The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
Part 1 of 6Updated 2020/11/15
Each game is rated for Halloween spirit:
Tame "Trick or Treat?"
Spooky "Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!"
Ghoulish "Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat; call in the spirits, wherever they're at!"
Ghastly "Grim Grinning Ghosts about to socialiiiiize"
Macabre "Now don't close your eyes, and don't try to hide; or a silly spook may sit by your side."
Child's play "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
Creepy "I see dead people."
Unnerving "That cold ain't the weather. That's death approaching."
Intense "I know you're there Tina. Because I can smell your brains."
Terrifying "It’s Alive! It’s Alive!"
Frankenstein's Monster (Data Age 1983) B-
Originally posted 2010/10/27
Ghost Manor (Xonox 1983) C+
Originally posted 2012/10/30
Halloween (Wizard 1983) B-
Originally posted 2012/10/30
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+
Originally posted 2012/10/30
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Wizard 1983) F
Originally posted 2005/10/2
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+
Originally posted 2003/10/4
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.
Amityville (Rafael Alexandre 2016) A-
Originally posted 2017/9/30
This is one of the most original Odyssey 2 games I've ever played. Combining live action with RPG elements, Amityville is half Dungeons and Dragons and half Haunted House (Atari 2600, 1982). As you step through a dark mansion the interior scrolls downward as a flashlight illuminates the area directly ahead. My friend Chris complained about some flicker in the background but I didn't really notice. The footstep sound effects are fantastic and there's even voice module support ("Danger! Attack!"). Just like in a real haunted house, you only get fleeting glimpses of the dangers that lie ahead. A horizontal strip across the center gives you a narrow peek, and intermittent lightning flashes illuminate the screen. Your goal is to find chests which contain diamonds and magic items. You'll also encounter spiders, bats, skeletons, and ghosts. The battles are surprisingly fun. You repeatedly "roll a dice" to reduce the monster's hit points as he slowly encroaches upon you. I wish you didn't have to wait five seconds between attacks, but I like the suspense. Magic items add a strategic element. The frog eye pushes a creature back a step, and the snake tongue can kill it with one blow. The vulture feature will award you with 150 points for sacrificing a turn. You can only hold one item at a time, and it can be hard to remember which one you're carrying. I love the attention to detail (666 score in manual screenshot) and not-so-subtle horror elements (upside-down cross on title screen). Amityville seems slow at first but I became obsessed with this ingenious little action-strategy homebrew. Still trying to reach 666!
Dracula (Imagic 1983) C
Originally posted 2016/10/19
Scooby Doo's Maze Chase (Mattel 1983) D-
Originally posted 2009/12/18
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.
Jeepers Creepers (Atari Age 2016) C
Originally posted 2017/1/14
Friday the 13th (Domark Ltd. 1985) D
Originally posted 2014/10/29
Castles of Doctor Creep, The (Broderbund 1984) A+
Originally posted 2011/10/28
Cauldron (Broderbund 1985) C-
Originally posted 2011/4/15
Haunted House II 3D (Mean Hamster 2002) D+
Originally posted 2002/10/26
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.
Gargoyle's Quest II (Capcom 1991) D+
Originally posted 2019/11/2
This cart is fairly rare, and you might enjoy it if you're a glutton for punishment. Gargoyle's Quest II stars that pesky flying demon named Firebrand of Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES, 1986) fame. He has the unique ability to shoot fireballs forward and hover sideways for a few seconds at a time. The appealing gothic scenery features stone towers, twisted trees, torches, and skulls. The stages are of the side-scrolling variety but the hub is an overhead RPG-style world. I found the "training" level to be a bit of a nightmare, as I struggled to grasp the flying controls. Basically you just press the jump button a second time in mid-air to hover, which also lets you perch on the sides of walls and platforms. To complete the training you need to grab a floating flask high above some ruins and it's remarkably difficult! Not only do you need to jump at the last possible moment, you need to make sure you engage your hover at the highest possible point. This challenge really sets the tone for the game because you really need to be perfect for so many jumps to avoid lava and spikes. The designers must have been the biggest pricks known to man. I did discover one helpful technique which is to jump as far as you can before engaging your hover, even if it means coming perilously close to the spikes below. You fight a lot of hooded ghouls, spiders, and wispy spirits which approach at angles you can't defend. After taking a hit you tend to get knocked back, resulting in further damage. The stages tend to repeat which is annoying. Gargoyle's Quest II offers nice renaissance music, spooky imagery, and unique controls. Unfortunately the constant aggravation keeps the fun factor grounded. Note: The original game was for the Game Boy.
