Trick Or Treat: Essential Halloween Games

If you’re like me, Halloween is all about stocking up on candy, putting on a playlist of early Simpsons and South Park Halloween episodes, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, and any number of awesome and awesomely bad horror flicks, busting out your beverage of choice, and rocking out on a game like Zombies Ate My Neighbors or Parasite Eve. Slaying monsters, exploring creepy places, or even being the monster is fun any time of year, and these games somehow become even better when there’s an aura of festivity around them. These are a few -but certainly not all- of my personal favorite Halloween games, in no order:

Castlevania (NES)Castlevania
(NES, Commodore 64, Amiga, DOS)

This one’s a no-brainer. As far as classic video games are concerned, Castlevania is essentially synonymous with Halloween. Any of the series’ many games will do (except maybe Castlevania 64, but if that’s what you’re into, who am I to judge?), but for sheer no-nonsense old-school wholesale ass-whooping of just about every creepy crawler in all of classic horrordom, there is no substitute for the original.

(Side note: is anyone else a fan of Simon’s Quest?)

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Ghosts 'N' Goblins (NES)Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins
(Arcade, NES, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, PC88, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC) 

Whether it’s the arcade original or one of the various home computer and console ports, no Halloween classic gaming session is complete without some form of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins or, alternately, its sequel, Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts. Sneak a piece of your favorite candy from the Trick Or Treat stash if you can get past the first level. You’ll have earned it.

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Resident Evil (PSX)Resident Evil
(PlayStation, Saturn, PC, GameCube)
A spooky, mysterious mansion riddled with booby traps and monsters, a story that plays out like a murder mystery, precious few resources with which to survive, and some of the greatest bad voice acting of all time: these are the ingredients for a basically perfect Halloween game. That, and zombie-blasting of Dawn Of The Dead proportions. The GameCube remake ratchets up the suspense a bit by requiring you to burn the bodies of the zombies you put down, lest they come back to “life”…and you really don’t want that.

(See also: Alone In The Dark, Silent Hill, Clock Tower.)

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Haunted House (Atari 2600)Haunted House
(Atari 2600)

The graphical limitations of the good old Atari Video Computer System (that’s “2600” to you!) ended up doing Haunted House a lot of credit. You control a pair of freaked-out eyeballs exploring a pitch-dark haunted house (!) in a mission to collect keys, a scepter of invincibility, and three pieces of a magic urn while avoiding tarantulas, bats, and ghosts. Only when the urn is assembled can you leave the haunted house. Imagine Adventure a la Wes Craven.

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Death Race (Arcade)Death Race
(Arcade)

Chances are that unless you’re a big-time collector of arcade machines, you’ll have to play this controversial 1976 arcade racer via emulation (*shudder*), which puts you behind the wheel of a race car tasked with mowing down distinctly humanoid-looking zombies. Its subject matter was pretty intense in the Pong-dominated world of 1976, and it’s still fun today.

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Dracula (Intellivision)Dracula
(Intellivision)

This Intellivision exclusive differs somewhat from most other “creature feature” games. Instead of hunting and slaying Dracula, as the title and decades of horror-genre naming conventions may imply, you actually play as Dracula as he goes around flushing people out of their houses and murdering them in the street before returning to his tomb before sunrise. The pesky Constable can slow you down by chucking stakes at you (ouch!), but you can transform victims into zombies to take care of him for you.

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Halloween (Atari 2600)Halloween
(Atari 2600)

It’s all in the name. This one is probably the goriest game there is for the Atari 2600, although that’s a bit like saying “this plastic toy brick is the blockiest Lego.” Based on the classic horror film of the same name, you control a Sally Brown lookalike Jamie Lee Curtis as she tries to rescue the child she’s babysitting from the long blade of Michael Myers, ad infinitum, until Mikey has decapitated her for the third time. Bonus “oh no he di’in’t!” points: Myers can also stab the kid into a blood-spurting pile of smashed pixels.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Atari 2600)The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(Atari 2600)
I went over this one in greater detail in an earlier review, but it fits the bill here. As established in that review, there are certainly better games -including its “brother,” Halloween– but Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ripe for a quick Halloween playthrough or two, even if only for the novelty value. Besides, what’s Halloween without a little novelty?

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Chiller (Arcade)Chiller
(Arcade, NES)

This 1986 arcade title could well be the only game in the Torture-Shooter genre, and it legitimately contends for “Most Violent Video Game Of All Time.” The whole point of the game is to activate torture devices to mutilate and dismember helpless loincloth-clad victims, as well as to shoot off as much of their skin and/or body parts as possible, in addition to other spooky targets like spiders, bats, rats, and other projectiles. The over-the-top gruesomeness and haunted locales -including torture dungeons and haunted graveyards- make this game worth checking out come All Hallow’s Eve…but maybe wait until the kids are asleep.

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Satan's Hollow (Arcade)Satan’s Hollow
(Arcade, Atari 400/800, Commodore 64)
First of all, no, this game does not advocate devil worship. What it does advocate, though, is classic arcade shooting goodness in the vein of Galaga or Galaxian. Old Scratch appears every couple of stages to barf columns of fire down on you, but that’s as Satanic as Satan’s Hollow gets. Even so, it’s a great game.

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Splatterhouse (Arcade)Splatterhouse
(Arcade, TurboGrafx-16, FM Towns Marty)
This one certainly lives up to its name. As the Jason Voorhees doppelgänger Rick, you punch, kick, hack, slash, and shoot your way through nightmarish stages full of slimy undead monsters, dismembered corpses, occult references, and various other abominations in a quest to rescue your girlfriend, Jennifer. Rescuing the princess has never been this horrortastic.

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Ghost Manor (Atari 2600)Ghost Manor
(Atari 2600)
There’s a lot more here than first meets the eye. What first appears as a fairly junky looking and pointless avoid-the-ghost-in-the-graveyard game actually turns out to be a pretty cool (though still junky looking, aside from the nicely detailed house in the background) multi-screen game which begins by catching the ghost in the graveyard. Turns out, he gives you spears that you need in the second screen to take out all the flying creatures -while avoiding the axe-wielding mummy- and get into the Manor. Then you avoid the moving walls while searching the coffins (?) for crosses, which you use to defeat Dracula and rescue your friend. It pays to read the manual, kids.

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Cauldron (Commodore 64)Cauldron
(Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC)
It feels like there aren’t too many games in which you play as a witch. Well, Cauldron is one of them, as you fly around on your broom collecting keys to underground caves containing the ingredients you need to create the potion to destroy the evil pumpkin, your arch-nemesis. It’s a pretty good and pretty forgotten game that’s worth resurrecting this time of year.

Note that instead of lives, you have hags. Well played.

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House Of The Dead 2 (Dreamcast)House Of The Dead 2
(Arcade, Dreamcast, PC)
You could probably lump the whole series in here, but my favorite has always been the second installment. Hilariously bad voice acting -if not quite as funny as Resident Evil’s– and fast-pasted Sega-style light gun action make House Of The Dead 2 a zombie-slayer to beat. Add a second light gun and you’ve got a party.

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Frankenstein's Monster (Atari 2600)Frankenstein’s Monster
(Atari 2600)
This relatively unknown Atari VCS title has all the makings of a classic Halloween game: spiders, ghosts, creepy-crawleys, and of course, Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s a multi-screen affair that can actually get a little intense as you race against time to build a wall around the dormant Monster before he comes to life. It’s almost worth it to lose on purpose just to see the “game over” sequence.

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Midnight Mutants (Atari 7800)Midnight Mutants
(Atari 7800)
It’s got Grampa Munster. What more is there to say? Actually, plenty. The game even bills itself as “the ultimate Halloween nightmare.” You roam around a haunted monster-ridden town, collecting items and weapons, opening up new areas, exploring Grampa’s mansion, and fighting a host of Halloween monsters and bosses. If you need help, Grampa gives you advice throughout the game about all of those things, rather like Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s a pity the 7800 didn’t have more games like this.

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(c) 2013 Jeffery Koss

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Retro-Active’s Top 10 Bosses

Could good old Wart be one of Retro-Active’s Top 10 Bosses? I’ll save you some time: No. No, he could not.

I love lists. You love lists. We all love lists. Maybe we all just love to hate lists. Well, here’s another one to dissect: Retro-Active’s Top 10 Bosses!

In case some of you out there take this more seriously than you should, let me preface this with a few things:
1) I fully admit that this list skews retro. This list is absolutely biased according to what I’m into. So if you’re unhappy that I didn’t represent BioShock or Dead Space or whatever, I guess I don’t know what else to tell you. Go read IGN.
2) You will not find Sephiroth or Psycho Mantis or Bowser here. I don’t care how great you think Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Super Mario Bros. are; none of those franchises need any more stroking from the internet.
3) This is opinion and opinion only.

So by “Top Bosses,” I guess I really mean “Subjective Favorite Bosses”. I’m not saying that these are necessarily the biggest, baddest, rootin’ tootin’est bosses of all time (though some might be in the running), but they are ones I’ve really enjoyed -or ones that have really pissed me off- over the years. So with that out of the way, let’s get on with it!

10. Rex (3D Monster Maze, Timex/Sinclair 1000)
Okay, so technically he’s not really a “boss” in the conventional sense of the word. And thanks to the minimal graphical abilities of the Timex/Sinclair 1000, he’s actually a little silly-looking. But he’s big, he’s hungry, you’re stuck in a maze with him, you have no defense against him, and the phrase “Rex has seen you” made you seriously reconsider just how sick of Flight Simulator and Frogger you were after all. (You ZX81 fans in the U.K. and Canada know what I’m talking about.)

Who’s silly-looking NOW?

9. Goro (Mortal Kombat, Arcade)
Many would argue that MKII’s Kintaro was a greater boss character than Goro was. And they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But before MKII rolled around, Goro was larger than life. In fact, he still is, in the context of the original Mortal Kombat. Scorpion and Kano suddenly didn’t seem that badass standing before a ‘roided-out four-armed giant. If he got even one of those hands on you, it was all over.

The last known photograph of Johnny Cage.

8. Sack Head (Splatterhouse, Arcade/TurboGrafx-16)
The Spatterhouse series had enough epically strange, disgusting, creepy-looking, disturbing, and tough boss characters to fill this list all by themselves. But in my estimation, none said “you’re gonna die” in clearer tones than this guy. Resembling what I can only imagine to be a mishmashing of Abobo from Double Dragon, Jason’s mother from Friday the 13th, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sack Head’s influence could still be felt over a decade later in games like Resident Evil 4.

The aptly, yet unfortunately named Sack Head.

(Speaking of Jason, Rick looks awfully familiar…)

7. Anton Girdeux (Syphon Filter, PlayStation)
Flamethrowers are awesome. Most of the time. That time in the monument after you disarmed the four viral bombs in Lincoln Memorial Park? Not one of those times. This fire-flinging Frenchman would barbecue up some Gabe Flambée faster than you could say “je n’aime pas!” Feeling so much as a single BTU from Girdeux’s flames meant instant death. There were a lot of instant deaths.

Anton Girdeux

Fighting this guy wasn’t exactly “ooh-la-la.”

6. Mr. X (Resident Evil 2, PlayStation), Nemesis (Resident Evil 3, PlayStation)
These guys are lumped together because, for one thing, I love the Resident Evil games (the first four, anyway, plus Code: Veronica), but mainly because they’re really more or less the same thing and serve the same functions in their respective games. Which in no way trivializes them, I should add. They followed you through the entire game, periodically popping up when you least suspected it to scare the bejeezus out of you, before appearing at the end of the game -in grossly mutated forms (redundant much?)- for a final showdown in which they couldn’t be defeated with conventional weapons.

Mr. X: the bane of Resident Evil 2’s B Scenario.

