4 Retro Horror Video Games to Light Up Your Halloween!
Remember when pixels were scarier than the economic debacle of an oil exporter country? I do! And these four retro video games will put you into that dreaded Halloween mood!
Retro video games have accompanied me since I was 6. Living in Venezuela distanced me from the trends and new releases, so that I relied on the retro niche to satisfy my need for thumbs actions.
But, do not get me wrong, this has led to me into a path of discovering and playing titles that in my childhood I would never had the opportunity to use. This is, probably, one of my obsessions, but there is a bonus for sure, because I spend some time to time of collecting more and more information about the games that are good for their gameplay, concept, ambience and art direction more than mere technical traits.
If you follow this niche, you may know that horror has pushed the platforms with new ways of storytelling in order to create the spooky atmospheres. Titles like Uninvited (A PC terror graphic adventure), Sweet Home (NES spooky RPG), The 7th Guest (One of the first CD-ROM titles), Alone in the Dark (A milestone of 3D graphics) or Silent Hill (I have no need to talk about the usage of fog on this one) made use of different mechanics born in the constraint of their systems to enhance the scary experiences.
If you are now interested of more pixelated gruesome experiences, let me recommend to you 4 retro-games so you can enjoy the spoopyness of Halloween. Grab the oil lamp and your protection trinkets, my fellow magical adepts; we are going to enter the graveyard to resurrect these corpses one more time:
Clock Tower (1995)
Developed by Human Entertainment. Released for the Super Famicom (JAP), later ported to PC and PSone).
Clock Tower is still today a great example of the use of the tension and atmosphere in a video game.
The protagonist of the story is an orphan girl called Jennifer Simpson. In September 1995, she and a couple of fellow friends of her Norwegian orphanage are adopted by a rich man, Mr. Barrows, and they must move into his mansion, the Clock Tower. In the first visit of the mansion, Jennifer goes to investigate the place after their taker, Mrs. Mary, takes a long time looking for Mr. Barrows. When exploring, the lights went off and a piercing scream shake the air. All of the people are missing and Jennifer, alone, starts her quest to unveil the secrets of the disappearing, who is Mr. Barrows and the mythical Clock Tower.
After you get used to the Point-and-click interface, reminiscent of the old graphic adventures of PC, you will enjoy this title right away, but those who do not must exercise a little with the clunky movement. Anyway, the story, the atmosphere, and the interesting replay value worth the shot: Clock Tower have 6 different endings which are completed after completing the game while taking different decisions. The music, on the other side, is great and may remind you of those cool VHS horror movies from the late 80s and the main character have a weird resemble to Jennifer Connelly.
But, this is not the only feature that makes Clock Tower a worthwhile playing in this era. The protagonist is just a child; she does not have guns, high strength, and magic or can heal herself; there is a deep psychological horror hidden in the game mechanics because you feel pretty weak. The health is measured by the color of the background on her portrait, which resembles also the stress she is having during the scariest parts. Also, there will be a deformity character chasing her while wandering in the mansion, tormenting and delaying her goal to complete her escape. This murder will appear without advice, making the player very cautious of every step he or she takes in the puzzle resolving.
Your only real weapon is your astuteness to hide and your memory. You will definitely feel trapped inside this maze trying to avoid the shadow of your demise.
How to get it: Buy it second hand. Good luck with that.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
Developed by Nintendo. Release on the Nintendo 64, later released as a remake for the Nintendo 3DS.
We are not strangers to Majora’s Mask over the Toilet ov Hell, but the black sheep of the Zelda franchise line have a pair of tricks and treats under the sleeve, and it is another worthy addition to our retro-recommendation for this Halloween. This is one of my favorite games of all time, and I still have the real chills checking the old TV ad for it. It is APOCALYPTIC!
Set after the ending of the Ocarina of Time chapter, a young Link embarks on a solitary journey to find “a friend”. Mounting his trusty ride, Epona, they enter the depths of the Lost Woods and got lost in a second. But, the Goddesses paths are mysterious and the courageous boy is ambushed by a scarecrow named Skull Kid, holding a weird purple mask and accompanied by two fairies.
The mischievous kid made Epona overthrow Link, who hit the floor unconscious; meanwhile in the blackout, the Skull Kid steals his precious Ocarina. After a chasing and a fall into a dark pit, the masked enemy transforms the Hero into a Deku Scrub, a plant being. Wandering into some underground caverns, Deku Link found a weird person, a Mask Salesman, that can return him into his natural form at the exchange of some purple mask that certain Skull Kid. When the Hero of Time goes out this strange meeting and sees the sky, a huge Moon is above them with a wicked smile, threatening to fall in exactly three days.
The main difference in this installment of the Zelda series is how emotive and vivid the experience is. If you fail to success your task in the end of the third day you will witness the total annihilation of the world of Termina, and in the passing of the days you see the different reactions of the habitants of Clock Town, including indifference or terror by the imminent apocalypse.
Aside of this, the alien abduction on the Romani Ranch could be analog to the old mars attacks movies and the lugubrious solitude in the Ikana Canyon still give the chills of me every time I play it. The Majora’s Mask apparitions are somewhat unsettling because the whole ‘pure evil’ image that the spirit within the device develop during the story.
