Halloween is my favorite time of the year. The seasons are changing, the leaves have turned color, and horror movie marathons run rampant. It’s also a great time to envelope yourself in darkness and play some scary games, the TV being your only light source in the room. Spooky games have been on Nintendo systems from the get-go, dating all the way back to the NES. OK, so spooky might be overselling many of the games, but classics like Castlevania and Metroid (sci-fi) got their start back in the 8-bit era and although they aren’t filled with jump scares, they’re loaded with atmosphere and a feeling of dread.
Looking back, the NES had quite a few attempts at cashing in on the horror craze of the ‘80s with games like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately most of them were utter trash. A few were average, like Uncle Fester’s Quest and The Addam’s Family. While they may or may not be worthy of your time, there’s no question that the Castlevania series is. Who can forget the controversial second issue of Nintendo Power, featuring Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, complete with Simon Belmont holding Dracula’s dismembered head? Yeah, that never happened again.
For this special feature, I chose 15 games that I feel are worthy of your time. Not all of them are super scary, and some you may initially question as to why they’re on this list, but all of them relate in some way to the emotions I feel around Halloween. Whether you like creepy mansions, classic monsters, eerie ghosts, brain-eating zombies, insanity effects, lonesome sci-fi, a good murder mystery, or just like to go trick or treating, there’s something for you on this list. There are many more games that could have made the cut, but these stuck out to me as some of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most over the years.
DO THE MONSTER MASH
One of the first games I can remember playing that had a horror theme element was Castlevania on the NES. I remember renting it and being in awe of the classic monsters and villains peppered throughout the levels. Parts 2 and 3 only enhanced the experience with bigger levels and cryptic puzzles to solve. I still get anxious when day turns to night in Simon’s Quest. All of these games are fantastic to play, but Super Castlevania IV for the Super NES is the one I most often come back to. From the second the game boots up, its moody melodies are guaranteed to get you in the mood for some vampire slaying. The game holds up today with tight controls, an awesome whip that can be flung in any direction, and memorable levels that aren’t quite as brutal as the previous entries in the series. Graphically it still holds up pretty well, but some of the color choices are a bit garish. If you want a semi-challenging action game with a smattering of monster goodness, this one will serve you well.
What happens when you take the overhead sections of Blaster Master, mix them with Uncle Fester’s Quest, and then accidentally spill water on it? You get Gremlins 2: The New Batch (NES), of course! This game is based off the movie (naturally), and stars Gizmo the nice and cuddly Mogwai that must fend off the evil Gremlins that want him dead. You’ll need to navigate all sorts of passageways, ventilations shafts, and other hellholes that are naturally found in an office tower. This is a Sunsoft game, which means two things – it has an amazing soundtrack, and it’s hard as nails. Seriously, I considered creating a Torture Porn section and placing this game front and center. While it doesn’t have a Halloween theme, it’s got nasty creatures trying to kill you and all sorts of pits, spikes, and other punishing obstacles. It does provide think some quality entertainment, but beware – the game is not for the weak.
Last in the monsters category is Super Ghouls & Ghosts (SNES). Sure, it could have been placed in the zombies or ghosts sections, as they do abound in this game too, but there are such a large variety of enemies that it made most sense to place it here. This is another difficult 2D action game, one that’s prettier than Super Castlevania IV even though they came out around the same time as one another in the U.S. market. You’ll need to make your way through exciting levels by mastering tricky jumps and environmental hazards, all the while stabbing monsters to death with your spear. The music is another strong element in this game and features hauntingly beautiful compositions throughout. That’s a good thing, as you’ll no doubt be replaying stages again and again due to the difficulty level. Oh, and did I mention you have to beat the game twice in a row to see the true ending? Have fun.
No one does zombies quite like Capcom. They invented the survival horror genre back in the 1990s with the original Resident Evil on the PlayStation. It later made its glorious arrival on the GameCube as a remastered version with drop-dead visuals and the same campy B-Movie dialog. Resident Evil is probably the scariest game on this list for its sheer number of jump scares and tense situations. Zombies are the main course, and there are a lot of them (hello, Crimson Heads), but there are also a wide variety of other beasts to slay. Be cautious, though. If you have a fear of snakes or spiders, be prepared to drop the controller and run out of the room.
If you just want to mow down zombies and watch the carnage fly, House of the Dead Overkill (Wii) might be your jam. It’s overflowing with the living dead, bristling with violence and gore, and drenched in swear words. Plus, it’s a multiplayer game so you and a buddy can take on the hordes of flesh-eaters together. A word of warning: the final boss is one of the most messed up sequences I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. This one’s not for the faint of heart.
NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM (SCI-FI)
OK, so this one may need a bit of an explanation, because I’m willing to bet most people don’t attribute Metroid with Halloween. It all comes down to the feeling of isolation I feel when playing Metroid Prime. You’re all alone exploring an abandoned space station with dead bodies strewn about. A bit later you’re exploring a strange planet killing alien monsters to try and stay alive. The game may be lacking the traditional Halloween tropes, but I feel it’s a great game to play around this time of the year because the drab and dreary days of fall fit well in this universe. It’s one of the best games ever made and deserves to be played at any time of the year, but it fits perfectly with Halloween.
WHO YOU GONNA CALL? GHOSTBUSTERS!
