Looking for some vintage video games to play for the Halloween season? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve compiled a ridiculously exhaustive and overwhelming list of ghoulish games to play on the Nintendo Entertainment System for this horrifying holiday. Some frighteningly fun; others terrifyingly terrible. The rest… uh, afraid…ly average? Boo.
(Cross-posted from Tumblr. Originally posted October 2013 with sporadic updates.)
Monster Party ― A boy named Mark is walking home from a baseball game when a monster named Bert falls from the sky and lands in front of him. Bert says his world is in danger and he needs Mark to help fight the monsters. Mark is reluctant but Bert grabs his hand and drags him off anyway… and then proceeds to fuse with him in the sky…
The goal of the game is to traverse the levels, entering doors and fighting the monsters inside until you get a key that unlocks the exit at the end of the level. Mark’s primary weapon of attack is a short range baseball bat, which can also reflect projectiles. But with a special power-up pill, he can temporarily turn into Bert, who can fly and shoot lasers.
It’s a fairly average game, overall, but it’s worth a play to see the crazy monsters and their ridiculous catchphrases. You’ll face such terrifying monsters as… a kitten in a box! A cow-hurling minotaur! A triple threat featuring a giant onion ring, fried shrimp, and some sort of shishkabob thing!
Curiously, the game never got a release in Japan, despite being developed there. Glimpses of the unreleased Japanese version reveal the game was going to be a little more scary and gory looking. Bosses were also more clearly going to be parodies of monsters from movies, such as The Little Shop of Horrors and Planet of the Apes (thus the would-be title, Parody World: Monster Party).
A Japanese collector did get a hold of a prototype, and did share footage of the first level, but unfortunately a public ROM release is out of the cards. So the hunt is still on for that one. UPDATE 2014: Another copy was found and released!
Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti ― It’s Splatterhouse, but in a cute SD style! Adorably chop up all the monsters that get in your way with a meat cleaver! Lots of horror movie parodies in here too… even Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And there’s also a bunch of neat little secrets…
This game was released only in Japan, if you couldn’t tell by the subtitle. There’s a translation hack out there, but only the brief ending sequence has any Japanese text in it, so it’s not really necessary.
Sweet Home ― Here’s an RPG from Capcom based off a horror movie. A team of documentarians enter a deceased woman’s mansion to get her last fresco on film. However, the woman’s soul still haunts the mansion and traps them inside. The team must then try to find a way to escape, unraveling the mysteries of the manor along the way.
You can control each character separately, or team up into groups. Each character has a unique item useful for solving puzzles and stuff. But if a character dies, they’re dead for good. They can’t be revived.
This game wasn’t released in the west and it’s pretty obvious why. Censoring everything for Nintendo’s standards would be a pretty big project, and it wouldn’t even be worth it in the end. This is a pretty gruesome game! It’s considered one of the earliest survival horror games and it was even an inspiration for Resident Evil.
A very nice translation patch is available, and you’ll certainly need it.
Maniac Mansion ― Speaking of mansions, here’s a port of the classic point-and-click adventure game from Lucasarts. It’s a very lighthearted and humorous tale of some teenagers who sneak into a mansion in an attempt to rescue the main character’s girlfriend from a mad scientist. You can choose two kids to accompany the main character, each with their own unique attributes.
The developers went through a hell of a process trying to clean the game up for Nintendo’s ridiculously strict censorship policies, which has been documented by Douglas Crockford (who headed the NES conversion) here. It’s an interesting read.
Maniac Mansion (Japanese version) ― Fun fact: Jaleco made their own version of the game for Japan two years prior. Also, instead of using a battery save like the NES version, the Famicom version made you enter a password that was 104 characters long. The programmer even hid a couple special passwords apologizing about it. Translated, the password “Apology” displays “Sorry the password is so long” and the password “Manabu Shirato” displays “Honestly!”
There’s no translation patch or anything so I have no idea what I’m doing and neither will you.
Shadowgate ― Another port of a classic point-and-click computer game. You were given a quest to enter Castle Shadowgate to prevent a warlock from raising the Behemoth and destroying the world.
This one has lots of fun ways to get killed, complete with dramatic descriptions of how you died. Sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book. And you’ll be dying a lot. Very trial and error. Lots of charm though. Be sure to keep your torches lit!
