the casual side, I had some brainless pop-in and pop-out fun with this game.

Next up is Shooting Hoops. At first glance, I was positive that this game was based on the short-lived animated series Hoops, starring Jake Johnson. However, once I started playing, I quickly realized that the game wasn’t based on the Netflix IP at all. In the game, you must sink a basketball strapped with a dart gun into a hoop. The ball will bounce in the opposite direction of which you tap on the screen. There’s a steep learning curve that threw me off the game initially. Over time, I did get a hang of it but the game wasn’t engaging enough to stick with past a dozen or so levels.

Finally, we have Card Blast, Netflix Games’ last offering. Once again, this game isn’t based on a series or movie. Card Blast is a thinly veiled ‘match-three’ type game. As a random hand of cards floats across the screen, you must pair cards together to make the best poker hands possible. Points are determined by whether you can form a flush, pair, three of a kind, or straight. Power-ups can also be collected to improve scores or freeze the cards from moving across the screen. Some puzzle elements are interesting, but this was another title that failed to keep my attention for all too long.

“…it’s clear that ads, microtransactions, time gating, and other nefarious tactics commonly seen on the mobile market won’t be included in the games”

As far as the Stranger Things content goes for Netflix Games, the offering is pretty solid. BonusXP put a lot of thought and care into their games. Though, a lot of why its games stand out is attributed to the fact that both titles were developed and published outside of the Netflix Games launch. Stranger Things: 1984 was first launched in 2017, while Stranger Things 3: The Game followed in 2019. It’s only the three unestablished titles that are truly new to the mobile ecosystem

It’s admittedly a little disappointing that Netflix Games didn’t release a new must-play experience based on something recently in the zeitgeist. Stranger Things content is always welcome in my life but we’re currently in an extended lull between seasons. If I was looking for something more involved outside of that IP, Shooting Hoops, Card Blast, and Teeter Up sadly aren’t going to give that to me. Netflix thankfully has a lot of interesting IPs to work with. The possibilities are endless with the likes of Squid Game, The Queen’s Gambit, Big Mouth and others up its sleeve.

That said, Netflix Games does show promise. Netflix has ensured players that the games released will range and cater to beginning players to the more established. Also, it’s clear that ads, microtransactions, time gating, and other nefarious tactics commonly seen on the mobile market won’t be included in the games. Netflix has also confirmed that some of its games can be played offline, though there will be those that require an LTE/Wi-Fi connection.

Mike Verdu, vice president of Netflix’s Game Development branch, has made it clear that the company will be adding to the “entertainment offering in the months ahead.” In September, it was announced that Netflix acquired its very first game development studio, Oxenfree maker Night School Studio, to become the first major supporting team in its pursuit of establishing itself in gaming. Not much is known on what the studio will be working on or if it will even be a mobile game. However, the prospect of a game based on a Netflix IP in the same vein as Oxenfree or After Party is very tantalizing.

Currently, the Netflix Games catalogue is only available on Android devices. iOS support is said to be “on the way.” However, details on when Apple users can dive in have not been announced by Netflix.

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