One of the great things about Mr. X in particular was that, in a game where most of your enemies wanted little more than to eat you, his preferred method of ending your game was beating your ass into stew with his fists.

Nemesis, the featured nemesis of Resident Evil 3. (See what I did there?)

Nemesis, however, was not above using heavy ordnance to ruin your day.

5. Hitler (Wolfenstein 3D, PC)
Wolfenstein 3D took no shortage of liberties in the historical accuracy department, and its portrayal of Adolf Hitler was no exception. The image of Hitler stomping around in some kind of tank-suit contraption armed with enough miniguns to outfit a squadron of Cheyenne helicopters is deliciously absurd (even more absurd than Hitler The Warlock). Any manic laughter resulting from said absurdity quickly came to an end when you saw what Der Führer could do with all that hardware, however.

Du werdest eine krankenschwester gebrauchen!

Being able to peel off his goofy armor with your own minigun before literally melting his Nazi ass with it was awfully satisfying, though.

4. Akuma (Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Arcade/3DO)
Virtually every other “Top Bosses” list I’ve seen includes Street Fighter II’s M. Bison. I’m not sure I understand why, but I’m guessing it’s because they forgot about Akuma, Super Street Fighter II Turbo‘s elusive “hidden” boss. As badass as Bison is supposed to be (I don’t see it myself), Akuma showed up out of nowhere and blew through him like he wasn’t even there. And then he did the same to you. For as long as your quarters and/or patience held out.

Akuma, moments before wasting you.

3. Technodrome (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NES)
If you can make it this far in the game, congratulations. Few things inspired more dread in an NES game than suddenly finding yourself in a cavernous and ominously empty room, hearing the TMNT boss music come on (say what you will about this game, but it has some of the best music of the 8-bit era), and seeing the Technodrome tank’s giant electricity-spewing prong slowly rolling up on you. And between zapping you, shooting you, running you over, and swarming you with Foot Soldiers (who flung hailstorms of shuriken at you), the Technodrome didn’t f@#$ around. If you didn’t have at least three healthy turtles (one of them being Donatello), you needed Kiais. If you didn’t have any, you were screwed.

Not good.

Of course, if you got inside the Technodrome, you were screwed anyway.

2. William Birkin (Resident Evil 2, PlayStation)
This guy is a piece of work. William Birkin is a recurring boss who reappeared at various stages of his ongoing mutation, each more fearsome than the last. The last two mutations almost bordered on ridiculous; the poor guy eventually turned into some kind of enormous, eyeball-covered bulldog with the face of a wood-chipper, and later into a gigantic tentacled blob with the face of a razor-fanged sphincter. Regardless of the form (?) he took, Birkin was a force to be feared. (Except for his early pipe-swinging form; he was kind of a wuss. But those other ones? You’d better be packing.)

William Birkin G3

The next time something punches a hole through the side of your industrial elevator tram, don’t go outside to see what it was.

1. Cyberdemon (Doom, PC)
When you got to the last level in The Shores of Hell, the instant you saw those dead Barons of Hell hanging on the walls, and that creepy semitone music started playing, that’s when you conveniently starting thinking about having better things to do. Even if you made it through the whole game without cheating up to this point, you were now overwhelmingly tempted to say “screw it” and plug in IDDQD. And when you finally worked up the courage to face the music you knew was waiting for you, you found a 20-foot cyborg minotaur from hell, with a missile launcher for an arm and a disposition as sunny as the dark side of the moon.

“I REGRET NOTH…………”

As if that weren’t hardcore enough, the good folks at id Software -the creators of Doom– saw fit to stick this tough customer all over the place in Thy Flesh Consumed, Doom II, and Final Doom like he wasn’t that big a deal. And that’s not even getting into fan-made custom WADs like Alien Vendetta and Hell Revealed, where Cyberdemons are only marginally less common than the swarms of lowly Imps and Former Humans. Welcome to hell, indeed…hope you packed your BFG 9000!


(c) 2012 Jeffery Koss