Haunted Halloween '85 (Retrotainment 2016) B
Originally posted 2018/10/18
For a Halloween fanatic like myself Haunted Halloween '85 is a dream come true. This well-crafted platformer embodies the Halloween spirit like few other games. You play a kid trying to save the fictional town of Possum Hollow by punching out phlegm-gurgling zombies, dive-bombing crows, and jumping jack-o-lanterns. For an NES title the sheer artistry of this game is amazing. The backgrounds employ striking colors and vivid silhouettes to dramatic effect. Scenes of a deserted playground or grain silo against the waning sunset are truly haunting yet beautiful at the same time. Fun minor details bear out the 1985 timeframe, including an "NES Club" poster in the school and a Suncoast Video-style "VHS store" in the mall - complete with purple neon lights. Haunted Halloween's gameplay is a satisfying mix of punching and platform jumping. It's satisfying how zombies crumble to dust after you beat them down, but those diving crows are a pain. Why doesn't my uppercut work on them? Some of the super-narrow platforms would be ridiculously hard to traverse if not for the excellent controls. Instead of a life bar, taking hits gradually transforms you into a zombie, adding a layer of tension. Seek out candy corn to reconstitute your health. The minor-key "chip-tune" music is eerie but a little shrill for my tastes. The first-rate packaging offers a glossy box, colorful manual, and "zombie green" cartridge. Overall I am thrilled with this. Classic gamers have a new reason to celebrate Halloween this year - like it's 1985!
Haunted Halloween '86: The Curse of Possum HollowOriginally posted 2018/10/28
(Retrotainment 2017) B+
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Sony 1993) B
Originally posted 2018/11/13
The 16-bit versions of Bram Stoker's Dracula (SNES, 1992) were so forgettable I was in no rush to track down this scaled-down NES edition. But as is often the case, this 8-bit incarnation is considerably better! You can tell the programmer "Skunk" really knew what he was doing. I like how the default skill level is "medium" which should always be the case but rarely is. The side-scrolling platform action begins with John Harker slaying ghouls, skeletons, and birds in the forests of Transylvania. If you've played Castlevania (Konami, 1987) and/or Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1995) you'll feel right at home with the controls. You collect coins, throw axes, bump boxes for power-ups, and perform ground pounds to break into underground areas. The fact that you can leap a country mile makes the crumbling ledges a lot easier to traverse. Enemies are defeated with a blue splash for some odd reason, and you can even punch ghosts! The stage designs are so forgiving that touching water or landing on a bed of spikes is rarely fatal. There are hidden areas off the beaten path you can explore to discover extra goodies. Dracula's castle is a maze of floating platforms, lava pits, and fire-breathing statues. It's a shame you can't enter any of those big shadowy doorways. Hitting pause lets you view your score and catch a breather. That's not a bad idea because the pacing of this game is so brisk it feels like a speedrun for Pete's sake. The musical score is your typical NES cacophony but with some ominous undertones. It's not particularly scary but this version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is probably the most enjoyable, and certainly the most playable.
Uninvited (Icom 1991) C-
Originally posted 2013/10/29
Shadowgate (Icom 1989) C-
Originally posted 2014/10/28
Monster Party (Bandai 1989) C+
Frankenstein: The Monster Returns (Bandai 1990) C-
Originally posted 2010/11/6
Castlevania (Konami 1987) B
Originally posted 2004/12/6
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-
Originally posted 2004/12/6
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Konami 1990) A
Originally posted 2004/12/6
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
Originally posted 2007/10/15
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-
Originally posted 2011/3/27
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 'N 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+
Originally posted 2007/10/15
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) B
Originally posted 2020/10/28
Chiller (Exidy 1986) D
Originally posted 2001/6/11
Monster in my Pocket (Konami 1992) C
Originally posted 2015/10/8
Monster in my Pocket is not a euphemism; it's a line of toys released by Matchbox in 1990. This video game tie-in came with a free exclusive monster, which as you can imagine really jacks up the value of a complete copy. Monster in my Pocket is well-programmed but generic platformer. You can control either a vampire or the Frankenstein monster, but both feel exactly the same. Does the concept of controlling a tiny monster in household environments sound appealing? If you're eight years old, maybe. You'll hop along furniture and scamper across kitchen counters while vanquishing a wide variety of creatures. I counted 39 different adversaries in the manual for crying out loud! There are zombies, witches, skeletons, ogres, minotaur, and just about anything else you can think of. There's even a God-damned Kraken for Pete's sake! The creatures tend to be rendered in few colors and subject to break-up, making them hard to discern at times. The controls are really good. The double-jump works like a charm and when you punch you unleash a visual burst of energy. Sometimes you'll find a large key, but all you can do is hurl it at oncoming creeps. The gameplay is ordinary and predictable. The stages are plain and the worst has to be the obligatory sewer level (required by law). It sucks how you sometimes jump off a table and fall into a mob of monsters milling around below. The two-player simultaneous mode is fun in theory, but in practice it's hard to keep both characters on the screen. Monster in my Pocket is technically sound but I'm afraid you'll forget about this one the minute you shut it off.
Midnight Mutants (Atari 1990) B-
Originally posted 2018/11/3
Maxwell Manor (Avalon Hill 1985) D
Originally posted 2016/10/30
Transylvania (Polarware 1985) D+
Originally posted 2008/10/13
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+
Originally posted 2002/10/8
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-
Originally posted 2001/8/27
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.
End of Part 1. Proceed to Part 2
(Retrotainment 2017) B+
Sega Master System
Part 1: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Intellivision, Odyssey 2, Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, Atari 7800, Atari XE, Sega Master System
Part 2: Turbografx-16, Genesis, Neo Geo, SNES, Sega CD, Sega 32X, 3DO, Philips CD-i, Atari Jaguar
Part 3: Saturn, Playstation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast
Part 4: Playstation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Part 5: Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3
Part 6: Wii U, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch