On the 13th of June I turned 30, I’m not dealing with this so instead I decided to both ignore and celebrate me lasting so long by writing a whole bunch of top 30 countdown lists.
It’s Halloween weekend!
I’d decided to skip Halloween Countdown this year because 1) I’d’ve missed the start of it while away and 2) I’d then want to do the posts that’ve become the Letters from America, it was the right thing to do, a three week cold at the same time as a major family bereavement put me out of action for most of October (you just haven’t noticed because I wrote all the Letters from America within 48 hours of getting home, I was excited alright?). But I still wanted to do something special for one of my favourite times of year, so we’re having a special spooky Thirtieth Birthday Top 30 (remember I was doing those? No of course not because you’re not real), in fact it’s the first of two you’ll be getting in short succession. Thus welcome to AFB’s Top 30 Horror Video Games.
So what are we calling a ‘Horror Video Game’? Yeah this was one of those things that seemed easy until you think about it, I eventually came up with the following: a game that is intended to scare or is overtly horror themed throughout, not just having a horror themed level (like Mario’s Boo Houses or Thief 3’s brilliant The Shadlebridge Cradle which fyi is my choice for scariest level in a video game ever) or horror-themed characters knocking around (like Killer Instinct or Pokémon). There were a few that danced on the line for me – like American McGee’s Alice, Doom or Mortal Kombat and for those I just sort of decided on a case by case basis. Now this isn’t what’s objectively the best, this is what I think is the best, of course objectively my opinion is better than everyone else’s but I don’t like to say that because people think I’m big headed or some shit, weirdos. So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
30. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Capcom, 1991, Super Nintendo
Wha’appen? Arthur needs to save princess Prin-Prin again, this time from something even more terrifying than Astaroth, though really Astaroth looks so much like My Pet Monster such a being isn’t too difficult to conceive of.
Why? A possibly controversial opinion but one I’ve held for much of my life: this is the best of the Makaimura franchise. I know a lot of people prefer the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins and there’s a big ol’ cult following for the Gargoyles Quest games (and who doesn’t like a huge red demon with possible microcephaly?) but for me Super does everything it’s two predecessors did but just slightly better with the added bonus of the SNES’ signature ‘rounded’ style of graphics AND a double jump. In terms of coding and quality it’s Capcom when Capcom were a byword for ‘guaranteed excellence’ so there’s really nothing more to say here, except, I suppose, why is it so low? Because like Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts before IT IS FUCKING HARD, I’ve been playing Makaimura games since 1991 and I’m still lousy at them and there are people who’ve been playing since 1986 and still have never reached a final boss - that isn’t a reflection of our skills it’s a reflection of how controller biting tough these bloody games are.
29. Darkstalkers Resurrection
Capcom, 2013, Playstation Network / X-Box Live
Why? Darkstalkers is just too good a series of fighting games (frighting games?) and just too much fun to not make the list, the why comes down to what instalment would be the one to make it. The Chaos Tower was my first thought as it combines everything good from all three arcade games by, well, combining all three arcade games but it suffers from the fact that it’s primarily a single player experience – sure you can play against another person, so long as they own a PSP but it’s mostly for solo play – and fighting games only really come into their own as multiplayer experiences. Or at least those who have the easier way to achieve a multiplayer experience are going win out against versions of the game that don’t: case in point Darkstalkers Resurrection. It’s just a compilation of two games but it allows for easy and smooth local and online multiplayer (and throws in a nice few extras), it’s just so much better when you’re sharing the madness of Darkstalkers with friends, chortling to yourself on a train as you make a tiny woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood shit a landmine is nice, but it’s a whole lot nicer to laugh about it with three other people as they throw crisps at you and call you a pervert.
28. The Trap Door
Piranha, 1986, ZX Spectrum
Why? So it’s pretty obvious by now that not every game on here has made the list because it’s scary but this might be the least scary entry – at least in theory. Yes it’s based on a harmless stop motion kids show but that show was already plenty creepy (it’s why so many weird adults loved it when they were weird kids and still watch it today) and the ZX Spectrum naturally lends itself well to dark, creepy environments making even the cutest of ‘horror-themed’ games like this and Blinky’s Scary School have an atmosphere they’d lack on other systems, including the Spectrum’s contemporaries the Commodore-64 and Amstrad CPC (though the BBC Micro had a similar accidental advantage, give Citadel a play through). Anyway I love The Trap Door, I love this sort of adventure game, combine them and it’s gonna make me happy, it’s not quite as challenging as some of its peers (it is aimed at younger kids and it lacks the platforming elements of some of them, like the Dizzy Franchise, but then I like the Dizzy games a lot more than I like this so that’s fine then) but worth spending an hour of two with every so often, consider it a game you can play when you want to relax and I can assure you (because I made the list) that is it’s the only game of that type on this countdown.
Mindscape, 1986, Apple II
Wha’appen? stranded on Blackwell Road in Scotland, not far from Loch Ness, you are forced to seek help from
The Frankenstein Place a huge old house owned by a Mr
Crowley3, but things are not what they seem inside.
Why? But yooooou, you’re not allowed, you’re uninvited – an unfortuuurnate SLIGHT. Alanis Morrisette references aside (can you believe I try keep these ‘Why?’ paragraphs as serious as possible? Still I am pretty serious about Alanis Morissette, I’m serious about the fact that I can never remember how many r’s, s’s and t’s are in her surname for a start1). I swear there was a point to this….oh yeah, why Uninvited deserves to be in a top 30 countdown of horror video games you should play and I love to play. Atmosphere is the word, and a word I like to use a lot, and a word that’s going to get used a lot here because atmosphere is so important to something being scary and being scary is why some of the titles are on here, Uninvited included. If you think an Apple II game can’t be atmospheric just you play this for a while, creeping ‘round Crowley Mansion is so damn eerie, only one other game has given more atmosphere with less and that’s in the top 10. There’s the odd illogical puzzle but then there rarely isn’t in point and clickers, especially ones where magic is involved but if creeping yourself out is something you enjoy (and I am in that camp) the positives outweighs the negatives, especially in an age where Gamefaqs is a thing.
26. Master of Darkness
Sega, 1992, Sega Master System
Wha’appen? Dracula’s behind Jack the Ripper and psychologist Dr Social is going to fuck his shit up
Why? The problem with doing these lists is somethings the reason for something being on them is just ‘because they’re really good’, it’s honestly no more complicated or in depth than that – Master of Darkness is one such case. MoD does nothing exceptionally original – well except the high speed waxworks, that’s pretty unique – it’s very derivative of Castlevania and by derivative I mean ‘knocked off from’2 but it’s very good at everything it does do (in fact it’s better at being a Castlevania game than some Castlevania games). That’s all I got, well I suppose I also like it a little extra because it’s set in Victorian London and there’s still enough of that around for me to identify with it and feel ‘at home’ as it were.
25. Aliens Vs Predator
Capcom, 1994, Arcade
Why? When I compiled the ‘short’ list for this just about every major ‘retro’ Aliens game was on it – the ZX Spectrum Aliens game, Konami’s Aliens arcade game, the Jaguar Aliens Versus Predator, Alien 3: The Gun, Alien Trilogy, I’ve played and greatly enjoyed a lot of Aliens games. In the end this one ended up ranked the highest and I still want to go back and re-order them even though I know deep down this is my favourite. That isn’t a comment on this game, it’s a comment on how good all the others are, I feel guilty leaving off the Jaguar game, like I’m being a bad friend to it. Anyway AvP for arcades is a fucking blast, Capcom side-scrollers are all beauties but this was when they were at their biggest, baddest, slickest, showiest and most satisfying (see also the two Dungeons and Dragons games and Battle Circuit) and then they dropping Xenomorphs and Predators to further improve things
24. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Konami, 1997, Sony PlayStation
Wha’appen? Alucard (yes, really) is out to stop his father’s resurrection, following straight on from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Why? Oooh if anyone read this blog they’d probably be pissed off at this being so low, and I do feel I’m being a little rude to what is generally considered one of the greatest games of all time, especially as it was the title that got me back into the Castlevania series but the truth is, I just prefer non-Metroidvania Castlevania. But even though this is my list, I don’t want my preference for the more linear style of gameplay to make people think that Symphony of the Night isn’t a top 30 sort of game, because it’s a bloody slick piece of pixels (I am never using that term again), number 24 is my compromise. What’s good about Symphony? Pretty much everything (unless you don’t like non-linear gameplay, represented here by new areas becoming available as you gain new abilities), it looks good and plays good, in fact the only bad thing about it is the name ‘Alucard’.
