Content of the article: "An A-Z of great retro games for Hallowe’en!"
I know this sub isn't really about 'Retro' per se, but I also know it is about quality written content – and I like to think this fits the bill… Hope you agree and enjoy.
For me, the A-Z list; picking a single game in the given category starting with each letter of the alphabet, is the perfect way to ensure a healthy mix of well known and more obscure titles.
There are downsides, obviously. Choosing something for 'Q' that isn't Quake and finding something (Anything!) decent to suggest for the letter 'J' are a persistent challenge, but, when you don't have a readership of millions, constructing these lists is more about the creative side than the delivery, so these awkward letters usually make the process much more fun.
Anyway. I did an A-Z of Games for Halloween a few years back, and there will doubtless be a few duplications, but today I'm giving myself the additional constraint of 'Retro'. The definition of 'Retro' is pretty fluid, but for these purposes I'm saying any game released last century; up to 31st December 1999, is Retro. Make your peace with that now, it ain't changing!
So, with all that pre-amble out of the way, lets get started!
Wait! One last thing, I don't like RPGs, so don't expect to 'Vampire The Masquerade' or anything similar below!
Right, now we go…
Avenging Spirit – Aracde/Game Boy – 1991
In this, fairly cute looking, 1991 arcade platformer you, as the titular spirit, are first murdered and then summoned to save your girlfriend by her (don't say mad) scientist father.
At the start of the game you are given a choice four potential possess-ees to serve as your host – but it is only when that first avatar is killed that the game comes into its own. Emerging from the host as ghost, and with your 'spirit meter' quickly ticking down, you must immediately jump into a new body.
In the standout feature of the game, you can possess absolutely any other NPC, and take on their weapon and other characteristics as you continue.
Besides the arcade original there was a surprisingly faithful port to the original Game Boy, an emulated version of which is available from the 3DS eShop.
B-Movie – PlayStation – 1998
You'll see, as we get further into this list, that I have a bit a thing for 50's B-movies. Ever since this particular era of film-making, the genres of Sci-Fi and Horror have been inextricably linked and, (something else you'll see reflected in this list) this is still very often the case in video games.
B-Movie, known in the states as Invasion from Beyond, not only embraces the full 'Mars Attacks' ethos, but is also old-school in it's design, with wrap-around levels employed as you search the map for enemies to blast and scientists to rescue.
It's a simple but hugely entertaining game, with added depth given by unlockable vehicles and a decent variety of mission structures.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PlayStation – 1998
Despite its open level designs and progression method coming more than a decade after they were first seen in Metroid, Symphony of Night is the reason why the genre portmanteau has '–vania' stapled to the end of it. Simon’s Quest had toyed with exploration in the series previously, but not as expansively or as successfully as was achieved in this, which is considered a true great of the genre to which it gives (half) it’s name.
Shamefully I've only ever played it (briefly) through emulation – but the impact of that short play, and the opinion of people I trust, is play, and the opinion of people I trust, is more than enough to include it on this list.
Doom – PC/Various – 1994
Even with it's 'Hell' motif and legions and monsters, it sometimes easy to forget that, when it was originally released, Doom was a very scary game.
The sound design in particular lent an incredibly eerie atmosphere, and it was far more common to see players creep around corners and twitch at every sound than it was to see the borderline speedrunning pace that it's played at today.
Not just one of the most important games ever made, but one of the best too.
Evil Zone – PlayStation – 1999
In the first (but by no means last) trip on this list to Tenuous Town, Evil Zone barely meets the criteria of a game for Halloween. It does have the 'Evil' in the title, and it has an evil being as the boss, with the plot of this simplistic fighter revolving around finding the strongest fighter to face them – but beyond that… erm… as I said: Tenuous.
On the other hand, the average-at-best reception awarded this title means that many thought it to be a horror of a different kind. Personally though, I found the TV Show presentation style endearing and, in an era when fighting games didn't often have stories, this has one for every single character, including the main antagonist.
Fear Effect – PlayStation – 1999
More famous today for a thirty-second quasi-sapphic elevator cutscene in it's sequel than any of it's own qualities, the original Fear Effect was a horror themed evolution of the classic point-and-click adventure that used sprites against pre-rendered backgrounds to great effect. There's a more considered approach than usual to Chinese mysticism that elevates proceedings a notch, with a late game trip to the underworld being particularly memorable.
