Modern horror games can be pretty intense.
Think of wandering through the dark corridors of Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation, just waiting for that acid-filled Xenomorph to drop down through an air vent. Remember the spine-tingling thrills of facing Necromorphs in Dead’s Space’s blood-coated spaceships. Not to mention The Last of Us, The Evil Within, Soma, and others, which have given us all our fair share of frights down the years.
Still, horror games are nothing new. From the old-school fare of 3D Monster Maze and The Screamer to titles based on such iconic scare-fests as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, video games have long dabbled in fear, gore, and suspense. The thing is, most retro games with horror themes tend not to be scary, due mainly to the limited technology they’re built on.
Despite the lack of frights, many retro horror games are filled with fun tropes of the genre and ooze a spooky atmosphere. These give you a nice dose of the macabre and strange without posing any risk to your sleep … or underwear.
As it’s the Halloween season, there’s nothing better than turning the lights off, slipping an old game into your retro console of choice, and indulging in some horrific delights from days gone by. The games on this list might not get anywhere as close on the scare-o-metre as the horror titles we’re used to today, but they’re well worth checking out this Halloween.
Zombies Ate My Neighbours
This SNES & Genesis/Mega Drive classic is filled with all the pulpy charm you’d expect with a title like that.
Developed by the mighty LucasArts, Zombies Ate My Neighbours slips you into the shoes of either Zeke or Julie, two brave teens with delightful taste in 90s fashion. Throughout the game, Zeke and Julie rescue their neighbours from zombies and a bunch of monsters we all know from classic movies (vampires, aliens, werewolves etc.).
Despite being more than 20 years old, Zombies Ate My Neighbours still looks fantastic, with detailed-yet-cartoonish sprites, colourful environments, and nice animations. The run-and-gun gameplay’s fast-paced and addictive, giving you plenty of unusual weapons to toy with – fire extinguishers, water guns, flamethrowers, and more. You can even power-up into a hulking monster for a brief time, which is as awesome as it sounds.
Zombies Ate My Neighbours is great fun, so get it where you can!
Even if you’ve never actually played Splatterhouse 2, you’re sure to recognise its hero. Why? Well, in his gleaming hockey mask, he bears something of an uncanny resemblance to that beloved horror icon, Jason Vorhees.
While Splatterhouse 2 particularly scary, it’s still a must-play for horror fans craving some old-school Halloween thrills.
Why have we chosen the second one over the first? Well, it might be a little easier to get hold of (this was released on the Genesis/Mega Drive as well as the Wii Virtual Console), not to mention that it’s basically just a better-looking update of the first anyway.
Your hero, Rick, makes his way through various side-scrolling stages, punching, kicking, and using weapons handily left about the place. While the action’s pretty basic and the high difficulty level’s sure to cause some frustration, Splatterhouse 2’s satisfyingly grotesque, and thanks to the still-nice graphics, spooky music, and wide variety of monsters, it never gets dull.
Super Castlevania IV
As the first Castlevania game for the glorious SNES, Super Castlevania IV was a big step up from the previous instalments. While it might not be quite as pretty or dynamic as later Castlevania games, this is classed as one of the series’ best, and it’s easily a top retro horror game for Halloween.
Obviously, as a Dracula-busting game, Super Castlevania IV is filled with all the gothic locations, moonlit skies, and monsters you could want. The platforming and whip-based combat are well designed, and the graphics still impress today. The music’s also pretty atmospheric, though maybe not quite as sinister as it could have been.
The boss fights are worth a mention too, with the giant skeleton-head’s weirdly-huge tongue a real highlight.
Haunting Starring Polterguy
This is definitely the most obscure title on our list. Released in 1993 for the Genesis/Mega Drive, Haunting Starring Polterguy is different to many retro horror games, in that there’s no platforming or side-scrolling action to be found.
Instead, its developers took a brave approach by putting you in control of Polterguy, a recently-dead punk who seeks revenge on the head of the company behind the dodgy skateboard responsible for Polterguy’s death. The aim of the game is to scare the enemy and his family from four different homes, interacting with hundreds of objects to cause as many scares as possible.
Haunting Starring Poltergeist looks gorgeous even today, with the titular ghost himself brilliantly-designed and a blast to control. It’s not often you get to play as a poltergeist and earn points by scaring no-good business moguls, so track this down for some unique Halloween fun.
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Remember playing Ghouls ‘n Ghosts? Well, then, you might remember the amount of hair you tore out of your own scalp whilst trying to complete it, too!
Seriously: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is famed for its INSANE difficulty level. Not only was it brutally hard from start to finish, but you actually had to play it through twice to complete it in full (due to your needing a special type of armour to find an extra-special weapon).
Still, despite the harsh learning-curve, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts has lots to recommend it. For a start, the graphics are colourful, smooth, and full of neat touches, with enemies looking suitably ghoulish and ghostly (the scythe-wielding, robed skeletons are a particular favourite).
The music helps to create a spooky atmosphere, and there’s plenty of lightning, gravestones, skulls, and flames too. If you can stomach the need to play it through twice, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a great pick for some retro Halloween action. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you first!
Well, there we go – five awesome retro horror games perfect for some tame Halloween excitement!
What are your favourite retro horror-themed games? Let us know!