Over the years, we’ve been treated to plenty of great horror games.
Dead Space. Resident Evil. Silent Hill. The Evil Within. Alone in the Dark. Alan Wake. Parasite Eve. Dead Rising. Clock Tower. F.E.A.R. Plus many, many others, including sequels and spin-offs.
Each of these games has its own merits, and while not all of them provide the same level of blood-curdling terror, the sheer suspense of waiting to see what’s lurking around the next corner helps to make the experience more powerful than, say, playing the latest FIFA.
The talented writers and developers responsible for some of the best horror games have borrowed a wealth of elements from classic movies. Take Dead Space, for example: it’s The Thing meets Event Horizon. Resident Evil, of course, is as a homage to classic B-movie fare and George A. Romero’s iconic body of work. Alan Wake proudly announces itself as a riff on Stephen King novels, Twin Peaks, and The Twilight Zone.
Still, while these are original games, there have also been numerous games released as tie-ins to classic horror movies. In the case of the belated The Thing (2002), for instance, gaming technology had reached a level of immersion to make following in MacReady’s footsteps worthwhile. Alien: Isolation recently brought fans a deeper, scarier adaptation of the Alien series than any game before it.
In other cases, though, games were released on systems unable to bring the suspense, atmosphere, and flat-out terror of their source material in any way whatsoever. From the earliest days of gaming, iconic figures from the world of horror have appeared on home consoles in a variety of weird and wonderfully-bizarre ways. Love them or loathe them, these are important in the overall evolution of the horror genre.
So, join us as we take a look at 5 weird, charmingly low-tech retro games based on classic horror movies. No need for spare underwear here, folks – the scariest thing about these is the graphics!
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Freddy Krueger is one of the most well-known horror icons of all time. With his trademark melty face, razor-glove, and fetching hat-and-jumper combo, Freddy’s hard to forget.
Still, one thing you might have forgotten? This little NES game from 1990.
Based on Wes Craven’s terrific film, A Nightmare On Elm Street sees players wandering through various areas on Elm Street, fighting such villainous creatures of the night as bats and snakes. As you work through the game, your sleep meter drops, until you fall asleep and descend into a tougher dream-world.
It’s a pretty smart interpretation of the movie, with nice touches like transforming into powerful dream-characters and boosting your sleep meter with boomboxes and coffee. You also hear the classic rhyme (“one, two, Freddy’s coming for you” etc.) before Freddy himself shows up for a fight.
While it does a good job of incorporating various elements of the film, A Nightmare On Elm Street just feels … weird. Sure, it’s more than 25 years old, but even so, until Freddy himself appears, the idea of running around punching things doesn’t quite suit the feel of the film itself.
Interesting fact: A Nightmare On Elm Street was originally going to let you play as Freddy, killing teenagers before they could rebury his dusty old bones. Sadly, the concept was changed, denying us the exciting prospect of pulling Johnny Depp through his mattress in a fountain of blood. The reason they changed it? Popular belief points at the madness surrounding an earlier tie-in game, as described below …
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
That’s right: owners of the famous Atari 2600 once had the opportunity to slice-and-dice unwitting victims as Leatherface himself.
Any visions you may have of gore-splattered aprons, nightmarish masks, and growling chainsaws are grossly at odds with the actual game. If you didn’t know this was based on Texas Chainsaw, you’d never guess from playing it.
To start with, the game’s colours are more reminiscent of Super Mario, and Leatherface is little more than a blue smear with what appears to be a pipe protruding from his gut. Still, there’s a decent animation and a grinding sound effect to demonstrate the chainsaw’s ‘power’, but it’s not exactly an authentic representation.
Players have to chase characters through levels and kill them. Simple. Now, if this were released today, it’d no doubt be an intense game filled with all manner of suspenseful moments, and might pass without anyone batting an eyelid. Back in the early ‘80s, though? Well, it was a different age, and so the game sparked its fair share of controversy. As a result, many retailers refused to stock it in fear of a backlash, and so the game sold pretty poorly.
Take a look at the film, and then take a look at the game. The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it?
Friday the 13th
Now, this game really is a bizarre little treat.
Friday the 13th is, as we all know, the long-running saga of the undead Jason Voorhees. Poor old Jason had a traumatic time of it as a kid, and so feels the need to murder everyone he comes across. Still, he wears a cool hockey mask while he does it, so we’ll let him off.
While the first Friday the 13th tie-in came along in 1986, it’s pretty hard to stomach today, with dull grey environments and a soundtrack so offensive to your ears it must be muted. So, it’s the second adaptation we’re interested in: a game popping with weird, wonderful charm.
In 1989, Atlus and LJN released this NES tie-in, incorporating elements from the first few Friday films. Players take on the role of a counsellor at Camp Crystal Lake, with a few different characters up for grabs. The aim of the game is to kill Jason three times, and keep at least one counsellor and one kid alive. Sound easy? Well, there’s plenty of other enemies to fight first, ranging from zombies to wolves.
As this was the end of the ‘80s, the game is, of course, a side-scrolling game with colourful graphics, but Friday the 13th does actually have some depth to it. Character weapons can be upgraded, and countdowns force you to find Jason before he offs the next counsellor or child. The music’s actually quite atmospheric, and the day-to-night cycle is pretty impressive.
There are two stand-out moments in particular. One: fighting the decapitated head of Mrs Voorhees as it levitates above its shrine, just like it didn’t do in the movies but should have. Two: encountering Jason himself in a style akin to the mighty Punch-Out!, with the masked weirdo himself taking jabs at you with his bare fists.
Another iconic horror gem transplanted to the Atari 2600.
Halloween scores major points right from the off for its score: considering the severe limitations of the Atari 2600, the famous Halloween theme is clearly recognisable. Players control a nameless babysitter (she’s never referred to as Laurie Strode, but that’s obviously who she is) tasked with rescuing kids from the notoriously stabby Michael Myers.
The visuals are cute but just as sparse as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s, with little to look at. Still, it’s great to see Myers appear on-screen with his knife in hand, accompanied by his theme tune, and his sprite has been well-designed – if you look closely enough, you can just about see his boiler suit and boots.
Back in 2013, an indie developer named Pig Farmer Productions made a free-to-play adaptation of the original film, which was well-received by fans.
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is a scary, gory, innovative movie.
This 1984 Commodore 64 tie-in, however, shares none of those qualities.
Playing as Ash, you have to shut every window in your cabin to stop enemies from coming inside. As if that weren’t gripping enough, you also have to kill numerous monsters lingering throughout the levels, using axes, shotguns, and shovels, until you eventually destroy the Book of the Dead.
It’s hard to imagine fans of the film being too excited for this back in the day. Thankfully, just 19 short years later, THQ released The Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, a more faithful tie-in to the movies. While it didn’t meet with the warmest of receptions, it at least gave fans a truer experience than the 1984 title.
Have you played any of these retro games based on iconic horror movies? Let us know!