The balance between puzzles and gunplay is well maintained throughout, and the grizzly death animations that play upon failure of a puzzle are a particularly macabre treat.
Grim Fandango – 1998 – PC/Various
And talking of point-and-click adventures, here's the one that's often described as the greatest of them all (although, admittedly, not by me).
There's not much new one can say about Tim Schafers magnum opus, it's a brilliant, funny, and devilishly difficult tour de force that has been made available on just about every platform on the planet – so there's no excuse for not playing it.
House of the Dead 2 – Arcade/Various – 1998
Selecting the sequel was an easy choice of the 2 House of the Dead games that came out in the 20th Century, as it's a marked improvement over the original in many ways.
Most predominantly, the use of branching paths adds diversity and… lets not say 'depth'… but certainly it gives the game a sense of interactivity missing from many other 'ghost-train' style on-rails shooters.
The voice acting is the stuff of legend, but it's the only thing in the game that's of dubious quality; everything else is a fantastic example of the genre.
It Came from the Desert – Amiga/PC – 1989
With inspiration taken broadly from 50's nuclear age sci-fi-horror b-movies and, more directly, the astoundingly effective 1951 giant ant thriller THEM!, It Came From the Desert is one of Cinemaware’s most fully realised interactive movies.
Much to the chagrin of many a late 80's teenager, It Came from the Desert's core gameplay doesn't often involve trying to shoot enormous bugs in first person, but s rather more geared towards using your powers of persuasion to evacuate the wonderfully characterful NPC inhabitants of the small desert town for which the threat posed by oversized insects is most imminent. With this being an interactive movie it's actually impossible to die, but it's still all too possible to fail.
Luckily, as with many games of this type, the real joy comes from replaying and discovering new outcomes to individual situations and indeed the whole game. If you're even a little bit of a classic b-movie fan you need to play this game; as a love letter to the genre it is near flawless.
Jurassic Park – Amiga/DOS – 1993
I don't like it any more than you do, okay, but there are so few games that start with the letter 'J', especially within this definition of 'Retro' that this is the closest I could get.
For large sections this rendering of Jurassic Park suffers from the same flaws as many of the others; uneventful 'fetch quest' style missions in largely empty open world environment. Where the PC/Amiga game differs (and excels), however, is where it almost most fits the 'Halloween' brief. There are sections throughout that take place insode buildings, and these are rendered in the now familiar first-person-shooter style. There are jump-scares aplenty as you navigate dark corridors in near darkness, with velociraptors appearing, almost literally, out of nowhere.
Kid Dracula – Game Boy – 1993
Yet another game who's price on the secondhand market has ensured I've only ever experienced it via more dubious methods, this spin-off/pastiche of the Castlevania series is in the mould of The Evil Dead 2; being both a remake and a sequel to the Famicom original.
The scaled down platforming works brilliantly on the Game Boy's small screen, with the cute and characterful art in particular feeling completely at home here. 'Metroidvania' elements may be absent, but there are between-level upgrades that bring more interest to proceedings.
It's a short game, which makes the high price tag even harder to swallow, but if you can cope with not understanding Japanese, copies from that territory come with a slightly more palette-able price tag.
Leather Goddesses of Phobos – DOS – 1986
The sequel may have actual graphics and a name that is the stuff of legend (Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2: Gas Pump Girls Meet the Pulsating Inconvenience from Planet X!) but the second installment's sub-Leisuresuit Larry humour and terrible writing make it a pale shadow of the original – a properly old-school text adventure.
Leather Goddesses of Phobos has a style that is just irreverent enough for it to get away with a multitude of genre tropes and it's so genuinely funny that any missteps could be easily forgotten – if there were any (Spoiler: there aren't).
I grew up playing text adventures so I hope it's no small recommendation when I say this is among the very best of them.
Mortal Kombat II – Arcade/Various – 1993
While it's the original that is writ largest across my memory, it's this first sequel that is clearly the best game in the original, classic franchise. With enough improvements over the first game to make it worthwhile, and far fewer mistakes than MK3, Mortal Kombat II set the stall for the direction the series continues in to this day by bringing a healthy dose of sillyness to the otherwise gruesome developments.
Nemesis the Warlock – C64 – 1987
When I played this on my brother's Commodore 128 way back in the day I had no idea that it was derived from a 2000 A.D. comic, I think I actually loaded up the disc thinking it might be related to the Konami shooter.
Despite it's obvious simplicity as a single screen platformer, I've never forgotten the simple joy of defeating enemies and using their corpses as a stairway to the exit – a stroke of genius game design that I don't think I've ever seen repeated.
Olly and Lissa 2: Halloween – ZX Spectrum – 1988
I mean, it has 'Hallowe'en' right there in the title, how was I going to resist?
The Olly and Lissa trilogy is a set of exploartion and puzzle solving games released between '86 and '89 on Spectrum, Amstrad, and C64.
This is really a recommendation for all of them, as each has strengths and weaknesses. I think the graphic style of the original is more unique than the that of the sequels, and the third game is obviously the biggest, but the flick-screen format was looking a bit old-hat on the eve of the nineties.Olli & Lissa II is, then, would be the sweet spot of the series were it not for the small issue of Olli & Lissa themselves not actually appearing outside of the intro and the game-over screen.
If you can put that small annoyance aside though, the new character, a friendly witch, brings a new dimension to the collect-em-up format by being able to fly around the level on her broom.
Parasite Eve II – PlayStation – 1999
Despite all 3 entries in the Parasite Eve trilogy being classified as 'action role playing' games, they each have idiosyncrasies that differentiate them.
Between the two games that qualify as retro (by my definition) I was a much bigger fan of the survival horror leanings of the sequel than I was the heavy RPG style of combat in the original. I actually think the 'hot-swapping' action of the 'The 3rd Birthday' is best of all, but that is both an irrelevant and a very unpopular opinion.
Parasite Eve II is a beautiful looking game, and the Resident Evil style action is a big improvement, but the real highlight of the game for me is the boss battles – hideous, room-filling, creatures that it will take all your, and your avatars, abilities to overcome.
Quake II – N64 – 1998
Why Quake II? And why the N64 version with it's tiny grainy multiplayer screens and shonky control system? Because it's the only retro 'Quake' game I've played, okay?
I tried and failed to convince myself that Quazatron, the ZX Spectrum's brilliant isometric version of Paradroid fit the hallowe'en brief more than this already loose connection… but it wasn't to be.
Play Quazatron on the Spectrum, don't play Quake II on the N64, move on.
Resident Evil – PS/Saturn – 1996
No prizes for guessing which series was going to be representing 'R' here, but how to choose which instalment?
Resident Evil 2 is probably a better all around game than the original, but this is a list for the Halloween season – and Spencer Mansion is quite simply one of the best haunted house environments ever to appear in a video game.
It's a rare event in any medium when the flaws (or perceived flaws) of a piece manage to enhance it, but that is very much the case with the original Resident Evil. Take the voice acting, subject of a million memes, there's no way anyone could claim it had genuine quality. Yet, better acting may have telegraphed plot points that otherwise remain obscured by the stilted delivery.
And then there’s the 'tank controls', whether the vagaries of movement and inconsistent aiming exist by accident or design may never be known, but either way, they add huge amounts of tension to encounters where swift action is required.
There can be no doubt that the first Resident Evil, no matter the quality or otherwise of later franchise entries, remains an ingeniously designed adventure that has permanently and single handedly reignited a stagnant genre.
Sweet Home – NES – 1986
Brought to attention in the west by the success of Resident Evil, this NES outing from 1986 received a fan translation from its original Japanese to English almost 20 years after the original release.
It's influence on Capcom's first trip to Raccoon City is apparent from the very start, but this is a fascinating and genuinely scary game in its own right.
Played from a top down perspective, the gameplay involves, as you might expect, solving puzzles and occasionally battling evil entities. The backtracking and item management are familiar too, but a key difference is that in Sweet Home you control a group of five, and should any character die they remain so until the end and effect the outcome of the finale.
Todd's Adventures in Slime World – Lynx/Mega Drive – 1990
The Atari Lynx is one of my favourite game systems of all time. Although it lacked a big name franchise like Sonic or Mario to draw players in, it instead focused on brilliantly bringing hits from the arcade to it's tiny inch screen. Thanks to this, despite a pretty small library, it has one of the best quality-to-quantity ratios in the whole medium,
Todd's Adventure in Slime World was later ported to both the Mega Drive and the PC Engine Super CD, but it remains a Lynx game in my mind. As the titular adventurer you explore the vast slimy planet and collect gems. It's simplistic stuff, but fun presentation and a few neat ideas (having to wash off slime in water pools, for example) keep the game interesting – especially with those with the compulsion to see every part of the planet.
UFO: Enemy Unknown
The genesis of X-Com franchise can be traced all the way to 1984 when Rebelstar Raiders (a game written entirely in BASIC) was released for the ZX Spectrum, but in some ways the influences can be traced back further still, as it's another game that takes clear inspiration from the sci-fi horror movies of the fifties and sixties.
It's interesting that despite being the defacto series moniker today, it was only afte this game was rebranded for the American market as X-Com: UFO Defense that the series’ first bore the 'X-com' name.
Whether you call it, X-Com or UFO, the game features a near perfect combination of management sim and turn based combat elements that ensure you’ll be hooked from the very beginning and despite the dozens of sequels, spiritual successors, and remakes it has, to my mind at least, never been bettered in the genre.
Vampire Saviour – Arcade/Saturn/Playstation – 1998
I've selected Vampire Savior, the original name for Darkstalkers 3, but any of the games in this series are well worth your time.
These 2D fighters featuring a deliciously twisted cast of monsters, villains, succubae, and various other freaks and ghouls may look a little simplistic when compared to games released since, but there's real class in the character designs and the fight engine.
Darkstalkers 3 is probably the best of the bunch, the Dark Force System it introduced was the major change from earlier instalments – a 'super meter' in all but name it brought the game in line with other 2D fighters of the era so this is the one to play.
War of the Worlds – PlayStation – 1998
Did you know that at least one 'Where in the
It was all worthwhile in the end however, as I was actually quite pleased to be reminded of this game. I've been meaning to play it for some time and despite having to do so via emulator (I wasn't willing to blind-buy for £40+) I'm really glad I did.
This EU only release is, a little bizarrely, a vehicular combat game – but it is rhankfully a pretty good one. Each mission takes place in a different real world location taken from H.G. Wells' classic novel and sees you take control of a decent variety of era-accurate vehicles in battles against the alien menace. There's some light strategy too, and, played along to remixes from the famous Wayne album, it all makes for a pretty enjoyable blast.
Xenophobe – Various – 1987
A multiplayer shooter a good few years ahead of it's time, Xenophobe allowed three players to cooperatively battle a variety of levels by giving each a section of the screen to themselves. Split horizontally, the view of the game would be pretty iconic, were it not, to this day, something of an underappreciated effort.
The Atari Lynx version had the potential to be a definitive port, with the link cable allowing 3 consoles to have a full screen each. But unfortunately the commercial failure o the machine meant that Xenophobe didn't find much of an audience, so trying to find two other people with both the same hardware and software was an even harder task than completing this side-on, screen flipping, shooter.
Yokai Dochuki – Arcade/PC Engine/NES – 1987
As a new owner of a PC Engine, it's nice to be able to exploit the amount of time I've spent recently researching it's library to the benefit of more than my game library.
Much like the aforementioned Fear Effect, Yokai Dochuki is notable for it depiction of an eastern hell – in this case 'Jigoku', the Japanese variant.
The game has you play as a small boy who journeys through five stages of hell to determine his final fate – one of five endings available in the game.
It's an interesting game more than a brilliant one, with the NES version being particularly simplistic, but it's definitely worth checking out if you have the facility.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors – SNES/Mega Drive – 1993
It always boggles my mind that the (admittly brilliant) title of this quasi-isometric run-and-gunner from lucasarts limits the antagonists to zombies.
During the corse of the game you will come across (forgive me a copy/paste from wikipedia) vampires, werewolves, huge demonic babies, spiders, squidmen, evil dolls, aliens, UFOs, giant ants, blobs, giant worms, mummies, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, "pod people" and, obviously, zombies.
Exploring the levels and saving your neighbours is made an extra joy through the game being very funny, and the accompanying music is worth a mention too – expertly capturing the monster-movie tone throughout.
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