Shadowgate is part of a series of point-and-click adventures developed by ICOM Simulations for Macintosh, which were given the “MacVenture” label. Two other games in the series (which are unrelated story-wise), Deja Vu and Uninvited, were also ported to the NES. Which brings us to…
Uninvited ― So you wake up after having wrecked your car and blacking out. Your sister’s gone, and you assume she went into the big spooky mansion nearby for help. And your car blew up as soon as you stepped out. So I guess the only thing to do is sneak into the big spooky mansion then.
This one came out before Shadowgate, but I only mentioned that one earlier cause it’s more popular and well known. Unlike Shadowgate, which has more of a fantasy setting, Uninvited opts for a slightly more realistic, mundane setting. Though there’s still plenty of sorcery shenanigans to go around.
Friday the 13th ― Well, some people like it. I’d even call it a cult classic. Hell, just this year NECA released a Comic-Con exclusive Jason figure that was based on his appearance in this game. (UPDATE 2019: And it was so successful, it kicked off a whole line of game-themed variants of action figures for other properties.)
Friday the 13th was developed by Atlus and published by the dreaded LJN. There’s a common misconception that LJN developed the games they published, but really they didn’t! LJN was just a publisher and contracted development to various outside companies -- usually Atlus or Rare. Those two were typically competent developers… but LJN didn’t really care about quality and just wanted stuff on shelves, so their products suffered due to tight budgets and deadlines. Or something like that.
Anyway, back to this game. Travel around camp and rescue the kids! Go into cabins and light fireplaces and fight off Jason! Pause the game frequently to look at the map so you know where you need to go and if you’re even moving in the right direction!
A Nightmare on Elm Street ― Another LJN published title, this one developed by Rare. You gotta run around punching snakes and bats, go into buildings and collect all of Freddy’s bones to burn them. There’s even a day/night system, similar to Castlevania II. Actually it’s more of a night/nightmare system, but that’s harder to explain. In the nightmare mode you can switch between different dream warriors which have more capabilities and stuff?
The game was originally going to have you playing as Freddy, trying to kill the teenagers. But Nintendo probably wasn’t keen on that idea and made them change it.
Honestly I don’t think the game is as terrible as some people make it out to be. Maybe average at worst. Also it has four player co-op, can you believe that?? Decades before New Super Mario Bros. got around to it.
Beetlejuice ― Yet another Rare/LJN outing. It’s a platformer where you gotta occasionally step on colorful cockroaches to earn points buy “scares” which turn you into different forms or something. It’s pretty wonky and lousy.
Ghosts'n Goblins ― A port of Capcom’s (in)famously difficult arcade game. You’re probably already familiar with it. It’s a fairly early release and the programming feels pretty janky. Beating it is completely hopeless. You will become angry at the video game.
Gargoyle’s Quest II ― The sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest on the Game Boy. This Ghosts'n Goblins spinoff is a hybrid platformer/RPG. The game features your typical RPG style overworld, where you walk around and visit towns and talk to people and such.
However, the game also has action-platformer sections, where you jump around and spit at monsters and fight bosses and stuff. Firebrand, the demon protagonist, has the fairly unique ability to cling to walls and briefly hover through the air, which are central mechanics of the platforming segments.
The RPG parts are mostly pretty fetch questy… find such-and-such item to access such-and-such place. But Firebrand’s walk speed abnormally quick, and there aren’t any random encounters, so it’s not that tedious.
Castlevania ― Everyone’s familiar with these. Jump around a spooky castle and whip monsters to death in search of Dracula.
Personally, I think this first game is the best designed in the original NES trilogy. There’s sort of a finesse in its simplicity and linearity, in comparison to its bigger scale sequels, y'know? It just feels like every inch of the game was given plenty of thought. Even the seemingly mundane parts.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest ― Konami took the sequel in different direction, as was somewhat common for NES games (see: Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda II). This game sort of became an action-RPG, bringing an open world and a more adventurous play style.
It introduced a day/night system, where the baddies become tougher at night. It also introduced the infamous townsfolk who try giving you advice, but are actually just straight up lying to you. It turns out this wasn’t even a translation error. They lied to you in the Japanese version too. So take whatever you hear with a grain of salt.
Castlevania II is sort of the black sheep in the series, as these off-beat sequels tend to be. It certainly takes more patience to play than its more actiony, straight-forward brethren. It can be pretty obtuse at times and may require consulting a guide. The goofy, cryptic dialogue is certainly something to behold though.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse ― Konami wisely decided to take the series back to its roots with the third game. No more big open world this time; it’s back to the level-by-level system. Castlevania III is pretty much like the first game on a bigger scale. Now there are branching paths and multiple characters to play as.