23. Resident Evil 4
Capcom, 2005, Sony PlayStation 2
Wha’appen? The president’s daughter, Ashley, has been kidnapped by a cult in Spain who worships Los Illuminados: so Leon S Kennedy, hero of Resident Evil 2, is sent in.
Why? Another choice that would be considered far too low by people if any people read this but I’ve never forgiven the game for switching away from slow survival horror to a far more action orientated gameplay and the influence it subsequently had on, mostly, Silent Hill. That doesn’t mean the game sucks or I don’t like it, just that I don’t let things go. Resi4 is a great fucking game, far better games reviewers have already written far better, far longer and far deeper about it but needless to say I mostly agree with them, it’s a great game to play, it’s still scary despite the switch in genre and it has a fucking Chainsaw Controller and while, of course, it doesn’t work as good as it looks it’s a fucking Chainsaw controller. Yes the escort parts can be a little tedious but you can shove Ashley into a bin and leave her for a while, that makes up for it in my mind. So instead of just repeated what everyone else has said, why don’t I explain why I chose the PS2 version rather than the GameCube original? That’s pretty simple – Separate Ways, a second story where you get to play as Ada Wong, it was added for the PS2 port, it improves the story, gives you more content, another way to play the game and her awesomeness makes up for Leon’s dorkiness (I do wish they’d done this game with Jill or Claire).
Id Software, 1993, MS-DOS (PC)
Wha’appen? A portal to hell has opened on a research centre on Mars, the same Union Aerospace Corporation facility Doomguy has been posted on after punching out his superior.
Why? So I thought hard about if I was going to include this or not (it won’t be the last time is say that) but decided that as the game features as enemies exclusively demons or zombies reanimated by demons and decided it was fine, Wikipedia even calls it a ‘horror-themed’ first-person shooter. Anyway this is here for a reason not based on quality, though it’s undoubtedly a good game, it’s here because it’s one of around 2 FPS games that I don’t horrendously suck at and I’m not exactly a whiz at Doom.
Midway Games, 1998, Arcade
Wha’appen? In Green Valley, Iowa the urban legend surrounding Ludwig von Tökkentäkker and his spectral amusement park comes true.
Why? I really like Light Guns; they’re my go-to games at arcades and I can and do spent hours at the seaside avoiding the sunshine by blasting through hordes of blocky zombies and terrorists (literally every arcade in Southend-on-Sea, our local seaside town and thus local arcade hub, has a House of the Dead and Time Crisis cab). I also really like creepy/undead carnivals, something about carnivals are already unnerving, they seem to have that eerie quality derelict and abandoned buildings have even when they’re fully staffed and open and that eerie quality is like a drug to me. I’m also pretty fond of Mortal Komabt. Now I’ve explained that, when the company that made Mortal Kombat makes a light gun game out of a haunted carnival and it ends up at number 21 on my top horror video game list you should not be surprised. CarnEvil was never around in the numbers that the likes of Time Crisis 2, House of the Dead 3, Point Blank or Virtua Cop was (I think a maximum of two arcades at Southend had it at the same time for instance and one should judge everything by Southend) and that only helped make it feel more special, being able to violently dispatch undead carnies became a treat, as it should.
20. Resident Evil 2 & Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Capcom, 1998 & 1999, Sony PlayStation
Wha’appen? As Raccoon City is overtaken by Umbrella’s T-Virus, Jill Valentine runs into the monster Nemesis, 24 hours later as the city ha descended into a localized zombie apocalypse two new arrivals – rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and student (and owner of the nicest are in video games) Claire Redfield, who’s the younger sister of Jill Valentine’s’ old S.T.A.R.S. teammate Chris Redfield – get caught up in the madness and uncover it’s cause.
