Tales of eerie environments and bloody beasts have been terrifying and entertaining horror fans for centuries. And while books, movies, and TV shows have each put their own spin on the genre, it’s video games that provide the most immersive horror experiance. Or so I’ve been told.
I’m not one of those people who finds getting scared to be enjoyable. I’m not one to voluntarily set foot inside a haunted house, even if it’s being put on by the local elementary school. Popular horror franchises like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Outlast are the absolute last choices for me in terms of setting and gameplay. I don’t need zombies and deranged medical patients suddenly flailing in my face. No thank you.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t like mildly spooky things! Bats with googly eyes, skulls that crack wise, and McNuggets dressed up for trick-or-treating are all swell in my book. If you’re a weenie like me when it comes to horror, but still enjoy a creepy atmosphere, then you may also find some pleasure in the following fourteen games.
Ghost Houses - Super Mario World
Introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES, the Boo enemy (originally known as a Boo Diddley) has been featured in almost every Mario adventure to date. These adorable specters don’t like attention, and attempt to hide their face when Mario turns his steely glare in their direction. The various Ghost House locations in Super Mario World for the SNES gave players their first true look into the mysterious and confusing world of these bashful spirits. They’re some of the shortest levels in the game if you know where you’re going, but every one is chalk full of secrets.
The Neighborhood - Zombies Ate My Neighbors
A cult classic developed by the fine folks at the now-defunct LucasArts, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was released in 1993 for both the Super NES and Sega Genesis. Players take control of Zeke or Julie, who are tasked with disposing of all the supernatural beings that have popped up in their suburban paradise. By saving enough of their neighbors (who have yet to be eaten), the duo can move on to different parts of their neighborhood.
Despite its title, the game features vampires, werewolves, aliens, evil dolls and more. Also, giant demon babies. You don’t want to get too close to those.
Dracula’s Castle - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
When a problem comes along, you must whip it. This includes vampires. And while there are plenty of classic Castlevania entries in the 30 year-old series, it’s the sleeper hit Symphony of the Night for the original PlayStation that’s still considered the best of the bunch. While touring Dracula’s Castle in hopes to destroy it, protagonist Alucard encounters many classic horror ghouls and beasts. Can you whip, slice, nunchuck, bomb, and javelin your way to victory before Dracula is resurrected? Probably not. But you’ll sure have fun trying.
Lavender Town - Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow
though the disturbing myth that the original Lavender Town theme drove kids to madness is likely untrue, the Pokémon town does have a noticeably creepy allure. And for good reason. Lavender Town is most notably home to the Pokémon Tower, a seven story graveyard that is (unsurprisingly) known for its various ghost sightings. Players must battle their way to the top through mourning trainers and gaggles of ghost Pokémon, as they investigate a spirit who has been causing trouble.
Lavender Town also one of the key factors in the interesting fan theory that players accidentally killed their rival’s Raticate.
Mad Monster Mansion - Banjo-Kazooie
Banjo and Kazooie’s original adventure is home to plenty of silly monsters and spooky environments. After all, their main antagonist is a witch. Once players have escaped the bandaged hands of the mummies in Gobi’s Valley, they are thrown into the frightening world of Mad Monster Mansion. Featuring a haunted hedge maze, gangs of staggering skeletons, and a graveyard of aggressive tombstones, Mad Monster Mansion is easily one of the the most Halloweeny levels in gaming history. Players can also be transformed into an adorable pumpkin... who must venture into the mouth of a toilet to find a filthy jiggy. Spoopy!
The Well/The Shadow Temple - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Anyone who has ever been “hugged” by a head-gnawing redead knows the pure jolt of fear and aggravation that accompanies. The well in Kakariko Village, as well as the Shadow Temple found beneath the outlying graveyard, are both home to some of the the most frighteningly unfriendly creatures in Ocarina of Time. The Dead Hand, for instance (seen above in its natural habitat), has a mouth the size of a small child and enough hands to start his own ultimate frisbee team.
Though the real horror in Kakariko Village is the House of Skulltula. But the less we talk about that place the better.