The Japanese version (Akumajou Densetsu) used a special chip (the VRC6) to greatly enhance the Famicom’s sound capabilities. It sounds really good! It’s also a fair bit easier than the international release. For example, Grant can throw his knives instead of just stabbing a short distance. It's definitely worth a go if you're only familiar with the western release. There are a couple translation patches out there, but I recommend this one.
Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula-kun ― This one’s a bit of a Castlevania parody. Plays more like Mega Man though. It’s a cute little platformer and you gaint new abilities after beating stages.
Unfortunately it wasn’t released outside of Japan, but the Game Boy follow-up was! That game was released here as Kid Dracula. A translation patch for this one is available. It’s not absolutely necessary to play, but there is a good bit of text. (UPDATE 2019: Konami recently released the Castlevania Anniversary Collection which also includes an English translation of this game.)
8 Eyes ― On the subject of Castlevania, here’s a pretty blatant knockoff. You get a bird companion in this one though so eat your heart out Simon. There’s even a co-op mode where one player controls the falcon…! It’s not inherently Halloweeny or anything, but it does sort of have a spooky atmosphere to it.
Holy Diver ― Another heavily Castlevania influenced game. Yes, it’s named after the Dio song.
You play as a guy named Randy R. Crimson (yes, really). Power-walk around, blowing up monsters with the magic you shoot out of your hands, gaining new abilities as you complete levels. You can choose what magic ability you want to use in the pause menu and switch to it during the game with the Select button.
It’s a very very tough game. But it’s pretty well made and can pretty enjoyable if you’re up to the task. At least it has unlimited continues. And as you could guess there’s plenty of references to old metal music.
This is yet another game that didn’t leave Japan, though there were plans for it. A translation patch is available, but the only Japanese text seems to be in the level names, so it’s not necessary. (UPDATE 2019: Retro-Bit has released an officially licensed reproduction cart in a big ol' collector's box.)
Drac’s Night Out ― A stair climbing simulator starring Dracula. I don’t know. This game was actually unreleased, but a prototype was dumped and released online a long time ago. You can also set traps or something. Be sure to pick up the Reebok® Pumps to put some speed in your step!
Bram Stoker’s Dracula ― Yet more Dracula! A fairly straightforward action-platformer. The camera can be pretty erratic since it rises when you jump and lowers when you duck. There aren’t many enemies to fight, so it’s more focused on platforming and trap avoiding. Remember to press Down while jumping to smash through the ground! Otherwise you’ll probably get stuck within the first minute.
Frankenstein: The Monster Returns ― Big Frank’s another pretty classic monster. You don’t play as Frank here though. Frank burns down a village and kidnaps some little girl and you gotta walk right and hit monsters until whatever. It’s not too hot.
Looks and sounds alright though. And it has neat Ninja Gaiden-esque cutscenes. But it’s pretty stingy with continues and your health doesn’t refill between stages, so have fun re-entering those long passwords to continue!
The Adventures of Dr. Franken ― Your girlfriend got chopped up to pieces and it’s your job to find her body parts and reassemble her…!?! WELL ALRIGHT THEN.
This game came out for the Game Boy and SNES, but the NES version was cancelled. Thankfully, a prototype was found and released. It’s pretty clumsy and confusing.
Monster in My Pocket ― Here’s a great overlooked game from Konami, based off a toy line of small figurines (similar to M.U.S.C.L.E.). It’s an action-platformer and you can play as either Dracula or Frankenstein. Also may be one of the earliest platformers to have a double-jump function?
It’s neat seeing everyday environments from the perspective of these little toys. You can also pick stuff up and throw it, and it even has co-op! Reminds me a bit of Capcom’s Rescue Rangers games come to think of it.
Ghoul School ― Cool School High has been overrun with with ghosts and demons! So you’re this punk ass teen, patrolling the halls, whappin’ monsters with a bat. You can enter classrooms and find other items to use, like the SPINAL ZAP, and the DIGESTARAY, and… and a sandwich.
A bunch of neat-looking monsters in here too. Bogleech did an interview with the game’s creator, Scott Marshall, who talks about a bunch of cool concepts that unfortunately didn’t make it into the game due to time and hardware constraints. Despite the cool ideas though it’s a pretty underwhelming game.