Why? I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, unbiased Resi2 is the better game but I honestly like both of them around the same, as they make up one story I’m going to consider them a Sonic 3 & Knuckles type situation and just put them together without really considering this a tie, and consider my problem solved. As much as I like the original Resi, running around an abandoned city just appeals to me more than the haunted house, there are numerous genuine improvements (including how the two stories overlap and interact) with Resi2 but that’s the main reason, I do try and make sure there’s good reasons for things but y’know. As for Resi3, it’s shorter, it’s a little more action focused but it’s got Jill Valentine in it, and Nemesis in it and whole point is making the two fight, it’s also a great compliment to 2 and if you play the two side-by-side or one after the other you do end up with an experience that’s undeniably better than playing either alone, so perhaps thinking of Resi3 as a really good expansion pack is the order of the day?
Konami, 1987, Nintendo Entertainment System4
Wha’appen? Every 100 years Dracula’s castle shows up, Simon Belmont goes to kill the old bastard because that’s what the Belmont lineage do.
Why? The Metroidvania gameplay (introduced with Symphony of the Night) tends to very much overshadow the earlier games I think, in fact I’d even go so far as to say sometimes the earlier gameplay style is dismissed by players (and sometimes fans) because of the switch in style but I really like the original style. It’s simple, walk, hit, up, down, jump, it’s about timing and skill and nothing else and Castlevania, Castlevania III, Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and the Game Boy games all use this style of gameplay (with some variations) and they’re all fucking superb. If forced to pick my favourite – and I was because this is a countdown list and that’s really the point of the bloody thing – I’m picking the original, it’s Castlevania at its purest – a bloke with a whip and every horror thing Konami can think of pre-internet, it has a great deal of nostalgia value for me (I played it a lot before my nan dropped my NES down the stairs, still not over that) and personally I think it’s the most visually pleasing of the ‘Castlevania 1’ games which total, what, five games – Castlevania, Castlevania IV, Castlevania arcade game, Castlevania Bloodlines and that one on the PSOne I never owned (all of these are retellings of the first Castlevania game). It’s proof to me that sometimes better graphics don’t always look better (the best example of this I find is Donkey Kong Country and the new Wii DKC games) because the art style of Castlevania is just lovely, it’s more complex than the standard NES game but simpler than the 16-bit titles or later ‘pushing the system’ 8-bit games (like Master of Darkness funnily enough) and it just looks really good. It’s got a great selection of monsters to boot, from the classic to the random giant bat things.
18. Dead Rising 2
Capcom, 2010, Sony PlayStation 3/Microsoft Xbox 360
Wha’appen? Someone releases Terror is Reality’s supply of zombies, Terror is Reality a controversial television show where you fight zombies, don’t you watch it? One of its contestants and his daughter – Chuck and Katey Greene – are caught up in the ensuing chaos, what’s worse Katey needs Zombrex, a type of medicine that keeps bitten humans from turning into zombies. So Chuck must venture out from his hiding place into the overrun Las Vegas-like Fortune City, Nevada – which is mostly made up of restaurants, casinos and shopping malls – to find the Zombrex and deal with various sub-plots for the three days until the Military arrive to save their asses.
Why? Chuck Greene is the man and you will feel bad for not being as awesome as he. Other than having this pinnacle of manliness armed with two chainsaws attached to an paddle who is so much better than any photographer you can name – even Todd from Pokémon Snap – this is cathartic gaming at its peak, I think I’ve only finished this maybe once but I’ve started it dozens of time because it’s just so much fun and such good relief, you can just run around shopping malls and casinos, environments where I am quite often fighting the urge to murder everyone in sight, and murder everyone in sight with a variety of weapons bolted together for maximum visceral delight, it’s so fucking satisfying. There’s eye candy for all sexualities, there’s hordes of zombies to dispatch, dozens of weapons to dispatch them with, a fairly decent difficulty curve and you can, if you want, just ignore everything and run around doing just that, I think I just understood the appeal of open world games… except this isn’t quite open world as you have a time limit which gives the game a definitive end (or, I guess, deadline) which makes it far better if you ask me, I just prefer to have a ending to reach, a final goal to achieve, or ignore and kill zombies instead of.
17. The Haunted Mansion
TDK, 2003, Sony PlayStation 2/Nintendo GameCube
Wha’appen? Zeke (the caretaker from the graveyard scene) comes to an old New Orleans mansion to apply for caretaker’s job only to find that it contains 999 ghosts enslaved by cult leader Atticus Thorn.
Why? So I’m quite partial to the Haunted Mansion, in fact I think it’s the greatest dark ride of all time, this game is made with such affection for the ride that I can’t help but like it and like it I do. It’s an action puzzle game, apparently, it’s not a bad term for it, as there are puzzles in each part of the house and you have to solve them, often via using action (platforming etc) and as it’s not quite a survival horror game and not quite anything else so fuck it, action puzzler it is, but it’s not the gameplay I’m here for, it’s fine, but I’m here to spot all the things from the ride and enjoy them being used in an adequate way and everyone’s here: the duellists, the organist, the gargoyles, just about everyone from the graveyard scene, the Hitchhiking Ghosts and of course the female phantasms The Bride and Madame Leota. Oooh it’s so good to see them and interact with them (or defeat them) and it makes me geek out in all sorts of ways.
16. Fatal Frame
Tecmo, 2001, Sony PlayStation 2 / Microsoft Xbox
Wha’appen? Miku Hinasaki enters the house her brother disappeared in (he was also looking for someone) and finds the Camera Obscura and the supernatural remnants of the Strangling Ritual.
Why? In a complete inversion of why I prefer Resident Evil 2 to Resident Evil, I actually prefer Fatal Frame to Fatal Frame 2 because it’s contained to just one location; I am nothing if not completely inconsistent. I think it’s possibly because it’s easier for me to associate with the western city rather than the western mansion (because I’m common and from a terraced house outside London) but harder for me to associate with the Japanese Town than the Japanese mansion (because of cultural differences). It might also be because Resident Evil still had room to improve gameplay and design wise while as Fatal Frame nailed it from the start. Anyway this game is very scary, very well told and I really am rather attracted to the main character (it’s from the people who made Dead or Alive, of course she’s hot and inappropriately dressed for the task at hand) and the camera concept is fantastic, so if it’s so good and I like it so much why is it not above the sequel I like less? Because as scary as this game can be – and it can be both ‘jump scare shit your pants’ scary and ‘unnerve you for days as you think about it more and more’ scary – Crimson Butterfly is worse.
Part 2 >
1 not the most essential footnote I grant you but I am genuinely a big Alanis Morissette fan and before you start on about Ironic, liking Alanis Morissette doesn’t mean I instantly like that song, in fact I fucking hate that song, I hate it because it’s a bad song with bad lyrics and I hate it because year by year it’s sucked what little credibility Alanis had until all that’s left is a tired joke about how she doesn’t know what the word ironic means. The woman’s a superb lyricist and it’s a terrible shame that one bad lyric has completely overshadowed all that talent, a bit like Jimmy Webb and MacArthur Park, except people know who Alanis Morissette is.
2 this actually isn’t too surprising, the Master System generally had an equivalent for each major NES franchise – Alex Kidd in Miracle World was Super Mario Bros, Zillion was Metroid, Phantasy Star was Legend of Zelda and Mater of Darkness was (belated) Castlevania and so on, what’s nice is that almost all of them went off in their own little direction and became something unique while still quite clearly showing their inspiration enough for both sets of fans to say ‘my version’s better than yours’.
3 Alistair Crowley was a real practitioner of black magic who really did own a castle-like house on the shores of Loch Ness, it was later bought by Jimmy Paige of Led Zeppelin, Blackwell Road is also a real road in Scotland, though as far as I know no one from Led Zeppelin owns it.
4 Castlevania WAS originally released in 1986 you’re right (whoever you are who noticed) but that was the Japanese Language only Famicom Disk System version, 1987 was the year the game came to the NES for the first time and as that’s the version we’re discussing that’s the date I’m using.