Kingdom of Gallowmere - MediEvil
Most dead folks might be a bit unhappy at the thought of being revived to walk the earth once more, but in MediEvil it’s just what Sir Daniel Fortesque needs to restore his honor. A century after his death, tales of Sir Daniel’s heroics have been greatly exaggerated. In fact the evil sorcerer Zarok, who he supposedly killed decades ago, has returned and brought his undead warriors back to the world of the living. This time around players can assist the formally deceased Sir Daniel in redeeming his true glory as he slashes and bashes his way through gothic landscapes and gloomy graveyards.
The Mansion - Luigi’s Mansion
Poor Luigi always seems to pull the short straw. After playing second fiddle to his brother for years he finally caught a break by winning a stunning old mansion. But as it turns out, that mansion is filled with ghost jerks. The biggest jerk of all being King Boo, who somehow manages to trap Luigi’s brother Mario (maybe you’ve heard of him) in a living painting. With the help of Professor E. Gadd and his trusty Poltergust vacuum, Luigi must brave the haunted mansion to find clues to his brother’s whereabouts. We’re all still waiting on Nintendo to release an official Game Boy Horror. Maybe someday...
Pumpkin Hill - Sonic Adventure 2
The original Sonic Adventure games suffered from too many uninspired playable characters. Who really wants to be Amy, Big the Cat, or (let’s be honest here) even Tails when you can control everyone’s favorite blue blur? Adventure 2 decided to double down on this terrible idea, by having both a hero and villain team to control. Atop the aptly named Pumpkin Hill players must control Knuckles while he digs for chaos emerald bits to the beat of a specifically tailored rap song. The really scary part is the game’s wonky camera. LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU! Oh wait, you can’t.
Halloween Town - Kingdom Hearts II
What’s this? What’s this? A mash-up RPG? What’s this? A boy wielding a key? Ok, that’s enough of that.
When the initial Kingdom Hearts launched to critical acclaim in 2002, Disney fans the world over began to speculate what cool intellectual properties they might bring into the second installment. Square did not disappoint with the inclusion of a world based on the stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Halloween Town hub is a wonderfully crafted mishmash of things that go bump in the night, and the boss fight with that no-account Oogie Boogie is a memorable (and disturbing) moment.
The Bayou - Costume Quest 2
When twins Wren and Reynold set out to their yearly Halloween exploits they come across Dr. Orel White, an evil time-traveling dentist who wishes to rid the world of the sugary holiday. Our heroes’ worst fears are realized when their friends from the future stop in to alert them that Dr. White has succeed and that they must now travel back in time to his swampy childhood bayou to stop him. During turn based battles players can transform into realistic versions of their costumes and attack enemies with appropriate flare. Because who doesn’t want to be a pterodactyl or a giant piece of candy corn?
The Lich Yard - Shovel Knight
Retro-inspired platformer Shovel Knight is filled to the brim with ghoulish enemies and obstacles. The most haunting destination that the gallant hero visits on his travels is the abode of the phantasmal Specter Knight. Undead soldiers and hat-wearing spirits run amuck in every corner of the Lich Yard, attempting to slow down Shovel Knight’s progress. In the games newest update (and Treasure Trove edition) players can even take control of Specter Knight himself. It’s like they always say — if you can’t beat’em, join’em.
The Factory - Inside
Though it’s older brother Limbo may have more downright frightening moments, many consider Inside to be the magnum opus for developer Playdead. The weight of its unsettling atmosphere and unexplained abominations will sit heavy on your mind as you work your way through the dreary factory floor. It’s a game that only takes a handful of hours to complete; so turn off all the lights, grab some snacks and dive in. You’ll be glad you did.
The Woods - Night in the Woods
When college dropout Mae returns to here hometown of Possum Springs her day-to-day adventures start to take a dark turn. Friends are disappearing, body parts are being found in the street, and there’s something going on out there in the woods. There is plenty of hilarious dialogue and creepy settings to keep players enthralled here. Not to mention you get to play songs like “Die Anywhere Else” and “Pumpkin Head Guy.” And don’t forget — Gregg rulz ok.
Honorable Mentions: The Ghosts N’ Goblins series, Donkey Kong 64's Creepy Castle, whatever is happening with Giygas in the final battle of EarthBound, that other game you love that I forgot
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