Chiller ― How do get a port of one of the most infamously gruesome and violent games approved for a console with infamously strict censorship policies? You don’t. This is an unlicensed port of the arcade light gun game and it ain’t pretty. Sure is campy though. (And censored.)
Zombie Nation ― A giant floating severed zombie head destroys civilization with his spit. He’s not all that bad, though. He also saves the occasional person who goes flying out of a skyscraper he just obliterated.
Also he’s a samurai and fights the Statue of Liberty.
A horizontal shoot-em-up with great graphics and music. Gameplay is above average, but some may disagree. The head is a pretty big target but it soaks up damage pretty good. Still a pretty tough game though.
There was a long-standing rumor that there was a communication breakdown during development in that when creating Namakubi, the “head of the samurai”, the designers took it literally and created a literal floating severed head. But that's just a rumor. (The Japanese version stars a big tengu mask instead.)
Ghostbusters ― Awful in every way imaginable.
UPDATE 2019: Check out The Real Ghostbusters Remastered, an impressive hack that completely overhauls the game so it's not awful in every way imaginable!
Ghostbusters II ― Well, it’s better than the first one at least. Still pretty shoddy though. But at least you’re not driving around doing chores the whole game.
New Ghostbusters II ― Now this one’s the real deal. Developed by HAL Laboratory (creators of Kirby), this game only saw the light of day in Japan and Europe. There were plans for a US release, and a prototype of it has been leaked to the internet, but ultimately it never came to be. The Game Boy version did get a US release though, simply titled Ghostbusters II, so that's something.
You pick two characters, one to control and one to follow you. Press one button to stop a ghost in the beam, press the other to get the other guy to suck it up with the vacuum. Catch all the ghosts in a level to clear it. It also has co-op!
The Addams Family ― Well, they are creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. A pretty basic platformer. Not too terrible I guess.
The Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt ― Pugsley’s gotta find a bunch of stupid shit. There’s not even any music.
Fester’s Quest ― Sunsoft sort of has a weird history. Early on they had published some infamous “kusoges” (“shit games”) for the Famicom in Japan, such as Atlantis no Nazo and Ikki. Then Blaster Master came out, which was shockingly leagues ahead of anything they’d published beforehand.
Fester’s Quest came out a year after Blaster Master, but it’s still kinda lousy though. The major annoyance is that enemies take a ridiculous amount of hits to defeat. Even the dumb goopy blob monsters you face in the very beginning take 8 shots to kill. And enemies can be tough to hit with the more powerful, wider range guns.
Also you have one life and no continues. If you die, it’s back to the beginning. This was an advertised feature of the game.
…Great soundtrack at least!
The European version did make some concessions with the difficulty though. Namely it lets you shoot through walls, so your wave beam doesn't get stopped a few inches in front of you in all the narrow corridors unless you’re at the perfect angle.
Batman would be released a few months later and Sunsoft started putting out consistently great content for the NES (and Game Boy). But they never really made the transition to 16-bit and sort of fizzled away after that. Pretty unfortunate.
Hey, check out Kid Fenris’s interview with two of the game’s (American!) lead creators.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch ― Now here’s a quality Sunsoft title. Probably one of their more overlooked ones too.
Like Fester’s Quest, it’s an overhead game. But you can move diagonally and jump, adding a platforming element. Gizmo attacks by throwing tomatoes a short range. Defeating enemies drops crystals, which can be picked up and used as currency at shops. And the difficulty is fairly light in comparison to Sunsoft’s other games, so all-in-all it’s a nice little accessible game.
Seikima II: Akuma no Gayakushuu ― A game based on a famous Japanese metal band. It’s not a sequel, the band is actually named Seikima II. It’s a pretty basic action game where you gotta collect all the items in a stage I guess. Pretty charming though. But the music is really high pitched and hard on the ears, which isn’t particularly good for a game inspired by musicians.
Dr. Chaos ― Part sidescroller, part point-and-click adventure? This guy’s mad scientist brother was experimenting with “warp zone technology” and it went awry and he went missing. So the brother goes into the mansion to find him and collect weapon pieces or something. The mansion is just DOORS EVERYWHERE and INVESTIGATE ROOMS and I don’t know I don’t have the patience for it.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ― I don’t know whaTS GOING ON STOP THE M̷̨A̵Ḑ͞N͏E͠S̶S
Robodemons ― An unlicensed game from Color Dreams, who brought us classics such as Menace Beach and Raid 2020. This guy with a boomerang has to defeat an army of robot demons made by this fat demon guy named Kull. He’s the the king of Hades. And probably not very nice.
