Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Halloween Rarities

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I’m really into lucrative titles, especially when they are about Halloween or horror.  For the most part these games are classic titles from the past that you have either never played or never had a chance to play.  On the plus side, thanks to rom¹ hacks and translations, you can easily find any of these games to play on an emulator.  While I don’t condone piracy, nothing in this list was released in the US save for one title so for a single play to see what you’re missing I feel there’s no harm, especially since you have no other option.  I cannot link any of these roms directly, but feel free to search for “(title of game) rom” on Google and you shouldn’t have any problems.  Without further ado, here’s the list of great Halloween games you’ve probably never played.

Sweet Home (Suīto Hōmu) – Famicom – 1989

Considered by some to be the original version of Resident Evil, Sweet Home is actually a licensed game based on a movie of the same name.  It was developed by Capcom and produced by RE producer Shinji Mikami, who later admitted that Resident Evil began as a remake of Sweet Home.  For many modern gamers, RE is a tough sell with its fixed camera angles, blurry graphics and tank² controls.  If this describes you, then Sweet Home may be the outdated choice for you.  Although developed on the Famicom there is a surprising number of similarities with RE on the Playstation.

Even in 8-bit, the mansion holds that eerie feel

When you change rooms the all-too-familiar door opening animation will escort you through.  The inventory system and puzzles will ring extremely familiar for those that explored the mansion as Chris or Jill.  In fact, the big spooky mansion is probably the most distinguishing similarity, although instead of a biological outbreak it’s merely haunted by the ghost of Lady Mamiya.  And even though it’s technically a survival horror title, the game plays much more like a classic Japanese role playing game (JRPG) with random Final Fantasy-like battles.  If you’ve always wanted to explore a haunted house JRPG style, check this one out, especially considering the decent english translation making the rounds.

Clock Tower (Kurokku Tawā: Za Fāsuto Fiā) – Super Famicom – 1995

You’re probably familiar with the Playstation title developed by Human Entertainment, but only in America is that the original.  Human brought the eerie series to the Super Famicom first, loosely basing the game on the film Creepers (Phenomina outside US) by European filmmaker Dario Argento (a master of horror in his own right).  What sets this series aside from others is the fact that there is no fighting back, only running and struggling.  In this original, now subtitled The First Fear, the genre most closely resembles a point-and-click adventure where you control protagonist Jennifer through a series of investigations.  Along the way you will encounter Bobby, a killer with the signature scissor-like shears, which will delay your progress or require certain actions to continue.

When you catch Bobby hunched over Ann’s body it’s a rush.

Not only is this game extremely tense and creepy, especially for a Super Famicom title, but the tension is incredible when you confront Bobby.  To top it off, the game has 8 possible endings (and 2 more if you can get the glitches to work), which was definitely rare back then.  Even more impressive is that the events in Clock Tower 2 (again, Clock Tower (PSOne) in the US) are compatible with all endings in the original.  While it did hit the Wonderswan portable (Japan only) and PC at the end of the 90s, the fan translation on the ‘net of the Super Famicom version is the best way to enjoy this great horror game.

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (same in Japan) – Famicom – 1989

It’s not all cupcake and butterflies in any iteration of the Splatterhouse franchise

Lets face it, the Splatterhouse series seems tailor-made for Halloween and horror, but that’s not why this particular title is on the list.  Nope, much like Sam Raimi’s famous Evil Dead trilogy, the second installment of Splatterhouse is a comedic homage to horror.  Technically, especially as the US is concerned, the second title is the Genesis game Splatterhouse 2 but this second “offshoot” title in the late 80s was intended to put a cute spin on the horrific arcade game.  Like the arcade title (or Turbografx-16 near-perfect port that came to America), Wanpaku Graffiti is similar in concept but drastically changes in execution.  Think of the treatment that Final Fight got moving to the NES in Mighty Final Fight – Rick is now very cartoony, as are the enemies, with big heads and small bodies.  There is blood, but its all portrayed in such a tongue-in-cheek way that you can’t help but disregard the horror aspects.  This title also features many more platforming elements and enemies that require multiple hits (in the original, most enemies died with a single smack).  Best of all, it’s funny.  With comedic takes on everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller (probably the first to do so) and even the fact that **spoiler** the ending reveals it was all just a movie, Wanpaku Graffiti is not intended to be taken seriously.  At the same time the game is very difficult, but that’s not to say a little practice can’t net a solid victory.  As with most others on this list, you can easily find a fan translation on the net to enjoy, but if you can manage to get your hands on a Famicom cart you won’t really lose much in translation.

