The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
The Critic's "Fright Factor" ratings:Ain't no thing but a chicken wing.
Marginally scary... what was that noise? Did you hear something out back?
Creepy as hell, but you'll survive. Probably. Maybe.
Yikes, this is intense. Could somebody hit the lights?
This will absolutely scare the living [expletive] out of you.
Unbearable. Why am I doing this to myself?!
Frankenstein's Monster (Data Age 1983) B-
This obscure game is one of the more compelling third-party titles for the 2600. It boasts a refreshing horror motif and its gameplay is surprisingly sophisticated. You control a small but colorful fellow attempting to "wall up" the imposing Frankenstein monster at the top of the screen. If the creature becomes fully charged, he'll break loose and that's always bad news. The big green guy likes to toss girls in ponds, complain about fire, and just generally freak everybody out. Putting the clamps on this psycho will require six trips to the lower dungeon to retrieve bricks. Frankenstein's gameplay borrows heavily from Pitfall (Activision, 1982) as you traverse multiple platforms fraught with peril. There are pits, spiders, ghosts and even an "acid pool" that looks suspiciously like water. (Hint: You can drop through a pit and onto a log if your timing is right.) When you hop across the floating logs it feels a heck of a lot like Pitfall, and the scoring system is also similar as you're docked points for touching spiders. Upon returning with a brick you're transported to a second screen where you have to fight through a swarm of bats. With each successive trip more obstacles are placed in your path and you're also racing against the clock. Flashing lightning and crashing thunder periodically alert you that the monster is gaining strength. The controls are responsive but unforgiving. If you walk to the edge of a pit, you will slide into it. You can only jump a fixed distance, and it takes a while to learn where to properly position yourself. Even so, the game succeeds on the strength of its challenge, variety, and kick-ass ending. When the monster inevitably breaks loose, he stomps toward the screen with the help of some admittedly rough scaling effects. Eventually the display turns completely green - because the monster is mooning the screen! Disrespectful! Frankenstein's gameplay isn't terribly original, but its unique theme and entertaining quirks make this one worth tracking down.
Ghost Manor (Xonox 1983) C+
This game isn't particularly scary or fun, and frankly it doesn't make a lot of sense. But Ghost Manor does have one thing going for it, and that's five unique stages. That's pretty monumental for a 2600 game. The idea is to save your friend from Dracula's castle, and you have the option of playing as a cute blonde chick in a blue dress or a dorky guy in a red cap. I have no idea what she sees in him. Anyway the action begins with a graveyard rising from the ground as scary music plays and a red castle looms in the distance. Your first task is to chase a rainbow-colored ghost around the graveyard. Very few video games employ gay ghosts, and I applaud Xonox for keeping such an open mind. On the advanced difficulty the ghost is replaced by a bisexual skeleton. After the pointless graveyard stage you move to the castle exterior which looks pretty awesome. Bats flutter around the towers, bugs crawl on the walls, and an axe-wielding mummy named "Choppy" guards the entrance. This stage plays like a mini-shooter and it's the highlight of the game. After killing all the creatures you enter the castle. The next two mazelike screens feature scattered coffins and moving walls that are deadly to touch. Examining the coffins will reveal a pair of crosses needed for the final showdown. It's easy to get caught up on the walls of the maze, especially in advanced stages which are pitch dark! Ascending the final staircase puts you in a room with Dracula slowly approaching from the left. Without the instructions you'd be at a complete loss what to do next. It turns out you need to position yourself directly beneath him and press the button to force him into a tower at the top right corner. If successful, your friend is released, you watch a quick ending (which looks suspiciously like the intro), and the game is over. There are four skill levels. Ghost Manor is very difficult at first, and with only one life any slip-up brings the action to an abrupt conclusion. Once you get the patterns down however, you can get through the screens quickly. Ghost Manor looks great and offers plenty of variety, but once you beat it you won't be dying to play it again.
Halloween (Wizard 1983) B-
Wizard was dead-on with this clever video game adaptation of the classic slasher film. You play the role of the babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a two-story house several screens wide. Points are scored by escorting children to "safe rooms" at either end of the house. The rooms are colorful but devoid of detail except for an occasional window or doorway. When you find a child you can lead it to safety, but the child "lock-on" controls are erratic. The knife-waving Michael Myers looks intimidating in his jumpsuit, but I don't recall Jamie Lee Curtis wearing that poufy red skirt. As in the movie, Michael is slow but relentless. You never know when he's going to suddenly appear in a doorway or at the edge of the screen. Better yet, his appearances are punctuated by an excellent rendition of the spooky Halloween theme song. If he grabs hold of a victim, you're treated to gratuitous gore bordering on hilarious. A lot of people lose their heads, and the spurting, pixelated blood is over-the-top. Halloween's gameplay is a little slow but there are some subtle nuances. Michael's movements are predictable, and with good timing you can lead children right past him. Occasionally you'll find a knife which allows you to briefly turn the tables on him. The lights on the top floor occasionally black out, adding additional suspense as you "feel" your way around in the pitch dark. Jack-o-lanterns track your "lives" on the top of the screen - a nice touch. My biggest gripe is that Michael appears too often which minimizes the suspense factor. Halloween isn't the best game in the world, but fans of the film and game collectors should be fascinated by it.
Haunted House (Atari 1981) B+
Haunted House doesn't look like much, and if you only play the default variation you might think it's pretty lame. If you try variation 9 however you'll discover a harrowing adventure with plenty of action, suspense, and even strategy. Your goal is to escape from a four-story mansion after finding three pieces of an urn. You control a pair of square eyes but can only see objects in the area illuminated around you (via a lit match). This limited visibility effect was previously employed in Adventure (Atari, 1980). Roaming through the house are three spiders (blue, orange, red), a bat, and a ghost. The creatures are well animated and I love how the spiders' legs twitch. These creatures are deadly to the touch, but thankfully you get nine lives. Each floor contains six square rooms, but locked doors make it a challenge to find your way around. Holding the skeleton key lets you move freely from room to room, but you can't hold it and the urn pieces at the same time. A scepter makes the bat and spiders oblivious to your presence, but it won't protect you from the ghost. Evading the monsters by running is possible, but they have a way of ganging up on you. Since the bat steals your items, it's often good strategy to let a spider bite you instead. Haunted House isn't spectacular in any way, but its elements combine to create a compelling dynamic. It's pretty intense as you try to find your way back to the entrance with the completed urn in hand and one life remaining. You never know what's waiting behind the next door. Complimenting the action are crisp sound effects including footsteps, thunder, howling winds, and slamming doors. Your final score (if you escape) is a combination of remaining lives and matches used. Trying to convey any degree of terror on the 2600 is not an easy task, but Atari did a very respectable job with Haunted House.
