The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
The Critic's "Fright Factor" ratings:Ain't no thing but a chicken wing.
What was that noise? Did you hear something out back?
Okay, this game is starting to give me the creeps.
This is getting intense. Could somebody please hit the lights?
This game will scare the living [expletive] out of you.
Unbearable. Why would you even do this to yourself?!
Splatterhouse (NEC 1990) A
Splatterhouse serves up a generous portion of glorified violence and gore, and I like that! You control a muscle-bound psycho named Rick who wears a hockey mask just like Jason from Friday the 13th. His girlfriend is being held captive in a mansion, and he'll need to bash his way through a parade of gruesome monsters to save her. Chained zombies spew green vomit, corpses fall from the ceiling, and giant red slugs burst from chests. You'll fight shambling ghouls, slimy worms, undead werewolves, and a towering dude inspired by Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Fortunately there are plenty of potent weapons lying around including two-by-fours, shotguns, and meat cleavers. Smacking a zombie with a board causes it to splatter against the wall, and it looks pretty sweet. Some side-scrollers are repetitive, but Splatterhouse keeps things fresh with short stages that are full of surprises. You'll battle chairs and silverware in a kitchen, slosh through a sewer, and creep though a room of mirrors. The excellent soundtrack perfectly matches the macabre subject matter. Splatterhouse is the perfect game for Halloween because playing it is like walking through a virtual haunted house.
Ghost Manor (Turbo Tech 1992) F
I tend to gravitate towards platformers with spooky themes, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to like Ghost Manor. The background story is conveyed through about 20 screens of text, and paging through it wouldn't be so bad if they showed more than five words at a time! The game stars a dorky kid with a large head. In the first stage you'll jump between ledges in an underground cavern before making your way up a mountainside. There are a few creepy ghouls in this game and the catchy music is done in the same style as Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, 1993). In order to make any progress in Ghost Manor you'll need to locate a key which is tucked away in a really unlikely place. I had to watch a freakin' video on the Internet to find it! I hate it when I have to do stuff like that. The platform jumping is atrocious. Slides give the game a "Chutes and Ladders" feel, but most of the time you're trying to painstakingly move upward on the screen. The ledges are widely spaced and less-than-responsive controls make it hard to judge your leaps. There are slanted platforms you'll slide off if you don't immediately start jumping around like a flea. Even if you do, you'll sometimes fall right through them anyway. Often the only way to ascend is to catch a ride on a rising spirit or elevator, but waiting for them to come around takes forever! And when you finally reach the upper platforms, trolls and demons appear out of nowhere and send your ass plummeting back to the bottom. With bad controls and poorly designed stages, Ghost Manor is just one big ole bucket of misery.
Addams Family, The (CD) (NEC 1991) B
Fire up this CD and you'll be treated to the theme song from the original Addams Family television show. It's a nice touch, and for the first time I can actually understand the words! You play the role of cousin Alfred Tully who is looking to cash in on the Addams' family fortune. The action gets off to a rough start as you navigate a graveyard while avoiding golf balls and pools of acid. Then you're forced to fight Uncle Fester while being inundated with spiders and bats. If you can persevere, the game really opens up. Doors of various colors line the hallways of the mansion, each containing challenges and surprises. You can shoot with your umbrella, and the rapid-fire setting comes in handy. You collect colored keys which gradually give you access to more rooms, and it's fun to see what each one has in store. There's a torture chamber with traps, a conservatory with man-eating plants, a haunted dining hall, and a room with a running train. In Wednesday's bedroom you'll battle a series of possessed toys - including an NES console! Under most circumstances I wouldn't dream of destroying a perfectly good NES, but this thing was trying to kill me! Exploring is fun but the mansion layout is confusing. Different doors can lead to the same room, and one even dumps you outside of the house! To avoid revisiting the same rooms you may even want to map them out. The graphics are good (check out the audience on the bottom of the screen), and the creepy ghouls come in an amazing variety. The CD-quality audio however is what really steals the show. The eerie music and spine-tingling sound effects create a chilling aura of foreboding. From the creepy organ music, to the booming thunder, to the cackle of laughter, the audio is absolutely first-rate. The "game over" screen features the sound of crickets, and you'll be hard-pressed to tell if it's coming from your game or from outside. Unfortunately they did not use the actors from the movie for the voices, and that's obvious. Still, the Addams Family is a unique, engaging platformer that's far more interesting than its SNES cousin.
Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (CD) (Japanese Import) (Konami 1993) A
This rare title, only available in America as an import, is considered by most Castlevania fans to be the best of the series, and they'll get no argument here. Rondo of Blood is visually stunning, even today. The graphics are painstakingly detailed and high resolution, and the use of color is nothing short of brilliant. The demons and creatures you encounter are highly inventive, and effective animations usher in the appearance of bosses. For example, before your encounter with the werewolf, you can see his silhouette in front of the moon in the distance before he leaps into the foreground. The gameplay is typical Castlevania, where you use your whip and special weapons to battle monsters while collecting items hidden in candles. One aspect I especially like about Dracula X is although you can take multiple paths, the stages don't contain a myriad of confusing staircases like so many other Castlevania titles. I should warn you that this game is extremely hard and will frustrate novice gamers. Complimenting the gorgeous graphics is the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a Castlevania game, along with crisp, distinctive sound effects. You can save your game and return to any stage you've completed. Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is a classic, and if you can get your hands on it, an excellent addition to your Turbo Duo library.
Nightmare Creatures (NEC 1992) D+
Much like Altered Beast on the Genesis, this side scroller allows you to transform into wild animals while battling monsters from beyond the grave. I really, really wanted to like this game. The graphics are exceptional, with spooky scenery set in graveyards, catacombs, and deserted villages. Nightmare Creatures looks like a more serious version of Ghouls and Ghosts, and the creatures you encounter make quite an impression. There are nearly 40 different monsters if you include the bosses, and they tend to be surprisingly creepy. The effective visuals are matched by a haunting refrain that plays in the background. Unfortunately, the gameplay does not live up to the presentation. The interface used to switch weapons and transform is awkward, requiring you to pause the game. Your character takes a lot of cheap hits and is constantly dying. Even transforming into animals drains your life, so you can only do it sparingly. My best advice is to punch while squatting, which seems to make you much less vulnerable to attack. Nightmare Creatures lets you save your place if you're running on a Turbo Duo, but overall this title feels like a missed opportunity.
