These mostly obscure PC and console games perfectly capture the creepy, weird, and spooky mood of Halloween.
- October 21, 2018 2:20PM EST
- October 21, 2018
Halloween time is upon us. Surplus candy will soon be raining down into our laps. The jack-o'-lanterns will be glowing, and so will my 386's VGA monitor.
I rarely miss the chance to mix my favorite hobbies (old computers and video games) with major holidays and seasons of the year. So I thought, why not round up a list of spooky retro games for people to enjoy?
But no, that's too easy. I'm going to do even better and broaden your horizons with a list of mostly obscure PC and console games that perfectly capture the creepy, weird, and spooky mood of Halloween.
As you read, you'll see that most of these games also hold nostalgic appeal to me. They're personal favorites. So if you have the time and the inclination after reading, I'd love to hear about some of the spookiest games you've ever played.
Hugo's House of Horrors (PC, 1990)
Way back in the olden days of PC gaming, enthusiasts traded pieces of software called shareware for free, usually on the dial-up BBSes of the time. Many shareware titles were indie takes on popular genres or franchises. In this case, we have Hugo's House of Horrors, a creative and richly illustrated homage to Sierra's classic adventure games. It's the work of one man, David P. Gray, for MS-DOS and Windows 3.x.
In the game, the player navigates a man through a haunted house using typed-in commands similar to King's Quest. It's a challenging game, but it's hard to top it in terms of retro-creepy atmosphere. Watch out for that dog—if you can get past him, you can do anything.
Bones (PC, 1987)
As a kid, I often played around with my dad's monochrome Tandy 1800HD laptop—a 286 with a squat LCD screen and a luxurious 20MB hard drive. Considering the graphical limitations, text-based games were a natural fit.
Enter Bones, one of the most underrated MS-DOS shareware games of all time. This game always creeped me out—you're exploring a haunted mansion, room by room, almost blindfolded by the sparse descriptions and lack of graphics. You're guaranteed to run into mean skeletons and you might get trapped in a poisonous room and have to blow your way out with plastic explosives.
Bones is weird, it's primitive, and it's obtuse at times, but if you really give it a shot, it can be incredibly enveloping. It's amazing how rich a seemingly-simple text-based game can be.
The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes (PC/3DO, 1992)
If I made a list of the most underrated point-and-click adventure games of all time, I'd put The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes high up in the rankings. You play as the famous consulting detective as he investigates the murder of an actress in a dark London alleyway. Could it be the work of Jack the Ripper? You and Watson have to find out.
On a properly equipped PC, the game presents excellent sound effects and an almost unsurpassed set of brooding, atmospheric visuals that place you mentally at the heart of foggy 1890's London. It's not a purpose-built Halloween or horror game, but it's definitely creepy and worthy of play during this time of year.
Taboo: The Sixth Sense (NES, 1989)
Way back in 1989, my family had a ritual of going to a local video rental store almost every weekend and renting a different, usually newly released NES game. One time we came home with Taboo: The Sixth Sense, and I was thoroughly spooked.
You can ask Taboo any question, and it will give you a series of ominous hints about your future to come. From an adult's perspective today, the title feels like a lightweight nothing of a game. It's a digital interpretation of a fortune-telling tarot card deck and not much more.
But imagine that you're an 8-year-old in a pre-internet world. No smartphones to check, no web or social media to run to for explanations, no pile of 1,000 unplayed Steam games weighing on your conscience. It's just you, a TV, and a copy of Taboo for the night. And somehow you believe it. If I turn down the lights and play this on a real NES, I can still get into that state of mind.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES/Genesis, 1993)
You're looking at one of the greatest co-op video games of all time, and it happens to be horror-themed. Zombies Ate My Neighbors combines top-down Gauntlet-style maze shooter gameplay with a comedic but still spooky atmosphere. You play as a brother or sister (or both, with a friend as player two) rescuing neighbors from a zombie/monster invasion.
There are weapons-a-plenty on the way, and even some inside jokes baked into this LucasArts-developed title. It's an absolute must-have for any retro-themed Halloween party.
Blood (PC, 1997)
I can't write enough good things about Blood. It's a campy-but-creepy first-person shooter from the late MS-DOS gaming era, and as such, it pushes the technical limits of Doom-style games. You'll find lush animations, rich sounds, fluid in-game physics, and masterful FPS map design.
In tone, Blood manages to be macabre and humorous and over-the-top bloody without being self-parody. It can still be scary. There are plenty of amusing weapons (most operate in two different ways) you can use to dispatch hordes of zombies and cultists. Best of all (if you're a wizard at emulation these days or have two old PCs), you can still play co-op online with a buddy. You simply can't miss it.
Clock Tower (Super Famicom, 1995)
Clock Tower is the only 16-bit-era console game that has ever genuinely scared me. It's a survival-horror game set in a creepy old house, and you feel incredible tension as you try to evade hazards (such as a small man with huge scissors, seen here). It's also difficult, so you'll have to be patient.
Clock Tower was never released officially in North America—Japan only—but thanks to the work of fans, English translations are floating around out there on the net. If you're into niche artistic 16-bit console games, you can't beat Clock Tower for a Halloween scare.
The Best Halloween Movies to Stream Now