Blair Witch Project, The (Tim Snider 2000) NA
No, your eyes do not deceive you! Yes, a Blair Witch game has been created for the Atari 2600, although it's really just a hack of Atari's Haunted House (1981). I happen to be a huge fan of the movie, making this a neat game to own. The gameplay is exactly the same as Haunted House, but the graphics have been "updated" Blair Witch style. You are now pursued by moving handprints, the ghost of Rustin Parr, and even the Blair Witch herself! The scepter is now shaped like a totem, and instead of finding pieces of an urn, you must assemble parts of a camera. The font used to display the numbers at the bottom of the screen has also been modified to good effect. Tim Snider did a great job matching up a classic game with this scary film.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Wizard 1983) F
Wizard scored a hit with Halloween, but this video game adaptation is a complete debacle. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is as unpleasant as the movie it's based on. My wife and I saw the 1974 film on video a few years back, and it scared the living [expletive] out of us! Anyway, this is one of the first video games to let you control the "bad guy". You are Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding masked psycho out to filet as many innocent people as possible before running out of gasoline. The screen scrolls sideways as you search for helpless victims and avoid obstacles including wheelchairs and cow skulls. The gameplay is a complete nightmare. Victims inexplicably disappear before you can touch them, and you're constantly getting hung up on the scenery. Even the graphics are lousy. Leatherface doesn't even resemble the movie character, and the running women look like Fisher Price toys. Their "screaming" is conveyed by ear-piercing tones, which will force all non-deaf gamers to immediately hit the mute button. When you do kill someone, they transform into an indiscernible blob. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a novelty item with minimal play value. Its pathetic ending shows a person kicking Leatherface in the butt! Please tell me when it's over!
Skeleton+ (Atari Age/Eric Ball 2003) B+
Skeleton Plus (+) is a much needed update to a game that held much potential but was somewhat undercooked. I imagine programmer Eric Ball caught plenty of flack about the original Skeleton's lack of options and steep difficulty. However, I'm happy to report that he has addressed those issues sufficiently in this latest version. As in the original game, you move through a first-person maze, trying to zap wandering skeletons one at a time. The mazes are well rendered and can be navigated quickly and easily. The skeletons look terrific, and you can even follow them around (although they tend to turn on you). This "Plus" version displays the number of skeletons zapped on the bottom of the screen, along with your life points, which drain each time you're touched by a skeleton. Since some skeletons require multiple "zaps" to kill, there's a bit of a "cat and mouse" element. The game has four options: skeletons per level (five or ten), starting life meter (49 or 99), sound on/off, and skeleton speed. Unfortunately, two options are assigned to each difficulty switch, so there are only four combinations in total. I would have preferred if all 16 possible combinations were accessible via the select switch. A "touch of death" mode is also accessible via the black/white switch, in case you preferred the unforgiving gameplay of the original. I couldn't really recommend the first Skeleton game, but Skeleton+ is the real deal.
Dracula (Imagic 1983) C+
Here's an interesting title you can only get for the Intellivision. With its rich graphics, excellent sound effects, and sophisticated gameplay, Dracula is a favorite among collectors. The scene is set on a road lined with townhouses and a graveyard. Each night, Dracula ascends from his coffin to feast on helpless townsfolk. Playing the role of the vampire himself (who can also transform into a bat), you must subdue a certain number of victims and return to your grave before sunrise. You can find people wandering around the streets, or scare them out of their houses by knocking on doors (which doesn't make much sense when you think about it). When attacking your victims you can either apply a "regular" bite or transform your victim into a zombie, which in turn can then be controlled using the second controller! Your adversaries include wooden-stake-throwing police, a white wolf, and a vulture. There's a lot going on, but it's the little details that really make this game special. There's crashing thunder, flashing lightning, eyes peeking from windows, a rising moon, and a sky that changes color. As cool as it all sounds however, the game's weakness becomes apparent after repeated plays: repetitive gameplay. For all the options you have available, the game is all about chasing people around, and it does get old. Still, Dracula is a neat little cartridge to pull out in October.
Scooby Doo's Maze Chase (Mattel 1983) D-
Note: Requires ECS module
This plodding maze game is a disappointment, especially considering it requires the Intellivision ECS (computer and keyboard) attachment. You control a nicely animated Scooby Doo who must snatch three ghosts wandering around a maze while avoiding a single skull. There are ten mazes to choose from, and you can even create your own. The maze options are nice, but what the game really needs is a skill select, because Maze Chase is incredibly easy and tediously slow. Scooby is only slightly faster than the ghosts, so snagging all three isn't as hard as it is time-consuming! That skull isn't terribly hard to avoid, and once he starts closing in you can drop a bone in his path to stop him in his tracks. Between stages a submarine sandwich meanders around the maze for a few seconds, and touching it nets you an extra bone. The maze is trimmed with some interesting graphics like a tree, gravestone, and clock. Thunder claps and an ominous organ can be heard throughout the game, and these are so good you'll wish Mattel had saved them for a better game! Sadly, they are just window dressing for an ultra-lame, mega-generic maze title with minimal entertainment value.
