Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Great Retro Halloween Games That Aren’t Scary

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Happy Halloween to all of our lovely retro readers.  All month we’ve been chatting about horror gaming, ominous dark rooms, and I’ve been spending one moment in Silent Hill and the next running from the Slenderman.  I thought it might be fun to finally offer some retro Halloween gaming for the timid, nervous, screaming little scaredy cats out there.  Yep, you read that correctly, here’s a list of fun Halloween videos games that aren’t intended to scare you.

Maniac Mansion (Commodore 64, NES, PC/MAC, iOS/Android)
Way back in 1987, veterans to the industry Ron Gilbert and Tim Schaefer created a little point-and-click adventure game about a group of teenagers that break into the old mansion of Dr. Fred Edison to get back protagonist Dave Miller’s missing girlfriend.  Although set in a haunted house that comes complete with blood on the walls, skeletons in the basement, and a hyper-sexualized nurse Maniac Mansion is all in good fun.  There are no actual scares and you’ll be laughing hysterically way before you get an opportunity to be scared.  Not only was this late 80s PC title a great game to play, but it also was responsible for the creation of Lucasfilm’s infamous “SCUMM” engine (standing for, say it with me kids, Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) that would be utilized in all Lucasfilm adventure games from then on.  With a surprising decent port on the NES, plenty of PC ports, a recent enhanced graphics fan re-release, and full compatibility with SCUMMVM on your iOS/Android device, this is a game not to be missed.  Unfortunately it has never been (and probably never will) re-released in any way so almost any way you play this game will have to be found by nefarious means, but even creator Ron Gilbert has said that if that’s the only way to play, he’d rather you pirate it than not play it at all.

7th Guest (PC/MAC, CD-I, iOS)
Okay, now I know that this is a horror tale and I know that it’s slated as scary, but in truth this haunted house puzzler is anything but.  Consisting of large amounts of cutscenes that re-tell a tale (and even regarded as a FMV title by some), you basically solve a puzzle and get a movie as a reward for a total of 21 puzzles.  In fact, the scariest part of the game is trying to figure out the more complex and asinine puzzles at the end, but don’t you dare consult a FAQ, that ruins the whole point of the game.  As a scary game the 7th Guest fails on all fronts, and frankly it’s heavily dated even by my tolerably low standards, but there’s still plenty of game to appreciate here and the game is anything but broken.  It has recently been resurrected via OS X’s app store for MAC/iOS and all others can pick up the Win XP/Vista/7 compatible port on Good Old Games for $10.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, Sega Genesis)

Which version is this?

I’m going to get a bit controversial here because everyone I talk to proudly claims that the SNES port is the better game.  While I have to give it to the SNES for presentation, actual gameplay still rides in the hands of Sega’s double speed “blast processing”.  Full disclosure: I was a Genesis kid growing up and I always prefer violent versions of games over pretty ones (Mortal Kombat only had blood on Sega consoles as did this title) so I’m sure there’s bias buried in there one way or another.  Either way, the games are identical save for some graphical differences and every version is wonderfully great.  The premise is to take a brother and sister combo, drop them into a world that has seen the apocalypse via cartoony versions of horror movie characters, and have them fight through the hordes to rescue their neighbors.  You start off with 10 people to rescue in each level, with a total of 50 levels (55 if you count the bonus ones), and any victims lost remain missing on future levels.  From there you basically need to survive (you are given limited lives) and prevent all your neighbors from being killed, it’s as simple as that.  I like this game because like other LucasArts titles it takes a basic premise from the old arcade and Atari 2600 days and adapts it to 16-bit consoles for a fun and addicting co-op title.  No one is going to be scared by this title, but it will make your nerves stand up on end once you enter those last 15 or so levels – oh, and did I mention no continues and only 5 passwords throughout the whole game?  Every time I see this game online or at retro shops it’s just around $10-$15 and you Wii owners can nab it on the Virtual Console (SNES version) for $8.

Haunting Starring Polterguy (Sega Genesis, PSP)
In one of the zaniest Electronic Arts releases I’ve ever seen, Haunting is a thought-provoking game that puts you as lead character Polterguy, a “hip” dead teenager not unlike every mascot Sega ever saw on its Genesis console, in charge of scaring the daylights out of the Sardini family.  It’s an isometric haunted house simulator except that you are generating the scares.  The goal is to scare all of the family members out of the house before your ecto meter (this title’s version of a timer) depletes and without being seen by the family dog (drains ecto meter and removes fear from family members).  The two player mode is interesting because you trade off turns with scares and then go into a dungeon level where you compete for ecto and get to a finish line.  If either player dies during the dungeon areas the other player will continue the game in single player.  Not a title that most will see the end of, but definitely a fun and amusing game that has a surprising level of violent content and for those that make it to the end an amusing twist.  This game is a relatively rare but inexpensive ($10-$15) Genesis cart and a re-release on the EA Replay collection for the PSP that’s roughly the same rarity and price.

Night Trap (Sega CD/32X CD, 3DO, PC)
We have done plenty of coverage on this cult favorite, complete with a full game playthrough, so I’ll just revert you to the article here if you haven’t seen it.

And there you have it!  Five solid games for you to run out and pick up (or download) for your retro console of choice this Halloween.  It’s not all about scares and trick-or-treat, sometimes horror games can be enjoyed by the whole family, even the house wuss.  Any you particularly liked that I haven’t mentioned here?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

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