Levels are split into two different game types: a horizontal space shooter type part and a platformer part. The game has you traversing such spooky locations as THE LEVEL OF BONE and THE LEVEL OF FLESH, which is just an unreadable mess of body organs.
It’s terrible. Really terrible. Like maybe the worst game on this list. (Maybe not worse than Ghostbusters though.)
A year after releasing this demonic game, Color Dreams formed Wisdom Tree and exclusively made Christianity-themed games. Wisdom Tree somehow still exist to this day, lurking somewhere in the shadows.
Devil World ― This one’s maybe more cute than spooky. Devil World is an early Pac-Man-esque game from Nintendo… really early… like 1984 early.
Each round has two “level types”. Like Pac-Man, in the first part you gotta collect all the dots in the maze. But to pick them up, you need to grab a cross first, which disappears after a short time. This cross also allows you to shoot fireballs, which briefly turns enemies into fried eggs you can chomp. The second part of the round has you collecting bibles in the corner of the screen and bringing them to the red skull box in the center.
All the while, the Devil up there at the top of the screen is controlling the play field. The maze is larger than the screen and loops around on itself. The Devil makes the screen scroll in whichever direction he pleases. This keeps you boxed in and also adds the risk of getting squished between the walls.
This game came out in Japan and Europe (much later), but never made it to America, most likely due to its heavy religious themes. But it’s a nice little game (designed by Shigeru Miyamoto!) and also includes co-op.
Taboo: The Sixth Sense ― Okay, this isn’t particularly Halloweenish, or even a game at all. It’s a tarrot card reader from Rare. The readings you get are kind of cryptic and incomprehensible. That can be pretty spooky though, right? The manual warns that it is not intended for children under the age of 14, so you know this is some serious shit. Also it may be cursed.
These games are sort of related, but didn’t quite make the cut for whatever arbitrary reason I decided. Usually they have a few typical horror/Halloweenish elements, but not quite enough to warrant listing. Or maybe they’re lacking in a certain variety of horror. I don’t know. Check 'em out for yourself.
I’d also like to use this space to mention the unreleased Hellraiser game by Color Dreams (which surely would have made the list). Being it was from Color Dreams, it probably wouldn’t have been too good. But what’s interesting about it is the technology that was planned to be in the cartridge. Dubbed the “Super Cartridge”, it contained an extra processor inside that would supposedly “double the processing power” of the NES using a bunch of trickery. The game was apparently going to play similarly to Wolfenstein 3D, somehow.
Development didn’t get very far off the ground. According to an interview with Dan Lawton, one of the founders of Color Dreams: “The hardware was done, and the artwork was 20% done, there was no programming. It was a 45 degree down angle view, with a maze of stone and walls and pits.” So, don’t expect much in the way of a prototype.
Ultimately, the game would be too expensive to produce, and the market for it was too small, so the project was eventually canned.
Finally I just wanna toss this out there cuz whatever, it’s related. It’s a public domain (homebrew) ROM made by a dude named Memblers. I guess it’s from 1999. Basically it just displays this screen while a chiptune rendition of the Halloween movie theme plays. But if you press a button it changes to a different song and blood oozes down the screen. The ROM can be found under the name “Halloween Demo”, or just “Halloween”. Neato.
Bio Hazard ― But wait! An update from 2014! I totally didn’t know about this Chinese bootleg version of Resident Evil released in 2003. It actually seems like a pretty decent conversion for a bootleg. Aside from the atrocious music and tendency to crash a lot. The battle system is based on Resident Evil Gaiden for the Game Boy Color and apparently has Zapper support? Also all the text is in Chinese.
BUT WAIT!! An update from 2018!! A translation patch has been released.
Kirby's Halloween Adventure ― UPDATE 2020: Okay, I wouldn't normally include a ROM hack here, but this one's too good not to. Created by Kirb-Star, this hack gives a darker twist to the cutesy Kirby's Adventure. New enemies, new levels, and even new level themes spice up a familiar classic. The updated graphics are great, and straddle the line between cute and spooky very well. Download the patch and give it a spin!
Well, that’s it! Thanks for reading this big long ridiculous thing. I sort of spent a lot of time on it and did a stupid amount of research. I also considered including a list of standalone spooky levels from various other games, but that seemed a little too insane.
So there you go! Have a great Halloween filled with fun… or misery, depending on your choice. Goodbye~!