Scooby Doo Mystery (Sunsoft 1995) D+
Scooby-Doo Mystery is a throwback to the point-and-click adventures that were once popular on the PC. You can play two separate mysteries - one set in a snowy hotel and the other at a carnival by the sea. Each begins with a scene of the van cruising down a road to the sound of that familiar Scooby Doo theme song. A conversation in the van sets up the premise, and for the first time in video game history the text dialogue is displayed at perfect reading speed. Amazing! It also nicely reflects the personalities (and speech impediments) of the characters. Once you arrive at your destination the gang splits up and you assume control of Shaggy and Scooby. You can move freely between areas but interaction requires you to point with the cursor after selecting a command at the bottom of the screen like "look" or "use". The user interface is pretty clunky, and I got tired of dragging that slow-ass cursor around the screen. The illustrated scenery in Scooby Doo Mystery is terrific, but key items and entrances tend to blend in. There are only a few animations but they are amusing. To solve a mystery you'll converse with people, move obstacles, search for clues, and even piece items together. The game would have been a winner if the puzzles made sense, but more often that not, they defy logic! In the hotel you'll need to open every door in a long hallway before the one at the end magically becomes unlocked. In the carnival you'll use taffy to start an electric generator. Nonsense like that forces you into trial-and-error mode (or better yet, FAQ mode). I was glad to see a save function until I realized it required writing down a 30-character sequence - with special characters no less! Scooby-Doo Mystery had the potential for spooky fun, but its poorly-constructed puzzles are unforgivable.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Konami 1993) B-
Your enjoyment of this game will largely depend on if you've played the SNES version (which was released first). If you haven't, then Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an engaging, light-hearted romp with a Halloween theme. Its 55 stages of overhead shooting mayhem will take you into zombie-ravaged neighborhoods, hedge mazes terrorized by chainsaw maniacs, and beaches crawling with Creature From The Black Lagoon clones. One or two players can battle these evil minions by tossing everyday objects like tomatoes, plates, pop-sickles, and footballs. The whimsical soundtrack perfectly compliments the action, and an easy-to-read password is provided after every few stages. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a good game, but if you cut your teeth on the SNES version, you're bound to be disappointed. First off, the right side of the screen is reserved for scoring and the radar display, forcing the main play area to be somewhat squished. The graphics don't look nearly as sharp as the SNES, and the certain visual effects are missing altogether. For example, monsters don't turn blue when you freeze them with a fire extinguisher. But the audio is the biggest letdown. The music is muted and some sounds have been reduced to simple beeps. The bass-heavy effects that rocked the SNES just sound harsh. My friend Scott remarked, "it gets more and more disappointing with each sound effect!" The only way this edition improves upon the original is the red blood that drips down the "game over" screen, as opposed to that cheesy purple goo of the SNES edition.
Haunting Starring Polterguy, The (Electronic Arts 1993) C
This wonderfully imaginative game lets you do the spooking instead of being spooked! Haunting Starring Polterguy places you in the role of a mischievous ghost exacting revenge on the family responsible for his demise. Each stage presents a spacious new house for you to frighten all four family members out of. Scaring is done by setting "traps" that cause all sorts of supernatural phenomena. You roam around unseen by the family, but your goofy green appearance calls to mind the Mask, especially when you break into dance or spike your head like a football. The family members are easy to scare, as they tend to take notice of the furniture and fixtures you've rigged. Traps initiate brief but amusing "scare" animations such as knives flying out of a drawer, a head busting through a television, or a levitating rocking chair. Considering the limited resolution of the Genesis, the visuals are extremely well done and some are surprisingly gory. Certain sequences are more elaborate than others. In the shower, a hot babe in a towel does a little dance before revealing her body to be a rotting corpse! In the game room, a basketball player shoots his head through a hoop, only to have it fall into the fish tank below, turning the water blood red. Some animations are more weird than scary, like the stereo that transforms into a robot, or the plant that spawns a swarm of bees. Sometimes you have the opportunity to control an object like a levitating skull or chainsaw, and these are useful for preventing your victim from leaving the room. Toying with the family is very amusing thanks to the sheer number of trap animations. Your victims react in a number of ways, including peeing themselves! Unfortunately, a few times per stage you'll find yourself running low on "ectoplasm", and this is where Haunting's gameplay takes a turn for the worse. You're then dumped into an underground dungeon maze loaded with pits, flying objects, and grabbing arms. Here you must collect a number of green blobs before you can return to the house, and it's painfully repetitive. Haunting Starring Polterguy offers no continues and has no password feature. My buddy Steve and I played this game for what seemed like hours, but by the time it was over, we were absolutely sick of it! I enjoy the minor-key music that plays throughout the game, but the scream effects are rough. I love the concept behind Haunting, but it's long on novelty value and short on replay value.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Sony 1993) D
I loved the movie, but this game doesn't do the film justice - it feels like a third-rate Castlevania. The storyline hardly resembles the movie at all. You control the character played by Keanu Reeves through a series of castle, forest, and graveyard stages. With his preppy clothes and relaxed body posture, he looks like he should be loafing around the mall instead of battling the living dead. He can jump, slash, and shoot (if he finds a weapon). The scenery is not particularly creepy and the music is way too upbeat. Although there are some cool enemies like skeletons, zombies, and werewolves, you are more likely to be taken down by all those annoying tiny rats that scurry around each level. And there are cheap hits galore! Spears shoot out above or below you, giving you no warning or time to react. Heck, even when you know they're coming they're impossible to avoid. All-in-all, Dracula is very mediocre.
Castlevania Bloodlines (Sega 1994) B+
Castlevania was an insanely popular line of side-scrollers for the NES and SNES. After what seemed like an eternity, it finally arrived on the Genesis in the form of Castlevania Bloodlines. The game plays much like Super Nintendo's Castlevania IV, where you battle creatures of the night armed with a whip and other weapons. So how does this compare to its SNES counterpart? It's not quite as good, but still worth playing. The graphics aren't as detailed or colorful as the SNES version, but they still rate better than average on the Genesis. I found the controls to be a bit tricky when navigating the stairs, but other than that, this is pure platform heaven. I love the bosses, especially the wolf who shatters the windows with his howl.
Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Sega 1989) A-
This superb sequel to Ghosts and Goblins (NES, 1986) plays like a lighthearted medieval romp with a horror movie flavor (think Army of Darkness). Ghouls and Ghosts boasts rich graphics, fantastic playability, and a killer soundtrack. Playing the role of a knight, you must forge through an ever-changing landscape of skeleton-infested graveyards, burning townships, and a castle of evil demons (are there another kind?). You'll face skull-spewing plants, hopping turtles, vomiting trolls, and a towering statue that carries his fireball-spewing head. I love the animations and subtle details in the layered backgrounds. Skeletons peek out from behind trees and feathers fly when you hack a vulture. In the opening stage check out the twisted trees and hanging corpses in the distance. Later a storm moves in and whips the trees around as lightning cracks the sky, creating a terrific atmosphere. Ghouls and Ghosts has tremendous depth as well. Chests reveal weapons, armor, and sometimes a magician who temporarily transforms you into a chicken or an elderly man (Hint: you can kill the magician before he casts his spell). Weapons include knives, axes, swords, a discus that skims the ground, and "fire-water" which deals damage over a wide area. Most weapons have a secondary magic effect triggered by holding down the attack button for several seconds. Taking a hit causes your armor to fall off, and you'll need to scamper around in your boxer shorts until you find a new suit. A rollicking musical score perfectly compliments the medieval hijinks. If Ghouls and Ghosts has a flaw, it might be the outrageous difficulty. The section where you have to jump between the tongues of the stone faces is absolute murder! Even so, the monumental challenge is part of the game's allure. You get unlimited continues, and you may find yourself using most of them into the wee hours of the morning. With the exception of Sonic the Hedgehog, Ghouls and Ghosts is the quintessential Genesis title.
Splatterhouse 2 (Namco 1992) B
The original Splatterhouse (Turbografx, 1990) was a gory hash-n-slash side-scroller. Parents hated it and kids loved it. Splatterhouse 2 expands upon the premise by incorporating more stages, creepy special effects, amazing bosses, and a much-needed password mechanism. The developers were clearly influenced by classic horror flicks like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, and Nightmare on Elm Street. The intro sets the mood nicely as a camera pans over a stormy countryside as a dark mansion slowly moves into view. You begin outside of the house, and it's clear that these ghouls have not been keeping up with their yard work. As monsters approach you can literally punch them in half, and it does wonders for the self esteem (yours - not theirs). Most ghouls look like walking masses of quivering muscle and come in a delightful assortment of shapes and colors. There's no shortage of splattering blood and guts, but it tends to be green, so parents shouldn't have an issue with it. Splatterhouse 2 lets you do stuff you rarely get to do in real life, like bludgeon an alien with a giant dinosaur bone. The first boss arrives early in the form of an obese creature that spews green acid. He's followed by the obligatory elevator stage, and this is where things start to get a little repetitive. You gradually figure out how to defeat each creep, but their attacks tend to nickel and dime your life bar. By the time you encounter a boss (like that hideous giant face) you're half dead. As stages progress the monsters can absorb more and more hits, causing the fun factor to diminish. The digitized sound effects and scary music are good but not great. Splatterhouse 2 doesn't feel as a fresh as the original, but at least it stays true to its spirit.
Splatterhouse 3 (Namco 1993) D+
The first two Splatterhouse games were a celebration of macabre fun and gratuitous gore, and Splatterhouse 3 tries to take the series to the next level. Once again our mask-wearing hero "Rick" must save his girlfriend Jennifer by beating freaky creatures to a bloody pulp. Next time these monsters might want to consider kidnapping the girlfriend of somebody less mentally unstable. Splatterhouse 3's graphics are pretty good. In fact, some of the digitized cut-scenes are among the most impressive you'll see on the Genesis. I especially enjoyed the scene with the text "the monster emits a foul smell and moves closer to Jennifer". Unlike the previous games where Rick could only move sideways, he can now move all around the screen. He has a bunch of new attacks like jump-kicks, combination punches, throws, and head butts. Splatterhouse 3 even gives you a map so you can choose your own route through the mansion. This would have added a lot of replay value if the rooms weren't all the same! This game is just a series of protracted brawls with the same gang of slimy creatures that take too long to defeat. And just when you thought you've cleared a room, a new set of ghouls drop in from the ceiling. Gah! You can strike several at a time, and pinning them against walls is effective. The problem is, these creatures can take a hell of lot of abuse, and some bosses require about 100 hits! It is nice how creatures exhibit damage as you wear them down. Some will have the top of their heads collapse halfway through the battle, which is gruesome but fun. Rooms not full of ghouls contain flying books and disembodied hands that chip away at your life. The rooms are furnished but there's not much to see. Splatterhouse 3 doesn't bother to keep score so it's just a matter of persevering until the end. The game has a few good ideas, but its repetitive fighting action proves to be its undoing.
Nightmare in the Dark (MVS) (Eleven AM 2000) B+
This obscure platformer blends old-school arcade action with a scary Halloween theme. I dream of games like this! You play a cloaked crypt keeper trying to keep undead denizens at bay. Each macabre stage features a unique platform configuration crawling with zombies, skeletons, hunchbacks, and ghosts. The monsters are animated in a comical manner, and musical score is very whimsical as well. You defeat enemies by throwing fireballs at them in a rapid-fire manner. Eventually they become engulfed in flames, allowing you to drag them around and hurl them at other creeps. It's strategic and satisfying - not unlike bowling. Clearing a stage causes bonus items to spring forth, and it's fun to snatch them up and rack up crazy bonus points. Every five stages you'll encounter an oversized boss, including a ground-pounding Frankenstein monster. Nightmare in the Dark's colorful backgrounds depict a series of shadowy graveyard scenes, and they add a lot of ambiance. If the game has a weakness, it's the audio. The sound effects are sparse and the soundtrack's upbeat vibe would be better suited to a dance party. The two-player mode is badly flawed, as it's bogged down by some of the worst slow-down I've ever witnessed. As a one-player title however Nightmare in the Dark is spooky fun and a great title to have on hand during the Fall months. Note: While playing this MVS cartridge on my AES converter I noticed some minor graphical glitches, but they did not affect the gameplay.
Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday (Sunsoft 1995) B-
You may find it hard to get yourself psyched up for a Porky Pig game, but Haunted Holiday is no joke! This whimsical platformer is a heck of a lot of fun and loaded with surprises. Porky begins his journey in a haunted graveyard, and this weird stage somehow manages to incorporate both Halloween and Christmas elements. Subsequent stages put Porky in a Wild West ghost town, the water kingdom of Atlantis, and the snowy Alps. Swimming through Altantis is slow going, but the other stages are ideal in length. Porky's jump-and-pounce action is satisfying thanks to responsive controls and exaggerated sound effects. Warner Bros cartoon fans will notice familiar sights like the two-headed vulture, a prancing dog, and bats with big eyes. Certain enemies are kind of disturbing, like the mounted moose head that scampers around! Yikes! Leprechauns split in two when you pounce on them, and I was surprised they appeared to be smoking pipes. My friend Scott reassured me however that those are not pipes but guns. God forbid we expose kids to the horrors of smoking! The stage backgrounds are very artistic, and there are random weather effects and some impressive 3D scaling. Ironically the worst looking thing in the entire game is Porky himself, who appears somewhat pixelated. The music is pretty amazing and the digitized sound effects include Daffy Duck's maniacal laugh. The oversized bosses are memorable including Yosemite Sam and a Ghost in a top hat. Haunted Holiday is definitely on the easy side, but that just makes it all the more appealing. As my friend Chris remarked, "it makes you want to keep going!"
Castlevania Dracula X (Konami 1995) C+
The original Castlevania Dracula X, released for the PC Engine (playable on the Turbo Duo), was an epic platformer boasting dramatic cut-scenes, exciting stages, and an operatic musical score. Imagine the dismay of those who originally bought this game when they realized this version was an entirely different game! Compared to the PC-Engine, this is a very run-of-the-mill Castlevania romp at best. The opening stage features burning ruins with nifty fire effects, but the water-color look clashes with the other stages. Later you'll forge through elegant ballrooms, clock towers, mines, and moonlit crypts. You'll crack your whip at the levitating medusa heads, axe-throwing knights, floating eyeballs, and fire-breathing dragon statues. For some reason dog skeletons look a lot creepier than people skeletons. The jumping controls try to incorporate momentum, but it doesn't feel intuitive. I hate how you fall back when taking a hit - even from behind- which frequently sends you plunging to your doom! Some checkpoints are poorly placed. Stage two begins with a harrowing bridge section with leaping lizard men that disrupt your jumps between collapsing columns. When I died at the hands of the giant bat boss, wouldn't you know that I had to restart that whole damn bridge sequence? Dracula X exhibits noticeable slow-down and some of the music sounds a little cheesy. The sound effects are very crisp, and it's satisfying to hear the crumbling of bones when you slay a skeleton. The password is nine symbols, which is not exactly easy to write down. Fortunately the kid who originally owned my instruction manual took the time to jot down a few! Dracula X for SNES is mediocre by Castlevania standards, and if you've ever tried the Turbo Duo version you'll understand why controversy has always swirled around this one.
Super Castlevania IV (Konami 1991) A-
As the first Castlevania title to appear on a 16-bit system, Super Castlevania IV is everything a fan could ask for and more. This huge action/adventure improves upon the original NES games in every way, and even pays homage to them by recreating some old stages. As vampire hunter Simon Belmont, you'll explore mountains, graveyards, forests, ruins, riverbanks, and dungeons on your quest to confront Dracula. Castlevania veterans will smile when they see familiar adversaries rendered in bright colors and high resolution. New enemies lurk as well, include floating horse-heads(?), flying insect men, and stone golems that break up into smaller monsters. Parallax scrolling depicts colorful, layered medieval scenery, and striking down foes results in a dazzling display of flames and flying body parts. It looks terrific, but it did occur to me that the flashy visuals somewhat undermine the dark, gothic atmosphere established by the first three games. Castlevania IV features twelve expansive stages, and it's amazing how much gameplay Konami has packed into this cartridge. The presentation is first-rate, and the controls are outstanding. For the first time, you have complete control of your whip. Not only can you aim it up, down, and diagonally, you can even wave it around to kill small pesky creatures such as bats. Perilous leaps still play a major role in the gameplay, but the crisp, responsive controls make even the most risky jumps a breeze. Navigating stairs, a tricky proposition in previous Castlevanias, is no problem at all in this game. A fantastic soundtrack incorporates a surprising number of musical styles besides the traditional minor-keyed organ hymns. I do have a few minor quibbles. I'm not a fan of the instant death spike traps - I don't think touching one spike should cause you to lose an entire life bar. Second, I found swinging from the whip - a new move - to be trickier than it should be. There's some slow-down here and there, and I hate how the password is given in rows of symbols. Even so, I found Super Castlevania IV to be easier and more enjoyable than any of the NES titles.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Sony 1994) D
Some of you may recall the lousy movie this game is based on, but if you're lucky, you won't. It's no gem, but Mary Shelley's Frankenstein isn't a total nightmare thanks to its better-than-average graphics and sound effects. You control the Frankenstein monster, who typically shambles around with a slight limp but inexplicably can jump ten feet into the air! I'm telling you - this guy is the Michael Jordan of monsters! I bet he can throw down some monster dunks too! You'll play much of the game stumbling around a dark, rainy town while beating townsfolk with a stick. The music is certainly eerie, and the crisp sound effects (like when you push a wagon for example) are quite convincing. Unfortunately, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein languishes in the fun department. Jumping between platforms is unforgiving, and pulling chains to open new areas gets boring. And seeing the Frankenstein monster hop around like a flea is just hard to take. There's a password mechanism that allows you to save your place, but you probably won't get too far.
Scooby Doo Mystery (Acclaim 1995) B+
I'm really amazed by how well Scooby Doo Mystery turned out! Not only does it look and sound just like the TV show, it even plays like the TV show! You control of Scooby and Shaggy who move together as a team while gathering clues, encountering monsters, and making sandwiches. As you explore a pirate ship, carnival, or mansion (depending on the mystery), you'll often run into your friends Velma, Daphne, and Fred. Thelma explains the clues you find, Daffney supplys you with scooby snacks, and Fred offers hints on what to do next. The stories are actually quite linear, with new areas that open up gradually. Most of the puzzles are pretty easy. You'll have your share of exciting run-ins with monsters, and also engage in entertaining mini-games. The graphics are cartoon quality, with excellent music lifted straight from the TV show. Not only are the controls responsive, but the interface for interacting with characters is also well designed. I do have a few minor complaints. First, touching certain objects like rats will drain your life, but since Scooby and Shaggy don't react at all, you don't even realize you're losing health. Next, at the beginning of the second mystery I became very stuck, and that was no fun at all! Finally, since the mysteries always play the same, I suspect the game's replay value is pretty modest. At least a password feature is included so you don't have to replay old mysteries. All in all, Scooby Doo Mystery is a quality title that does a fine job of weaving a story into an entertaining game. And I probably would have given this an "A" if it wasn't for you snooping kids!!
Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Capcom 1991) B-
This medievel side-scroller is a complete remake of Ghouls and Ghosts (Genesis, 1989) with entirely new stages and monsters. New areas include a haunted pirate ship and a snow stage (who asked for that, by the way?). The graphics, special effects, and music are significantly better than the Genesis version, but the gameplay is about the same. You control a knight running through a series of locations while destroying monsters and collecting power-ups. Although this game should have rated higher than its Genesis counterpart, it doesn't, due to a few major issues. First, the action tends to get slow (read: slow-motion) when the action gets hectic, and when you die, you're sent way back to the start of the stage. At least the Genesis version let you continue fairly close to where you left off. Even unlimited continues don't help when you keep keeling over just before the end of a stage. Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts would have been a great game had it been more forgiving.
Demon's Crest (Capcom 1994) C
This game should be right up my alley, considering my affinity for occult themes, and the fact that this is a spin-off of the excellent Ghouls and Ghosts series. I've also been advised that this game was preceded by two Gargoyle's Quest games for the GameBoy and NES. Demon's Crest was widely praised by the media, but I don't think it's all that. You control a red demon that can shoot fireballs and hover over the landscape. Later he acquires "crests" which endow him with additional powers, including the ability to slow time, fly high in the air, or swim. The action begins with a boss encounter against a huge zombie dragon which makes a rather dramatic (and frightening) appearance. It certainly grabs your attention, but it's probably not the best way to start a game like this. Upon completing the initial graveyard stage, you glide freely over a pixelated countryside to select your next challenge. Demon's Crest excels in presentation, but its gameplay could be better. Navigating through the graveyards and castles of the early stages is no problem, but too many advanced stages are covered with thorns that are hard to avoid. The controls are touchy, so trying to navigate spiked labyrinths is frustrating. Your demon's size makes it difficult to avoid incoming projectiles, and he can only shoot forward, often unable to hit objects in clear view. Switching crests (powers) can only be done from a menu screen. Why isn't there a button assigned to that? There's no pause button either, which is annoying for reviewers trying to take notes (curses!). In general, I found Demon's Crest too difficult. Its production values are outstanding however, with well-defined graphics and stereo effects so realistic they caught me off-guard. Upon hearing the howl of a ghost, I actually looked around to make sure there wasn't someone else in the room with me! The creepy organ music is also very effective. Flickering torches give castle ruins an eerie glow, and graveyards are overgrown with twisted trees and shrouded in mist. A twelve-character password allows you to save your progress. Demon's Crest is certainly a feast for the eyes and ears, but is it enough to overcome the difficulty and frustration?
Nosferatu (Seta 1995) C-
Nosferatu tries to mimic the gameplay of a Castlevania title, but lacks style and seems generic in comparison. The word "Nosferatu" means vampire, and this platform adventure challenges you to save your girlfriend from the original bloodsucker himself, Vlad the Impaler (the real Dracula). Most levels are a maze of castle ledges and walkways, but bosses are fought outside where there's more room. Your vampire hunter has plenty of fighting moves at his disposal, including a flying round-house, upper cut, and charge. There's a nice variety of monsters to beat up, ranging from the traditional movie monsters (Frankenstein, Mummy, etc) to some truly bizarre original creations. Inexplicably, the second boss is pair of gorillas! The game lacks tension, although there are occassional surprises like falling corpses and hands that grab you from under the floor. Too many traps litter the later levels, and if you don't fall into a spiked pit on your own, you're likely to be pushed into one. In terms of graphics, the creatures look great but the castle walls start to get boring after a few levels. The controls are less than responsive, making it difficult to enter certain doorways or get off a punch in time. The audio is weak, with sparse sound effects and music that's uneven in quality. A few of the tunes have an edgy Nine Inch Nails flavor, but others just sound goofy. Nosferatu not a terrible game, but it fails to distinguish itself in any way, making it a thoroughly forgettable experience.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Konami 1993) A-
As a longtime fan of this monster mish-mash, I'm happy to report that the game has aged beautifully. If a single title illustrates the graphic and audio superiority of the SNES over the Genesis, it's Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The Genesis version tries hard, but it can't match the razor-sharp visuals and audio range of the SNES. Zombies is a lighthearted shooter that effectively spoofs every classic horror flick you can think of - with style and good humor. Playing the role of a boy or girl, you attempt to rescue innocent people from rampaging monsters in a series of whimsical scenarios. There are more than 50 overhead stages including a suburban neighborhood terrorized by zombies, a pyramid full of mummies, a school invaded by aliens, and a shopping mall infested with demonic dolls. The creatures are rendered with a wacky flair and the lush scenery is fun to explore. Your default weapon is a water pistol, and there are plenty more unconventional weapons like exploding six-packs, pop sickles, fire extinguishers, and even a weed-wacker. Certain weapons are pitifully weak, but at least you can cycle between them. A handy radar overlay indicates when a hapless victim is in the vicinity, and also tells you how many are remaining. Two players can cooperate, but sharing the screen is problematic so it's best to let one player lead the way. The rollicking musical score sets the mood perfectly, alternating in tone between ominous and playful. I would absolutely love to own the soundtrack to this game! An easy-to-write-down password is provided every few stages, and there's also a high score screen. When your game ends purple goo drips down the screen, and it would obviously be red blood if not for Nintendo's overbearing anti-violence policy (RIP). Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a brilliant arcade romp that's practically mandatory for October gaming.
Addams Family Values (Ocean 1994) D
This is a game I really wanted to like due to its scary atmosphere, high production values, and Zelda-like gameplay. Unfortunately its design flaws were too much to overlook. You view the action from a tilted overhead angle, and while the scenery is nicely detailed, the characters are cartoonish in appearance. Playing as Uncle Fester, you explore forests, gardens, graveyards, and dungeons on your quest to find Baby Pubert. Fester can cast lightning bolts from his fingertips to fry enemies, but his range is minimal. The dark visuals are attractive and well-defined, conveying a nice Halloween vibe. Even the menu screens sport eye-catching gothic graphics and animations. The audio is equally impressive with its brooding musical score and jarring sound effects. After cranking up my stereo, the sound of crashing thunder scared the hell out of me! As Fester you'll collect items, dodge hazards, battle monsters, and solve simple puzzles. You'll battle skeletons, phantoms, monkeys, and ravenous plants. Family Values looks terrific but its lack of structure will drive you nuts. You'll find yourself hiking all over God's creation wondering where the hell you're supposed to go to! Making matters worse, the lush foliage tends to block your path, or worse yet - obstruct your vision. It's not uncommon to incur damage from spikes or enemies totally hidden from sight! After using one of your unlimited continues, you're tossed back in the fray with a single ounce of life left! That's frustrating - especially when you subsequently keel over after being touched by a moving bush (that's right - a freakin' bush). Even the FAQ I was using was very forthcoming about the game's glaring flaws. Addams Family Values is more frustrating than fun, so I only recommend this to the most ardent adventure seekers.
Night Trap (Sega 1992) B+
It's hard to believe an innocuous game like Night Trap once caused a national uproar. In 1992 Senators Joe Lieberman (Connecticut) and Herbert Kohl (Wisconsin) lashed out against this full-motion video (FMV) title for "inciting violence against women". Had they actually played the game, they'd know that the object was to save five girls at a slumber party. The "violence" is negligible. Critics enjoy bashing Night Trap for its cheesy acting and low-budget effects, but it's those B-movie qualities that make it such a treat. Its premise is ingenious. Five bubbly teenage girls (and one younger brother) are invited to spend the night at a house by a lake, and it gradually becomes apparent that the hosts are a family of vampires. Complicating matters are zombie-like "augers" that lurk in unoccupied rooms and attempt to kidnap the guests. One of the girls is actually an informant, played by the late Dana Plato (of Diff'rent Strokes fame). Your job is to monitor eight locations around the house (via security cameras) and trigger traps to dispose of the goons. It's fun to snoop around, and the game is logically designed so it's possible to follow characters between rooms. When you spot an auger (or two), wait until he's in proper position (meter turns red) before springing the trap. The creeps are disposed of in a variety of interesting ways, and it's satisfying to watch them fall through trap doors or get catapulted off the roof. Multiple events occur around the house at the same time, so you never have a complete picture of what's going on. This adds replay value, since repeated plays are required to flesh out the story. One valid knock on the game is its marginal video quality. In addition to being very grainy, the video area consumes less than half of the screen. The game is still fun despite a few design flaws. Periodically the house owners change the "trap code", and if you're not tuned in at the right times you can lose your ability to spring traps. Night Trap contains multiple endings but even if you don't finish it's a challenge to see how many thugs you can bag. Unfortunately your "commanding officer" tends to pull the plug on your mission too early, bringing the game to an abrupt end. It could have been better, but even after all these years Night Trap remains a fascinating trip.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Sony 1993) B+
This is a good Sega CD game, if only because it couldn't have been done on a regular Genesis. Initially, I was prepared to trash this game, thinking it might be the lousy Genesis version with some grainy movie footage thrown in. But I was wrong; this Dracula game looks and plays completely different. Most of the graphics look digitized, especially your character and the background scenery. Speaking of the backgrounds, they look terrific. Detailed and creepy, they even ROTATE around you as you walk through them (you couldn't do that on the Genesis). This game conveys genuine atmosphere. From the woods, to the castle, to the graveyard, chilling music and spine-tingling sound effects accompany the excellent graphics. But how is the gameplay? It's not bad but not great either. Basically you punch, kick, and jump your way through bats, rats, ghosts, and zombies. The control is adequate, but you are subject to far too many unavoidable hits. As you can guess, there are some really grainy clips from the movie shown between the levels. But despite its flaws, this is a great game to pull out around Halloween.
Dracula Unleashed (Sega 1993) D
You'd expect a CD game based on a vampire-infested 1899 London to be pretty exciting, but Dracula Unleashed is basically a slow, plodding mystery. It's played by moving a cursor around the screen and clicking on objects or icons. The idea is to collect various items and take them to the right places at the specific times, causing the storyline to unfold in the form of live-action video sequences. Unfortunately, if you miss a key event, your game will end abruptly. Fortunately you can save at any time. While Dracula Unleashed sometimes provides clues to keep you on track, the gameplay tends to be more "trial and error" than true detective work. The story isn't very suspenseful or compelling, and there's virtually no payoff until you get three-quarters through the game. The visuals consist of grainy video clips and well-drawn illustrations. I'd have to admit that the acting is respectable for a CD game, and the characters are likeable enough. I didn't recognize any actors in the cast. The downtown scenery is convincing except for the graveyard which looks like some dirt in front of a stone wall - lame! If they would have used an actual, decrepit old graveyard, it would have raised the game's grade at least by one letter. Some of the special effects, such as the floating bodies, are very well done, but the flashing eyes look terribly fake. Dracula looks a lot like Dracula from the 1992 film, but you only see him near the end of the game. There's some gore, but the Sega CD's trademark pixelation prevents it from being particularly explicit. The sound effects are terrific, especially when you ride in the carriage, and the music is well orchestrated and creepy. The user interface could be more streamlined, but it's acceptable once you learn a few shortcuts. Dracula Unleashed is a good-looking game, but only patient gamers will be able to deal with its slow pace.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Sony 1994) D-
Frankenstein is an ill-conceived adventure/fighting hybrid. The adventure portion isn't bad, but the fighting is downright idiotic. You actually control the monster in this game, which automatically eliminates any possibility of terror or suspense. You begin in Frankenstein's lab, and the graphics are fairly decent. The uninspired gameplay involves exploring rooms, gathering items, and using them to access new areas. Occasionally you'll encounter a person or another monster, and that's where the game takes a turn for the worse, as the game abruptly changes into Street Fighter-style fighter. To see your monster go from a limping corpse to a high-jumping martial arts expert is practically comical. Your number of fighting moves is very limited, and the fights are far too difficult to win. You'll eventually get to explore a town, but your goal is never clear. On a positive note, the background organ music is effectively scary, and you can save your place to memory. But all in all, this Frankenstein is a real turkey.
Mansion of Hidden Souls (Vic Tokai 1994) B
This game has a bizarre premise. A boy and girl find a butterfly in a field at night, and the girl says she wishes she were a butterfly. The next thing you know, the boy finds himself in a mysterious mansion, searching for his sister. Its rooms contain talking butterflies that used to be people. The boy's sister will soon be turned into one as well, unless you can find her before "the hunter" does. It sounds pretty silly, but Mansion of Hidden Souls gradually drew me in. Gameplay consists of exploring rooms, finding items, and opening new areas. The first person view makes you feel like you're actually walking through the house. The controls are simple - just push the joypad in the direction you want to go. The graphics are smooth and detailed, and although the rooms don't look particularly dark or scary, eerie music and mysterious voices help convey a creepy atmosphere. The layout of the house is actually quite similar to Resident Evil (Playstation). The story is interesting, and the puzzles are fair and never frustrating. Mansion of Hidden Souls has little replay value, but it's probably worth playing through once.
Corpse Killer (CD) (Digital Pictures 1994) F
I was willing to cut the Sega CD version of Corpse Killer a little slack due to its limited graphic capabilities, but what's the excuse for this pitiful 32X edition? Sure, the video quality benefits from the expanded color palette, but the video display is still modest in size, and the remainder of the screen is sparse. Corpse Killer is a series of shallow, rapid-fire shooting stages sandwiched between live-action cut-scenes. You assume the role of a soldier sent to a remote island to rid it of zombies and the mad scientist producing them. The interesting stages include a destroyed airport, an overgrown graveyard, and a beach full of shipwrecks. Your goal is to mow down scores of zombies who look like a bunch of fraternity guys suspended on wires and superimposed over static backdrops. Every zombie I shoot makes the same grunt noise. Aiming the cursor with control pad is clumsy and inexact, and support for the Menacer light gun is so awful it shouldn't even be advertised. Not only is it not the least bit accurate, but the constant screen flashing and stuttering frame-rate is unbearable. Even with a control pad the video skips intermittently as the audio cuts in and out. The cut-scenes feature some of the most awkward acting performances and embarrassing dialogue I've ever witnessed. Unfortunately, I also consider these to be the highlight of the game! I will admit that Vincent Schiavelli delivers a fun, over-the-top performance as the mad scientist. That hot blonde reporter is incapable of delivering a line without completely botching its timing. Corpse Killer has a few endearing qualities, but rampant technical glitches render this 32X version the worst of the bunch.
Corpse Killer (Digital Pictures 1995) D-
Corpse Killer can be described as a light gun game that doesn't work particularly well with one type of controller. As luck would have it, that particular type of controller would be a light gun. In the Sega CD and 32X versions of Corpse Killer the gun controls are deplorable, and the instruction book for this game doesn't even mention a gun! It's ironic when you consider that this 3DO version offers the best light gun support. Unfortunately, light guns for the 3DO are hard to come by. Corpse Killer employs full motion-video (FMV) with real actors. Each stage pans across tropical scenery as fake-looking zombies appear from out of nowhere and float towards you. If you don't shoot them in time, you take damage. The light gun controls are surprisingly accurate, although to be honest guiding a crosshair around with a normal controller is probably just as good. There seem to be fewer enemies than the Sega CD version, but they move quicker here. In fact, some projectiles (skulls, knives) seem nearly impossible to avoid, and there are precious few opportunities to replenish your health. Oh well, at least the shooting stages don't exhibit the technical glitches that marred the 32X version. The video area takes up most of the screen, allowing you to enjoy the cheesy cut-scenes in their full glory. Vincent Shiavelli is perfect as the mad scientist, and your Rastafarian guide Winston is believable enough. The stereotypical blonde reporter is a real hottie but her acting is unintentionally hilarious. Corpse Killer will never be mistaken for good, but if there's a place in your heart for FMV games, you'll appreciate this for its entertainment value.
Escape From Monster Manor (Electronic Arts 1993) B
I've always enjoyed Haunted House games, so I found Monster Manor very appealing despite the fact that it's really a Doom clone. Your mission is to collect pieces of a Talisman scattered through an old house. This house is HUGE, with each floor consisting of an endless series of corridors and rooms. The rooms contain a few spooky items like coffins, statues, and hanging bodies, but for the most part they are wide open and all start looking the same after a while. You'll constantly need to consult your map to figure out where to go next. The semi-transparent ghosts are nicely rendered, but they could have been scarier (they were modeled in clay). Control is responsive; your movement is fast and smooth, and the shoulder buttons provide a handy strafe function. But the best aspect of Monster Manor is the audio. The background music is incredibly eerie, and the gristly sound effects will send chills down your spine. You often get the impression that something terrible is waiting for you in the next room! One thing I didn't like was how fast your life and ammo drains - you constantly need to replenish yourself. And while in some areas there's so much life and ammo you're tripping over them, there are other areas where they're painfully rare. And boy did I get tired of picking up all those gems and coins, which apparently only affect your score. Despite its flaws, Monster Manor is a pretty exciting game, and I don't think you can get it on any other console.