The licensing issues alone are most likely why this never made it stateside.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo) – PC Engine CD (Super CD) – 1993

This opening battle with Death is a great intro to Rondo

The only title on this list that both was released (recently) in the US and has a reputation that proceeds it.  Everybody has heard of this title and that you have to play it, but I don’t know about you guys, the hardware itself will run you a cool $200-$250 (at time of printing on eBay) and that’s assuming you know what you need, and the game itself still runs $100-$200 depending on condition and other variables (again, at time of printing on eBay).  For a single game, and out of the difficult Castlevania franchise to boot, that’s a bit out of my psychotic obsession with rare video games price range.  Fortunately over the last few years you can spend a mere $9-$15 to get your hands on this collector’s cache.  It has been re-released on the Wii’s Virtual Console (near-perfect port) and PSP (in Dracula X Chronicles with varied opinions on the quality of emulation).

The burning town in the background is the one from Simon’s Curse

Boy am I glad Konami finally decided to do this because this game is truly amazing in so many ways.  As a gamer who’s not too keen on the metroid-vania” style but really dug the branching pathways of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse this was the perfect blend of both.  I had heard that the SNES title Dracula X, which was definitely released in the US albeit quite rare, was the same game.  Having played and beaten both, they are far from the same title and Dracula X is more of a classic-style remix.  Unlockable characters, secret locations, an endurance round of boss battles and especially the ability to save the level you are on make this one of my favorite in the series.  Again, although not as rare or difficult to find these days, I feel many gamers (even retro ones) have skipped this and it is definitely worth going back to.

New Ghostbusters II – Famicom/NES – 1990

Not to be confused with the Activision mess of a title, Ghostbusters II, this game only released in PAL (European) territories and Japan.  Developed by HAL Laboratories this is a much better game than the trash we got, but thanks to license rights or various other decisions made by Activision (they published both) we never got it.  It’s really too bad because this game is a lot of fun to play and may very well be the best Ghostbusters game to hit consoles.  In it players control a lead ghostbuster and a secondary chosen character follows behind (computer controlled, but it falls in line with your movements).  The A button activates the proton pack of the lead character and the B button slings out the trap of the secondary character.  Think of it as a ghostbuster version of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and other isometric view titles of the 16-bit generation.  With only a handful of levels, it’s still fun and difficult enough to keep you returning whether you beat the game or not.

Hellraiser – NES – 1989?

The most notorious of Nintendo games because, well, frankly no one is even sure it exists.  Whether or not it was actually in development has never been revealed but an article in GamePro definitely seems to suggest it was in some form.  From what I gather, a new cartridge type was being created by ColorDreams – the named “super cart” basically contained a Z80 processor (same processor in a Gameboy) and additional RAM.  This wasn’t anything new, expanded RAM was making better games all the time – the MMC5 being responsible for the great music of Castlevania III and the MMC2 allowed for the huge sprites of Punch-Out!!  No matter how many searches you do on the web, several screenshots (I believe the one I have here is the actual one) and even potential roms will be available, but none of them can be verified and I’ve heard that none of the existing roms have programming actually capable of being displayed on the NES.  This title is even more intriguing given the truly adult nature of the Hellraiser franchise and the odd concept of the licensed product being on the NES.  Once it was re-acquired, ColorDreams’ projects, including this and a few Amiga ports, that didn’t adhere to a strictly Christian set of values was destroyed.  Needless to say even if it ever existed in any form it was quickly destroyed in this “cleansing”.  Still, a man can dream and I can only imagine how cool it would have been to play a technically astounding NES version of a Hellraiser game at the tender age of 8.

Common Retro Halloween Games To Avoid
This drives me nuts every time I see it – web sites that have either never played the following games (or at least not recently) suggesting them as decent titles from yesteryear.  These games are essentially crap, you may just want to avoid them altogether.  As a retro enthusiast I am tempted to suggest these games as well, but just like E.T. on the 2600 is a little less horrid once you know what to do, it does not excuse the fact that the games are useless to the uninformed player.

1: A rom is the name given to the programming that was stored on the rom chips in a cartridge.  Think of it as a bundled program.
2: Because the characters in Resident Evil moved so slow and cumbersome, many said it was like controlling a tank, thus “tank” controls became the given name.

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