Castles of Doctor Creep, The (Broderbund 1984) A+
Castles of Doctor Creep delivers some of the best "spooky" fun to be found in the entire (and extensive) Commodore library! You must make your way through any one of 13 different castles without losing all your lives. Why you need to do this is never explained in the manual, but you know what? Some games are best left to your imagination. As you move from room to room traps, obstacles, puzzles, and locked doors attempt to thwart your progress. Some doors open with the push of a button, but others are color-coded and can only be opened with a key. Moving between rooms can be as simple as climbing a ladder or pole, or as complicated as using moving sidewalks while avoiding Frankenstein monsters and temporarily disabling force fields. The scoring is limited to the time it takes to reach each castle exit, and some of the more difficult castles can take over an hour to navigate! Luckily you can save your game at any time - although by saving and reloading you will forfeit your shot at having your time recorded. The top ten fastest times are saved for each castle. Castles of Doctor Creep can be played by a single player, but you're really doing yourself a disservice if you don't try the two-player mode. Having a second player can be a tremendous boon when attempting to shut down lightning machines, turn off force fields, or take control of ray guns. Two-player games are particularly fiendish because while it's crucial to work as a team, the fastest time is ultimately what determines who won and lost so it's extremely tempting to leave your partner out to dry when you're near the exit and he's low on lives. While ultimately a puzzle game, the atmosphere, sound, and graphics are reminiscent of a good adventure. Twitch reflexes and joystick skill are crucial for surviving difficult spots. I have to admit I've only been able to get through the first few castles so I can only imagine what kind of time investment it would require to get through some of the more difficult ones. Considering how much fun I've had playing with my youngest son - who absolutely LOVES all things scary and Halloween-y, I can't imagine playing without having him by my side to tempt mummies, trip trapdoors, or work matter transporters. This is a fairly difficult game to find anymore and I paid over $125 for a complete boxed copy of it. But you know what? It was worth EVERY PENNY!
Cauldron (Broderbund 1985) C-
Cauldron is sort of a hybrid side-scrolling shooter/platform jumper where you're a witch (literally called a hag in the game - I guess those were less politically-correct times). Your goal is to retrieve her golden broom from her mortal enemy, the Pumpking. You start the game above ground, walking out of your cottage to find six ingredients needed to reclaim your golden broom. The broom is hidden in one of four underground lairs, each of which contains some subset of the ingredients you need to make your potion. Appropriately, the ingredients are: Juice of Toad, Eye of Newt, Wing of Bat, Hemlock Root, Piece of Bone, and Molten Lava. Party at the witches cottage! Each lair is accessed through a colored door, and you must scour the surface world to find the matching keys before you can open the doors. To search for the keys, you fly on your broom through an opening in the trees and move left or right while watching the ground for keys. Make sure you take off and land only where a clearing exists, because touching anything else is instant death and the collision detection is very unforgiving. As you fly, you'll pass a forest, a graveyard, a volcanic mountain range, and open ocean. Depending on the area, you'll contend with flying bats, ghosts, floating pumpkins, flying lava, sharks, and sea gulls (really? seagulls? How scary is that?). The fire button shoots a magic bolt at these creatures, but I found it more effective to simply dodge them as you go. When you're hit, magic points are deducted, and hitting zero sends you tumbling to your death. Once you match a key to a door, you can land and enter a lair. Each lair is a platform-jumping puzzle, and you have to time and space your jumps so that you don't fall to your death. For some reason the witch can no longer use her broom to fly around these chambers, and gravity seems to have quadrupled in strength. Moving from one section of the lair to another is difficult due to some abruptly-shifting scrolling. It led me to die more times than I care to remember, as I couldn't see where I was going until it was too late. Even when you know where you're headed, the unforgiving collision detection and physics make getting around without dying a tall order. I was able to collect about half the ingredients but could never gather enough to challenge the Pumpking. While many people appear to have found the music in the game a highlight, I found it rather repetitive and annoying, like a 3rd-grade cousin with his first flute. Graphically the game looks very nice, with lots of color and smooth scrolling. I really like the Halloween theme, and I almost felt guilty playing this "out of season". The controls left a little to be desired, as when flying above the surface inertia carries you forward (much like Defender). It really becomes an issue when you're attempting to stop straight over a key so you can dip down and grab it. I think I might have given this game a C+ were it not for the difficulty, which I found almost on par with Ghosts and Goblins (at least underground). There is no two-player option, and the game doesn't record your high scores. I spent about an hour playing Cauldron for this review, and while I can't say I didn't enjoy it I also doubt I'll be booting it back up for another go anytime soon.
Haunted House II 3D (Mean Hamster 2002) D+
This game really fills a void in the Atari 5200 library, considering there aren't many adventures for the system (much less scary ones). Haunted House II 3D is an expanded version of the original Atari 2600 game. The graphics are better and the house is larger, but the basic premise remains the same. You control a pair of square eyes, trying to collect all the treasures in the house and get the heck out of there. You can light a candle by pressing a button, which will reveal any hidden objects lying around. As you wander through the house, you will encounter spiders, bats, skeletons, and ghosts. Their movements are unpredictable, but they don't pursue you from room to room. Sometimes one will appear from out of nowhere -- which is not fair at all. A sword is available for protection, but you can't collect items while holding it. So what is the "3D" all about? Actually, it's a bit of a stretch. Unlike the original Haunted House, each screen is a separate room (there's no scrolling) with psuedo-3D walls and doors in the background. But it's just eye candy - the gameplay is still completely 2D. As a matter of fact, the "rendered" rooms are more confusing than anything else. Haunted House II is challenging, but it's not polished enough to merit an average grade. Graphical break-up, hit-and-miss collision detection, and inconsistent speed all hamper the action. One minute you're flying around the screen, then suddenly you've slowed to a crawl. Sound effects include footsteps and thunder, but these are sloppy. Haunted House II 3D does deliver in terms of challenge. There are two houses to complete, and just trying to finish the first one kept me playing for quite a while.
Frankenstein: The Monster Returns (Bandai 1990) C-
No, you do not play as the Frankenstein monster in this game. Instead you assume the role of a noble warrior attempting to rescue a beautiful girl who was carried off by the creature. Ever notice how the damsel in distress is always an attractive babe? If she were ugly, would all the knights just say "too bad" and go back to drinking their mead? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a hero risk life and limb to save a girl with a nice personality? How many butt-ugly video game maidens have gone unsaved? Won't you help? Speaking of ugly, Frankenstein shows his mug in the opening cut-scene but doesn't truly emerge again until the final boss battle. In his pursuit you'll travel through townships, forests, graveyards, castles, and hell dimensions. You'll battle lizards, trolls, floating eyeballs, and even jumping gravestones! Yes, that is stupid. You'll defend yourself with swords and small clubs which look more like chicken legs. The controls are a little stiff and I had a hard time explaining to my friends how to do the jump-kick. You'll spend a lot of time fighting bosses, mainly because they can absorb an endless number of hits. Some of these creatures are mythological in nature (demon horse, medusa), but you'll also face a floating head, a werewolf, and a vampire. At least the game has variety going for it. Bosses tend to say boss-like things, like "Only a fool would dare to challenge me! Prepare to meet your doom!" Unfortunately the dialogue is displayed letter-by-letter, and it's so slow you feel as if you're watching a daisy wheel printer. Get on with it, man!! The tone is somewhat dark and the music is in minor-key, but the game isn't particularly spooky. You get several continues and a password, and there's a nice high score screen. It's not bad, but Frankenstein: The Monster Returns feels more like a run-of-the-mill side-scroller than a horror epic.
Castlevania (Konami 1987) B
It's interesting to go back and play the original Castlevania - the game that started it all. I was particularly impressed with the soundtrack, which manages to be both melodic and haunting - a tall order for the NES. You assume the role of a vampire hunter attempting to slay Dracula in his castle. Initially armed with only a whip, you'll find special weapons which are unleashed by pushing up on the directional pad while pressing the attack button. These include knives, axes, holy water, crosses, and a magical watch that temporarily freezes foes in their tracks. Establishing the formula that will continue for all of eternity, you'll slash torches to reveal hearts, leap between ledges, and battle legions of evil creatures from skeletons to zombies to jumping fish-men. Castlevania's simple, arcade-style gameplay is compelling but slightly tainted by its preponderance of cheap hits. Being touched by a little bat can send you plunging into the nearest abyss, and many traps spell instant death. Castlevania's graphics are better than you might expect, with meticulously detailed walls that look properly aged. On the downside, some of the creatures are not well defined, and smaller creatures can be hard to discern. But despite its rough edges, Castlevania is a fun game that stands the test of time.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (Konami 1988) C-
You'd expect the first Castlevania sequel to expand on the solid gameplay of the original, but Simon's Quest took an ill-advised new approach. In an apparent attempt to make the gameplay "richer", Konami incorporated all sorts of RPG elements, transforming an exciting action adventure into a tedious exercise in collecting hearts, talking to characters, and killing time. Your quest begins in a quaint town, one of many you'll visit to collect items and gather information. Pressing the select button reveals a status screen which displays weapons, items, and other vital information - including the time of day. This is worth noting because time plays a vital role in the game. You'll need to purchase and trade items in order to progress through the game, but you can only do business with townsfolk during the day. At night, the villages are crawling with ghouls you slay to earn hearts. The idea is to rack up hearts before sunrise, and then use them to purchase items during the day, but it rarely works out so neatly. You need a lot of hearts to buy critical items, and too often I found myself waiting impatiently for the sunset or sunrise. Simon's Quest lacks the arcade flavor of the first game, but its graphics and sound are very good. The monsters include the usual suspects like skeletons, swamp creatures, and werewolves, but there are also new surprises like web-slinging spiders and hands that reach out of graves. The soundtrack is high quality, but much like the gameplay, it is repetitive. Simon's Quest is far more expansive than the first, so a much-needed password feature is provided. The game has three different endings, but don't expect much from them. Castlevania II just isn't as fun as the original game, and its new RPG elements weigh it down.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Konami 1990) A
When it comes to NES side-scrolling action, it doesn't get much better than Castlevania III. After a brief misstep with Simon's Quest, the series gets back on track with this action-packed gothic adventure. As vampire hunter Trevor Belmont, you'll journey through a village, swamp, forest, clock tower, and ghost ship before finally arriving at Dracula's huge castle. The graphics are remarkable, from the vine-laced ruins in the foreground to the soaring mountain peaks in the distance. Unlike most NES titles, the characters here actually look somewhat realistic. An amazing variety of creatures include floating medusa heads and pesky little hunchbacks. The controls are responsive enough, but navigating stairs takes a little finesse. The difficulty is fair, and a password feature allows you to save your game. Unlike Castlevania II, no separate status screen is required since all the vital information is displayed across the top of the screen. Perhaps Castlevania III's most innovative feature is the ability to play as boss characters you defeat along the way - an ingenious concept. The stages are separated by branching paths, adding even more replay value to an already extraordinary game. The first-rate musical score brilliantly captures the flavor of the game. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a "must-have" NES game if there ever was one.
Friday the 13th (LJN 1988) D
I happen to be a fan of the Friday the 13th slasher movies, and although this game is surprisingly sophisticated, it lacks the tension that made the films effective. You control six camp counselors that you move individually around Camp Crystal Lake. When you're not rushing to the aid of children in danger, you're exploring cabins to gather notes, weapons, and other helpful items. The start button brings up a helpful map that makes it easy to navigate the campgrounds. In addition to cabin-lined trails around the lake, there are also cave and forest areas that hold secret items. The gameplay is pretty original, but a few ill-conceived elements put a damper on the fun. When wandering around, you're constantly attacked by zombies popping out of the ground. Not only are these irritating, but they destroy any sense of suspense by making you numb to being attacked. I will admit however that I jumped a mile the first time a zombie jumped out of the lake! I wasn't ready for that one. Another problem with Friday the 13th is the first-person perspective used to explore the cabin interiors. Instead of making you feel "in the game", it just makes you feel like a rat in a cage. Jason is large and menacing during his frequent appearances, and you'll need to mix dodges with attacks in order to turn him away. I like how the time of day changes as you play this game, and if you're good, a single game can extend over several days. Friday the 13th is tough, but as you learn specific strategies you'll discover hidden rooms and encounter new dangers like Jason's mother. When all the councelors are deceased, the message appears "You and your friends are dead. Game Over." I guess "Thank you for playing" would not have been appropriate in this case.
Ghosts 'N Goblins (Capcom 1986) B-
Ghosts and Gobliins is practically an institution on the NES. It launched a popular series that continues to this day, although many would argue that the franchise peaked with Ghouls and Ghosts (Genesis, 1989). You play as a comical knight who can fire projectiles forward and backward. It's a shame you can't fire upward, because many stages feature multi-tiered platforms with enemies above and below. Zombies, skeletons, crows, and demons pour out of the woodwork as you forge through graveyards, burning villages, mountains, castles, and caverns. This is side-scrolling mayhem at its purest and the action moves at a frantic pace as the soundtrack plays a heroic refrain. If you check out the background of the first stage, you'll notice a preview of what's to come with a majestic castle nestled in the mountains. Ghosts and Goblins is best known for its difficulty. Diamonds aren't this hard! Despite its short stages and unlimited continues, you'll struggle to make progress. Part of the blame can be placed on the controls, which are rigid and unforgiving. It's very easy to get stuck in a crouch position or become caught up on the edge of a gravestone. Taking a hit knocks you back, sometimes sending you into a pit! The checkpoints could be better placed, as sometimes you'll need to restart large stretches after dying. It's tough, but Ghosts and Goblins has a distinctive arcade style and whimsical medieval/horror theme that never gets old.
Maniac Mansion (Jaleco 1986) D+
This should have been called Mystery Mansion, because it basically boils down to a lot of little puzzles solved by manipulating lists of items. Part graphic adventure and part text, you use a cursor to build simple sentences like "use key on door" and "give cheese to Jeff". Maniac Mansion's storyline involves three kids trying to save their friend being held hostage by a mad doctor in a large mansion. Before starting, you can select three of six cartoonish characters to play as. These include the obligatory nerd, the gnarly surfer dude, the prostitute (nice dress), and the token black guy. You only control one character at a time, and each has a catchy theme song. The music is great for the NES, but it can still get on your nerves after a while. You can switch it off, but that causes the game to become uncomfortably silent. Maniac Mansion's graphics are pretty good, offering a wide array of well-furnished rooms - including an arcade. It's amusing to explore the house and solve puzzles, at least until you get stuck. Using the cursor is somewhat tedious, but the handy select button lets you easily cycle through the most common commands. The game maintains a whimsical tone, with simple dialogue sprinkled with juvenile humor. The most infamous aspect of the game is how it's possible to explode a hamster in the microwave. The main problem with Maniac Mansion is its complexity, which will turn off all but the most dedicated gamers. There are dozens of items to juggle, and figuring out how each is used requires a lot of trial and error. Some solutions tend to defy logic (give the plastic fruit to the tentacle??) The order in which you complete tasks is critical, and timing is sometimes a factor as well. Last time I checked, video games were supposed to be fun, not work! My cartridge contained a battery back-up that allowed me to skip ahead to the previous owner's spot to get a peek at the advanced stages. That's right - 17 years old and the battery is still working! I know a lot of gamers have fond memories of Maniac Mansion, but I don't think this adventure has aged particularly well.
Ghoul School (Electro Brain 1989) F
As much as I wanted to like this game, my conscience prevents me from grading it higher than an F. Ghoul School looks great on paper but doesn't play well at all. You control a punk kid trapped in a school crawling with all sorts of creepy monsters. A few of these tend to be quite imaginative and detailed, like the red creature with the huge eye. A toe-tapping tune plays as you wander the halls and classrooms, collecting the items needed to defeat various monstrosities. Unfortunately, the school is a confusing maze consisting of hallways, stairs, and doors that all look exactly alike. The room numbers aren't even consecutive or logical! As a result, you end up wandering aimlessly until you stumble upon a key item (like spring shoes) or weapon (bat, towel, gun). The combat aspect is awful. The pathetic weapons have such an incredibly short range that you'll be limited to repetitive "hit and run" attack patterns. Adding insult to injury, the controls are less than responsive and you're constantly being tossed around. I like the concept behind Ghoul School, but the execution is a mess.
Nightmare on Elm St (LJN 1989) C+
It's not great, but I will give this game credit for capturing a bit of the surreal atmosphere of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. It's difficult to believe this was done by LJN, who produced the dreadful Friday the 13th game a year earlier. Nightmare of Elm Street puts you in the role of a kid on a dark street lined with large, foreboding houses. As you walk down the sidewalk, you're accosted by a slew of annoying pests including snakes, dogs, bats, etc. I know what you're thinking, but bear with me - it gets better. When you finally enter a house, you're challenged to collect a set of bones while being pursued by all sorts of grisley creatures much like those in the films. The one exception is the ninja, who seems to be in the wrong game (sorry dude, this isn't Double Dragon!). Your kid can jump and punch, and pressing select initiates special attacks. Nightmare on Elm Street has one very effective gimmick. Periodically your surroundings magically transform from the real world to a dream world, with entirely different creatures and new challenges. It's a cool concept that reminded me of Soul Reaver (Playstation 1999). Upon clearing each house, you are confronted with a Freddie "boss" in one of his many freaky forms. Nightmare on Elm Street's graphics are very good, and the soundtrack is faithful to the movie. Its gameplay is standard platform fare, but the horror angle makes it more interesting than most.
Chiller (Exidy 1986) D
Whoa - this is the most bizarre NES game I've ever seen. Chiller is a gruesome, unlicensed light gun game created by twisted minds for twisted minds. The first thing you notice is its oddly-shaped cartridge that does not easily fit into the console. Once you get that working, you'll struggle with the controls. Configuring the game to work with the NES light gun is not easy. You'll need to plug the gun into the right port, but it's hard to tell if it's working because it's so unresponsive. You have to keep it within a few inches of the screen for your shots to register, and even then the accuracy is just not there. But as bad as the gun control is, it's actually a step up from the control pad, which uses a tiny, hard-to-aim crosshair. Chiller's control is deplorable, but I was fascinated by its graphics and sound. This game brings to life so many classic horror images. The first stage depicts a graveyard scene at night with a church in the background. Arms reach out of graves and toss skulls back and forth. Heads and limbs can be seen on the ground, and a mysterious woman pushes a baby carriage in the distance. Your job is to hit a certain number of targets in a fixed period of time. Actually, many targets are revealed by red dots that appear with when the screen flashes as you fire the gun. The second screen depicts the hallway of a haunted house with various creeps and apparitions. You'll see an arm fall from the ceiling and be retrieved by a hungry dog below. Then things get really twisted. The third stage shows some men strapped down, and you must shoot each part of their bodies until nothing remains. Is this sick or what? Fortunately, the cheesy NES graphics aren't realistic enough to be disturbing. In this final stage, a man is chained to the wall, another is in a guillotine, and a semi-naked woman is trapped in an iron maiden. Chiller is over-the-top by any standard. It provides some novelty value for adults, but it's definitely not for kids.
Midnight Mutants (Atari 1990) B
This highly original game lets you to roam freely around a haunted town full of hideous monsters. Your goal? To save Grandpa Munster! Along the way you'll find weapons like a knife, axe, cross, and gun. As you gather objects, new areas to explore open up, some containing large bosses to defeat. The graphics and sound are outstanding. Nicely detailed scenery includes a forest, pumpkin patch, mansion, and graveyard. An ominous refrain plays in the background. By pressing the right button you can communicate with Grandpa, who will offer directions and advice. Midnight Mutants offers a nice mix of exploration, strategy, and action. The manual contains a map and a guide which most people will need to get started. There are a few flaws. Control is a bit awkward because there's no diagonal movement. You can easily get lost in certain areas which "wrap around" on themselves. And since there's no way to save the game, you'll need to finish it in one sitting (although there are shortcuts). There's a lot to see and do in this one. It's one of the few old games that caters to the horror crowd.
Transylvania (Polarware 1985) D+
Released on several home computer platforms in the mid-1980s, Transylvania is an old-fashioned text adventure enhanced by artistically rendered illustrations. The keyboard is used to enter simple directions (N for North, S for South, etc) to navigate a wooded landscape with a castle, lake, and old house. Simple commands like "take", "drop", and "move" are used to interact with items. The game progresses in a linear fashion as you look for key items to open a door or initiate an event. Transylvania's graphics are pretty good. Having played my share of text-only games years ago, I will admit that there's something to be said for being able to see your environment. Most of the illustrations won't strike fear into your heart, but that dark werewolf with glowing eyes certainly looks creepy. Transylvania is interesting to play, but the game doesn't always make sense, and can be terribly unforgiving at times. For example, when you open a coffin to reveal a set of items, you need to grab the mice immediately before they run away, or it becomes impossible to finish the game! Stuff like that makes the game more frustrating than it should be (hint: use the FAQ). The inventory management system is awkward, and the storyline tends to go off on weird tangents, including an alien encounter. Transylvania definitely lacks polish and good design, but its hand-drawn visuals and old-school gameplay do have their charm.
Sega Master System
Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Sega 1990) B+
This is a good example of some of the excellent games released for the Master System near the end its lifecycle. At first glance, you could easily mistake this game for the Genesis version. The graphics are crisp and detailed, and the gameplay is just like the arcade (including the huge bosses). The renaissance music is outstanding. Only some slowdown and graphic breakup mar an otherwise superb game playing experience. As your knight makes his way through graveyards, villages, and caves, danger lurks at every turn. Ghouls 'n Ghost's most distinguishing feature is its difficulty, and this version is no different. It seems like every one of those chests contains that evil magician who turns you into a chicken or an old man. At times it's insanely difficult. There are unlimited continues, and you'll find yourself playing into the wee hours of the morning if you're really bent on beating this game.
Ghost House (Sega 1986) D-
All systems deserve to have one good, scary game, but Ghost House isn't scary OR good. It's just a generic platform game with stupid-looking, cartoon monsters. The ghosts look a lot like Kirby of Nintendo fame, which is not a good sign! Your job is to collect the five "family jewels" by defeating five Draculas. Five Draculas? That should set off some alarms right there. And guess how you defeat these five vampires? A wooden stake? Garlic? Holy water? Nah, you just punch them! C'mon, if you're going to make a game about vampires, you have to at least follow the rules! The game has no atmosphere at all and the music is as goofy as the graphics. Control isn't so hot either. Why do I keep falling through the floors?? Ghost House also features some annoying slow-down, and sometimes it will even freeze up for no reason.
Splatterhouse (NEC 1990) A
In this bloody side-scroller, you control Rick, a masked psycho who resembles Jason from Friday the 13th. As he searches a mansion for his girlfriend, he'll battle some of the most twisted, grotesque creatures ever seen in a video game. Chained corpses hurl green vomit, hanging corpses fall from the ceiling, giant red slugs burst out of chests, and newborn creatures jump on your back. Fortunately, Rick is well-armed with two-by-fours, shotguns, and cleavers. I love how when you smack a zombie with a board, it spatters against the wall before disintegrating. Normally a game like this can get repetitive and dull, but Splatterhouse doesn't seem to have that problem. Each new room or area offers a gruesome new challenge, and there are plenty of surprises to be had. Top-notch graphics and ominous background music complete this exciting package. An ideal Halloween game, Splatterhouse spawned two sequels on the Genesis.
Ghost Manor (Turbo Tech 1992) C-
I thought I was in for a real treat with this one, but Ghost Manor utlimately let me down. The fine graphics, responsive controls, and eerie soundtrack got me pretty worked up initially. The ghouls and ghosts aren't particularly scary, but they are very well rendered. You control a kid with a huge melon head, and he just might be the scariest thing in the entire game. The action is mainly platform jumping, but you can also swim and shoot things. Unfortunately, most of these platforms also contain slides, giving the game a "Chutes and Ladders" feel. It's no fun when you painstakingly jump up a series of platforms only to accidentally slide all the way back down! It's also hard to make precision jumps when you're constantly being swarmed by bats. Finally, you'll find yourself constantly running out of ammo, making you fair game for all the floating spooks. On a positive note, Ghost Manor's exceptional music reminded me of Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES). Still, the frustrating gameplay of Ghost Maner really overshadows some fine graphics and sound.
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.
Dracula X (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. Dracula X 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. Dracula X 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 first Splatterhouse, released for the Turbografx-16, was a fantastic hack-n-slash video game. This sequel provides more of the same, but it's too repetitious. The main character is a muscular guy in a hockey mask. The sights in this game will remind you of every horror movie from Friday the 13th to Evil Dead to Hellraiser. Most of the creatures splatter green blood when hit with a two-by-four, a bone, or any other weapon you can find. The bosses are particularly large and disgusting. Unfortunately, many of these monsters simply require too many hits, a trend that continued with Splatterhouse 3.
Splatterhouse 3 (Namco 1993) B-
Sometimes you don't feel like dealing with complicated controls and strategy; you just want to kick some ass, and that's what games like Splatterhouse 3 are for. Your extremely buff character, decked out in jeans and a hockey mask, must make his way through a huge mansion in search of his girlfriend. As he progresses, he'll beat the stuffing out of an endless supply of grotesque monsters. Some of these things, particularly the bosses, are very gross! As the name indicates, there's plenty of gore. Apart from a few special moves and weapons, most of the fights are of the "punch, punch, kick, etc." variety. It gets repetitive, but at least you can hit several monsters with one punch when they're close together, and power-ups let you become temporarily bigger and stronger. Graphically, the rooms are unique and interesting, and the characters are huge. There are several routes through the house, and plenty of traps and other surprises. The cheesy story line is developed through the use of digitized images which look pretty neat, and a password is provided at the end of each game. Splatterhouse 3 isn't too deep, but it's a good way to take out your aggression.
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.
Castlevania Dracula X (Konami 1995) C+
The original 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 Thelma, Daffney, and Freddy. Thelma explains the clues you find, Daffney supplys you with scooby snacks, and Freddy 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 recently bumped up the grades for the Saturn and 3DO versions of Corpse Killer, mainly because I found the game's cheesy acting to be somewhat endearing. But the 32X version will get no such benefit. Although basically the same game, this version is prone to intermittent video skipping, which seems to occur every few seconds during the action sequences. Corpse Killer is a poor game to begin with, and this flaw makes it nearly unplayable. You assume the role of a soldier sent to a remote island to rid it of zombies and the mad professor who's producing them. The action consists of simple "aim the cursor and shoot" stages sandwiched between dramatic video clips. The footage features vibrant colors but only fills three-quarters of the screen. The acting is cheesy all around, but Vincent Schiavelli does deliver a fun, over-the-top performance as the mad scientist. The jeep-driving Rastafarian Winston is quite good also, but the hot blonde reporter is awful to the point of being unintentionally hilarious. Corpse Killer's gameplay is shallow, easy, and not enjoyable at all. Aiming the cursor with control pad is clumsy and inexact, but Sega's Menacer light gun is also supported (in case you own that colossal monstrosity). The interesting locations are the best aspect of the game, including a fort, village, jungle, beach, and graveyard. The pixilated, floating zombies are clearly just superimposed in front of the scenery, and they look awful. Weak sound effects include the same grunt noise for every zombie shot. I do enjoy the bongo drum music however - it seems appropriate. But if you're looking for a playable version of Corpse Killer, seek out the Saturn or 3DO versions.
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.
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.
Dark Seed (Cyberdreams 1993) C-
Here's an interesting PC title that somehow migrated to the Saturn - in Japan! Fortunately this import is highly playable thanks to its simple controls and English voiceovers. Dark Seed is a point-and-click adventure - something you never see anymore. You control a digitized guy named Mike living in a mysterious old mansion who finds himself experiencing dreams both supernatural and extraterrestrial in nature. The nightmares are rendered in gory detail via some rather unsettling cut-scenes. In one, his head is split open by aliens and a substance is injected into his brain! Mike scales nicely as moves around his house and over to a nearby town and graveyard. I find it amusing how Mike is always speaking out loud when no one's around, stating the obvious like "this road seems strangely empty, andÉ unoccupied." Be sure to have Mike shower and take his medicine each morning, or else he'll complain non-stop about his splitting headaches ("My head feels like it's about to explode!") You make Mike walk by clicking an arrow, and you can toggle the cursor into a question mark (to investigate) or hand (to search). Moving it to the top of the screen displays your inventory, along with a floppy disk "save" icon. For the benefit of non-Japanese gamers, the buttons down the left side of the save screen are load, save, return to game, and exit. Sorry, I can't help you with the various text clues conveyed via books, notes, and newspaper clippings. You'll figure it out - especially if you have an FAQ on hand (wink wink). The best part of Dark Seed is its brooding storyline, which conveys a tale of an alternate dimension clearly inspired by the movie Aliens. The atmosphere becomes pretty intense thanks to the nicely-illustrated scenery, digitalized sounds, and surreal organ music. Sadly, some pretty big design flaws rain on the parade. Many critical objects, like a hair pin or glass shard are really hard to see. You sometimes need to examine an object multiple times to expose a critical clue. There are actions you need to take early in the game (like hide items) which make no sense (until later). Even when using a walk-through, Dark Seed is difficult to finish, so I can only recommend it to determined gamers with a lot of patience.
D (Acclaim 1995) B-
D is a bone-chilling, spine-tingling first-person adventure where you control a woman wandering around a huge mansion attempting to discover what happened to her father. This game is unique because it's played in real time, and it ends exactly after two hours after you start playing, unless you finish it, of course. You can't even pause or save your place, so make sure you have two hours free before you undertake this intense adventure. The plodding pace made me impatient at first, but I soon got caught up in the creepy atmosphere. D is effectively frightening and has some genuinely intense moments. Chilling sound effects and ominous music are used effectively, and the first person graphics, although somewhat grainy, are good enough to immerse you in this dark world. Movement is smooth but also very SLOW - slow enough to make retracing your steps feel tedious. Fortunately the puzzles tend to be straight forward, so you won't get stuck in any room for too long. Your character automatically moves toward vital objects, and there are no red herrings to be found. Unfortunately, by the time you get to disk 2, the slow movement and endless puzzles start to get tiresome. The replay value is gravely wounded by the fact that you can never skip the cinematics, which are often lengthy and annoying. But overall D is a spooky and worthwhile trip, at least the first time through.
House of the Dead, The (Sega 1998) B
As the first in a series of zombie-shooting light gun titles, House of the Dead delivers brain-splattering mayhem with branching routes and some of the worst dialogue ever recorded for a video game. Panned by critics when first released on the Saturn, House of the Dead is rough around the edges (literally) but easy to get into. As you are automatically guided around a huge mansion, all sorts of ugly ghouls pop up at every turn. The shooting is pretty much non-stop as the green blood flies and heads get blown off with extreme prejudice. You fire off-screen to reload, and it seems you need to almost constantly. Shooting boxes and barrels reveal health and power-ups, but they're usually only visible for a split second. The character models are chunky as hell, but it's the sloppy, pixilated scenery with unsightly seams and clipping problems (objects that don't overlap correctly) that make this game look so ugly. The degree of pixelation is alarming, and some of the chunky trees would look more at home in an Atari 2600 game! Considering it came out late in the system's lifecycle, you'd expect Sega to have done a better job. The graphics don't matter so much now, but when the Saturn was going head-to-head with the Playstation, a title like this could only hasten a system's demise. The accuracy of the gun is very good (no need to calibrate), but hardly precise enough to target the tiny weak spots on some of the bosses. Despite its flaws, I enjoy playing House of the Dead, especially since the changing paths make each play-through slightly different. After plowing through your limited continues you enter your initials on a high score screen (which is saved). House of the Dead has its share of issues, but if you can look past its rough exterior you're in for some good 'ole Halloween fun.
Corpse Killer Graveyard Edition (Digital Pictures 1994) D+
Corpse Killer is one of those full motion video (FMV) games (I can hear the groans) that takes place on a zombie-infested island. You play a lieutenant out to rescue three fellow soldiers held captive by a mad scientist named Helman, nicely played by Vincent Schiavelli. Other characters include a Rastafarian named Winston who transports you from place to place in his jeep. He's also a decent actor, but then there's the blonde reporter named Julie who's cute but far less convincing. It doesn't help that she has cringe-worthy lines like "Cool toy - I bet you know how to... turn it on. I bet you know how to do a lot of things". Wow, is it getting warm in here or is it just me? Corpse Killer is basically a collection of short video clips interspersed with lame shooting sequences, requiring you to aim by moving a cursor with the joypad (sorry - no light gun support). You can hold down a button to shoot rapidly, and the splattering blood makes mowing down scores of pixilated zombies at least somewhat satisfying. Actually, many of the digitized "zombies" look like poorly dressed programmer geeks, and I suspect many were developers wanting to make an appearance in what they thought would be a runaway hit of a game. The action isn't totally mindless, as you can shoot certain icons to gain life and ammo, and certain enemies require different kinds of bullets to take down. The video quality is grainy, but at least it's full screen. Filmed on location, the scenery looks terrific. You'll battle in a graveyard, fort, shipwreck, swamp, and an abandoned village. One thing that's sure to annoy players in the poor instruction manual which fails to mention key pieces of information, such as how aborting your mission takes you to the game save screen. I was grateful that the right button lets you skip the video sequences. Corpse Killer isn't all that bad thanks to its unintentionally funny video clips, and even the shallow shooting action grew on me after a while. But it's still hard to say this is a good game while keeping a straight face.
Mr. Bones (Sega 1996) A-
Mr. Bones is a collection of high quality mini-games sandwiched between some extremely impressive full motion video (FMV) clips. You control a skeleton named Mr. Bones who was formerly a blues musician. He is pursued by an army of skeletons under the spell of an evil wizard. The video clips that convey the storyline are the most impressive I've seen on the Saturn, seamlessly combining live actors and computer animation. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to FMV, but these clips held my attention. The levels themselves range from typical side scrolling mayhem to some of the most original concepts I've ever seen in a video game. Some of the more unique stages include playing a guitar (cool!), playing drums, telling jokes (seriously), gliding through a huge cathedral, fighting a skeletal T-Rex, and saving a village of little people from spiders (their high-pitched screams are hilarious). In most stages, hits will cause you to actually "lose" bones, forcing you to crawl around with no legs, or hop on your spine! Although no single level here could stand on its own, it's evident that a tremendous amount of thought and effort was put into each one. The graphics are sensational, and the sound effects and music are equally impressive. If Mr. Bones has a fault, it's the difficulty level. Just making it through the first level is entirely too hard. Also, the jumping control could be more responsive at times. But overall, Mr. Bones is an amazing piece of work.
Crypt Killer (Konami 1997) C-
This shallow light gun escapade lets you blast oncoming skeletons, zombies, and mummies in temples, caves, and swamps. I enjoyed Crypt Killer on my Playstation despite its less-than-optimal controls, and I hoped the Saturn version might address that shortcoming. Guess what? I was right! The targeting in this version is very good and you don't even need to adjust the brightness of your TV or calibrate the gun. What I did not anticipate however is the degraded graphic quality. The Playstation version was never much to look at in the first place, and this Saturn version seems to run at half the resolution! Yikes! The trees in the forest stage look absolutely horrendous with their blocky trunks and chunky leaves. When a skeleton pops up close to the camera, the excessive pixelation reaches Atari 2600 proportions. I'll be the first to tell you that graphics aren't everything, but they are something, and Crypt Killer is hard on the eyes. The gameplay is still moderately enjoyable, especially if you want to give your brain a rest. You can sit back and fire away as you're automatically guided through mummy-infested ruins, caves haunted by pirates, and canals well-stocked with green lizard men. Crypt Killer is fun but repetitive. In the winding staircase scene, you continuously shoot at the same place as mummies pour out from the edge of the screen. The difficulty is reasonable until you reach a boss. Assuming the forms of mythical creatures like a six-headed hydra, these things can take a lot of punishment. Crypt Killer won't win any awards, but its simple arcade charm makes it worthy of a quick romp. The Playstation version lacks good controls and the Saturn lacks decent graphics, so light gun fans will have to pick their poison.
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