Overall, it is a game with an emotive yet gloomy feeling, sometimes it can be very funny or it can impact you with ease because it has a great sense of immersion, thanks to its vivid setting and touching moments. It is a very humane video game, and even when I understand it is not a pure horror experience, it has a deep sense of melancholy that will warp you towards an evocative ride.
How to get it: You can buy the original version second hand, not that hard to find. If you are willing to give it a shot, the remake for the 3DS is still available in stores and online.
Shadow Man (1999)
Developed by Acclaim Entertainment. Released on Nintendo 64, PC, Sega Dreamcast and PSone.
Based on the Valiant Comics dark hero, this was a game that scared me a lot when I was a child because the impressive graphics, the cool voice acting and the atmosphere. In fact, this was my first true horror ludic experience, like I told in a previous review of the A Sound of Thunder concept album about this character.
Michael LeRoi is the last Shadow Man, a defender of the world of the living from the threats and demons of the Deadside, an otherworld that is being ruled by a powerful evil entity named Legion, who is feed by the malevolent energies of 5 serial killers with the mission of collect the dark souls of damned warriors and send them to the Liveside in order to unleash the apocalypse.
The game is full of puzzles, impressive setting, good boss fights and a lot of action, but the memorable cast and the solid script writing makes it apart of other competitors of its era.
The voodoo theme is a breath of fresh air in what it became the horror thematic on video gaming. While other games used the zombie or ghost topic, Shadow Man told the gamer the story of a troubled hero in a nearly impossible task to stop the evil, while remembering the bits of his own humanity in the subplot of the death of his little brother, Luke. This game is a wonderful cinematic experience.
The monsters and entities on the Deadside are numerous and sometimes they can offer a threat. But the cool moments are with Legion, dressed as an aristocrat and citing Bible verses as responses while have always blood in his mouth, a horrific entity that will haunt the journey of LeRoi.
Aside the incredible graphics, original creature designs and good sound effects, the gameplay was pretty smooth, only tainted by a somewhat frustrating platform sections, totally normal of that era. Shadow Man could use equipment in both hands and the game dispose to him both short and large range weaponry.
The Shadow Man can warp between the two worlds to solve the riddles and find new equipment and upgrades, and those locations are huge, compared to other action titles of 1999. Like it happens in the The Legend of Zelda series, the player must gather every item and good it can during the game to confront Legion, the final boss, which dwells in the horrific “Assylum” a massive final dungeon where hideous creatures and deadly traps awaits to torture our protagonist. Also, expect some backtracking a la “Metroidvania” style.
Need some action with a nice touch of exploration and adventure? Pick Shadow Man and get drowned in the blood rivers of the Deadside!
How to get it: Retro versions are not that hard to find; N64 seekers should be aware of the need of a Memory Pak accesory and that the Expansion Pak will enhance the graphics. If you want a PC version, the web store Good Old Games (GOG) have a free-DRM digital download for $5.99!
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2006)
Developed by Headfirst Productions. Released on Xbox and PC.
Video games inspired by H.P. Lovecraft have been hit and miss for some, but it is something cult-ish in them. From the old PC point and click adventures, the developer team of Headfirst Productions set the goal to immerse the player into the nightmare
The result was Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a survival horror first person shooter with adventure influences that is more akin to gems like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem than their Halo or Call of Duty peers. In this title, the HUD practically disappears to give a more cinematic edge to the exploration, and believe me it works for the good segments of it.
Heavily inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth novella, The Shadow Out of Time story and mixed with the Cthulhu mythos, in this game we control the detective Jack Walters. In the cool playable prologue, the policeman is sent to a weird situation in an old mansion. Inside the luxurious building, a mysterious cult named Fellowship of the Yith lock the protagonist and performs mass suicide. Then, Walters is found by the security forces apparently insane and is confined six years into the Arkham Asylum.
When he is released from the paradisiacal resort, he becomes a private investigator and takes the case of a missing person in the town of Innsmouth. It seems the haunting horrors he saw in the mansion are coming to life, for the sake of his rationale.
First of all, I need to warn you, this game is sometimes frustrating due to its high difficulty and annoying bugs, but this is solved via two aspects: 1. Fan groups released some unofficial patches to solve the issues and 2. Git gud, scrub. However, even with this flaw in the technical department, this is, perhaps, one of the finest Lovecraft inspired games out there, with plenty of innovative elements to make you forget the painful process of restoring your saves to not being trapped into bug oblivion.
The control is generally good and the realistic approach to life meters is great. Walters can be injured both physically and mentally, and all of that can be sensed through the heartbeat and the breathing of the character. There are some enemies that can damage Walters legs, for example, making him to limp, and that can only be restored finding a split. Encounters with the well-designed monsters or, even, continually looking at upsetting deaths can also cripple our poor protagonist mental health, distorting graphics and sound, and finally leading to a game over via suicide. That’s what I call gnarly!
Get passed of the high difficulty and you will be rewarded with a true horror experience. It really pays and it is honestly scary. Check it out If you can!
How to get it: Xbox version can be a little expensive, but your best shot is the PC version, since it have the benefit of the unofficial patches. You can find this one on Steam for $4.99.
That’s all for today! How are you preparing for the Halloween night? Did you liked these games? Do you have any other kicking ass video game title you want to urge us to exhume?
Shoot it out on the comments section or on our special corner on Facebook called The Retro Gaming Coven, a diverse and friendly place to discuss this loveable hobby! I will wait you here and there, fellow magician apprentice! Have a great week!
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want tocontact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.