I would put a Ghostbusters game on this list, but I haven’t really enjoyed any of them. So, the next best thing is Luigi’s Mansion (GC/3DS). Either of the games will do, as they both have the same vacuum-sucking-up-ghosts mechanic that is so fun to play with. The haunted mansions make an excellent setting for a Halloween game. The ghosts more resemble something out of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, but that’s not a bad thing as they remain memorable. Plus, this makes the games more appropriate for the little ones to play. Although the GameCube game is fairly short, it still looks great with amazing lighting effects and the GameCube controller is spot-on. I prefer the look of the Cube version to the 3DS sequel, but the 3DS game is a more fleshed-out experience that will take many more hours to conquer. Either way you slice it, Luigi’s Mansion is sure to thrill.
Geist is a game I almost left off the list because I’m not a huge fan. It’s a first person shooter, with the twist being that you have the ability to possess other people and objects. The game’s premise is fantastic, and there are a couple of moments that are enjoyable, but overall I found the game to be a bit slow and plodding and lacking in the fun department. Still, the ghost mechanic is very unique and it’s not too often you see an “M” rated game published by Nintendo. Who knows, you might enjoy it more than I did.
I SEE DEAD PEOPLE (PSYCHOLOGICAL)
Konami’s excellent psychological horror series managed to seep over to the Wii with Silent Hill Shattered Memories. This one is unique in that there’s no combat system. Instead, as things take a turn for the worse, you must run for your life. These escape sequences are often extremely intense and exhilarating. Unraveling the mysteries of the town and solving small puzzles make this an enjoyable experience. The game uses snow and ice throughout, and oftentimes I was reminded of the end sequence of The Shining – out in the snow maze, trying to escape from the evil lurking just a few steps behind.
Eternal Darkness is one of my all-time favorite horror games. It allows you to play many different characters, each of which are intertwined with one another throughout time. There are plenty of creatures to defeat and puzzles to solve, but it’s the insanity effect system that truly sets this game apart from anything else out there. As you play, you will begin to lose your mind and things will start happening in the game that make you question what’s really going on. Plus, it preys on every gamer’s worst fear: corrupted save data! Or, does it? You’ll have to play this excellent GameCube game to find out what is real, and what is in your head.
QUICK, GANG – TO THE MYSTERY MACHINE
One of my all-time favorite Commodore 64 games is Maniac Mansion, and it’s just as good on the NES. You pick three high school students to infiltrate a mansion to save a girl who has been kidnapped. Each person has a special talent, making each play through slightly different. This point and click adventure game borders on the absurd, with a mad scientist, his crazy wife (a nurse who loves to tie up teenagers), and their not-so-bright son, all standing between you and victory. Oh, and dead cousin Ted. I forgot about him. Don’t worry, he’s just chilling out in the bathtub. There’s a man-eating plant, a tentacle (don’t ask), and an innocent pet hamster, all just waiting to be used as pawns in your scheme to rescue the cheerleader. Filled with dark humor, Maniac Mansion would be a great complement to your Halloween activities.
More of a cross between a graphic novel and a puzzle game, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (DS) features a memorable cast of people trapped on a ship by a diabolical mystery man (or woman). Its who-done-it mystery unfolds slowly and each person is a suspect. As people begin getting knocked off, it becomes clear this serial killer means business. The puzzles are fun to solve and the zaniness of the story is unmatched. If you enjoy games that don’t rely on twitch action skills, this one should do the trick. It’s filled with twists and turns and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64/3DS) takes place in the bleak world of Termina. The world will end in three days when the moon crashes down from the heavens, forever wiping all life from existence. While this isn’t a horror game by any stretch of the imagination, it does feature a very somber story with a unique cast of characters. One of the main mechanics of the games is wearing masks, which is where the Halloween tie-in makes sense. Plus, the graphical style has a sort of gothic look to it that sets it apart from other Zelda games. The original N64 game launched around Halloween, so perhaps that’s one more reason why I associate it with the holiday.
TRICK OR TREAT (HALLOWEEN-THEMED)
Perhaps no other game embraces Halloween as much as Costume Quest 2 (Wii U). In this charming RPG, you play a bunch of ordinary kids that must battle monsters of all types on Halloween in order to stop a demented dentist. You can acquire different costumes throughout the game that bestow upon you special powers to fight off the baddies. The game is littered with humorous dialog and is a delightful experience. It’s rare for a game to embrace Halloween with such fervor, but this series does so with a zest not seen to date. The game is normally fairly cheap ($14.99) on the eShop, but as of this writing it’s on sale for $4.99, which is a steal that you should immediately gobble up.
Another game series that becomes magical around this time of the year is Animal Crossing. It doesn’t matter which version you play (except Wild World on DS), all of them celebrate Halloween by changing the music and incorporating some small gameplay tweaks. In New Leaf, candy is sold in Tom Nook’s store and you will want to collect it so you can give some away on Halloween to the villagers. They will don pumpkin heads and beg for candy. You can earn new items, like Halloween furniture, by complying. In addition you can wear masks to try and scare the villagers inside their homes. All told, Halloween is one of the more entertaining events in the Animal Crossing games and I look forward to it every year.
These games represent just a small sampling of ones I like to play around Halloween. Do you have a favorite that you like to pull out every year? What games have truly scared you? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured Image (Nintendo Pumpkins) Credit: Johwee