Alone in the Dark (Interplay 1994) D
Long before Resident Evil popularized the 'survival horror' genre of games, there was a similar game called Alone in the Dark. In this third person 3D adventure, you investigate an old house while collecting items, solving puzzles, avoiding traps, and battling monsters. Sound familiar? The graphics are polygon-rendered, allowing for numerous camera angles. Unfortunately it also means that the objects are very blocky, the action is slow, and you don't always get the best camera angle. The controls are a bit clumsy thanks to a confusing user interface. An "action" menu lets decide if you want to fight, search, push, etc. Thank goodness there is a "run" button, because otherwise the slow pace would be unbearable. While most of the puzzles aren't too bad, getting past some of the monsters can be a chore. A few of these creatures look downright silly - one looks like the Tasmanian devil! Alone in the Dark is at its best when you're searching and exploring, but the low frame rate makes the fighting slow and confusing. There aren't too many thrills in this game, but there is a certain amount of suspense. The sound effects and background music are particularly effective. You can save your place at any time. Alone in the Dark was an innovative game for its time, but it has not aged particularly well.
Casper (Interplay 1995) B
Okay, I was terribly harsh in my initial review of this game, but as I often say to my wife, "I can explain!" It turns out that certain 3DO games run better on some systems than others. When I first reviewed this game a few years back, I played it on my Goldstar system, which thrashed and stuttered the whole way through. As you can imagine, the sporadic controls and fragmented music really tainted the experience. However, now that I've had a chance to play it on my Panasonic FZ-10, I can see Casper for what it really is - an engaging, easy-to-play adventure. Despite its quirks, Casper is certainly more enjoyable than most of the 3DO titles I've inflicted upon myself. I will admit that the premise is somewhat disturbing. Casper is actually a dead kid trying to resurrect himself! And while the cartoon version of the Casper character looked "friendly" enough, this 3D incarnation looks somewhat creepy. Still, Interplay infused the subject matter with enough with whimsical style and good-natured humor to make it palatable to most gamers (including kids). Gameplay involves exploring a huge mansion, collecting items, pigging out on food, assembling jigsaw puzzles, and avoiding unfriendly ghosts. As it turns out, ghosts love to eat broccoli and tuna fish sandwiches! Who knew? The game isn't the most logical in the world, so the ability to suspend disbelief is pre-requisite. For example, Casper can transform with a mist to navigate the ventilation system, but can't penetrate a barred door! One puzzle requires you to drop a lead weigh on a sparkly area to trigger a switch. That's hardly intuitive, but most of the game's puzzles are simple enough to hold your attention. Eventually, you'll open up so much of the mansion that it becomes confusing to navigate. A map screen would have been helpful. Still, the game is addictive, and I like how you can save you progress at any time. In terms of presentation, Casper rates extremely high. The house has a decrepit but elegant look, evocative of Disney's Haunted Mansion. The lavish orchestrated musical score tows the line between playful and ominous. This is a game that eventually grew on me. If your 3DO can handle it, Casper is a pleasant diversion.
Night Trap (Digital Pictures 1993) A-
I was a big fan of this full-motion video extravaganza on the Sega CD and 32X, so I had high hopes for the 3DO version. Night Trap is a controversial title that lets you monitor eight rooms of a house, trying to capture "augers" out to kidnap girls at a slumber party. Some critics mock its cheesy acting, but the low-budget scenes have a nostalgic, B-movie charm. You begin the game with your "commander" briefing you on your mission, but while he's yapping away the story is already unfolding, so don't wait for him to finish. Beating the game requires a lot of trial and error - and luck. As you flip between cameras you'll catch bits and pieces of the story while keeping an eye out for creeping augers. You'll want to memorize (and write down) key events like trap code changes, as missing these will cut your mission short. The auger locations are randomized to a modest extent. I like how events occur concurrently in different rooms because it means you can see something new every time you play. I'm amazed at how the designers managed to orchestrate all of the scenes so well. The action really heats up if you can make it to disc two, but it's not an easy feat. So how does this 3DO version stack up to the others? Well, the video area is about the size of the 32X version, but the quality is better. The scenery looks less grainy but the frame-rate is slightly degraded. The best part about this 3DO edition is how you can quickly switch between cameras. There's a second or two of static when you switch cameras on the Sega CD or 32X, but in this version the transition is almost instantaneous. I also noticed that the audio is clearer than the Sega games. Night Trap isn't a perfect game, but it's highly original and a lot of fun if you give it a chance. With cleaner video and more responsive controls, this may be the definitive version of the game.
7th Guest, The (Virgin 1993) D
I'm still trying to figure out why this slow, plodding mystery game was so popular on the PC in the early 90's. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the tepid gameplay. Perhaps it was the abundance of eye candy, effectively combining live acting with nicely rendered environments. 7th Guest places you in a mysterious mansion for a night with six other ghostly "guests". As you explore the various rooms, you'll encounter ghosts played by live actors filling in parts of a very scripted storyline. In addition to watching video clips, you also need to solve a series of puzzles. While not particularly taxing, the fact that you don't get any directions makes the puzzles a bit more difficult and fun. Unfortunately the storyline is confusing and the snobby characters aren't particularly compelling. What's most notable about 7th Guest is its biggest downfall: the general lack of atmosphere. Much like the early Alone in the Dark games, the developers failed to understand that bright, clean, colorful rooms just aren't very scary. Even the "surprise" animated clips that are supposed to be intense fall flat. 7th Guest is a novel concept, but despite its good looks, there's not much of a game here.