Seeing as how it’s Halloween, now would be the perfect time to indulge in some spooky gaming. There are certainly many quality titles designed to make your hairs stand on end (even on Nintendo’s notoriously family-friendly consoles), giving gamers who like a good scare plenty of options for their Halloween fix. If you need some help deciding on where to start, here are what I personally consider to be the top ten games to play this holiday. It is true not all of the titles on this list may be frightening, but each one embodies the spirit of Halloween in its own unique way.
10. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii)
One of the most underappreciated gems in Wii’s library, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon paints a haunting picture of a post-apocalyptic world. Players assume the role of Seto, a young boy and the apparent sole survivor of the mysterious disaster that befell the earth, and must guide him through the derelict remains of society in the hopes of finding others who may have also been spared from the cataclysm. A somber atmosphere permeates every corner of the world as players come across the belongings of the recently-deceased (each of which is imbibed with the final memories of its doomed owner), but the game handily proves it can be just as creepy as it is melancholy– by the end of his quest, Seto will have traversed a number of traditional horror settings, from a crumbling subway station to a dilapidated hospital, before coming face-to-face with the catalyst responsible for the destruction. This oppressive atmosphere makes the game one of the most engrossing adventures available on its platform, and what better day to experience it (whether anew or for the very first time) than on Halloween?
9. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)
Widely regarded as the black sheep of its franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is undoubtedly one of Link’s strangest adventures. While not particularly frightening (especially compared to some of the other entries on this list), the game is still uncharacteristically dark for a Nintendo title– not only will the world be destroyed in a violent and fiery cataclysm if our hero does not retrieve the eponymous Majora’s Mask before its malevolent power causes the moon to crash into the earth, but even the very lands of Termina exude a foreboding atmosphere that is enough to unsettle the bravest of adventurers. This tension is most palpable in the haunted Ikana Canyon, a desolate wasteland where the spirits of the dead continue to roam the earth even in their afterlife. This area alone would be enough to justify the game’s spot on the list, but that the title also places such a heavy emphasis on collecting and wearing masks further ties it into the theme of this column– after all, what’s more indicative of Halloween than masquerading as something else? The title may admittedly not be the best representation of the holiday (hence why it only comes in at number nine), but that does not make it any less of an unusual (and oftentimes unsettling) experience.
8. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)
While its snowy setting may at first seem inappropriate for a Halloween game, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories still proves to be one of the most fitting titles to play tonight. A re-imagining of the first entry in its series, the game has players assuming the role of Harry Mason as he searches the sleepy burg of Silent Hill for his missing daughter, Cheryl. During his quest, he will periodically slip into the otherworldly Nightmare, an icy dimension populated by grotesque monsters with a taste for human flesh. Mason’s helplessness in the face of these gruesome creatures was an inspired touch that infused the title with a genuinely terrifying atmosphere, but perhaps even more unsettling was the fact the game psychologically profiled you as you played it and adjusted itself accordingly. It is true Shattered Memories had its share of faults (it’s hard to maintain the uneasy tension the permeates the game when the Nightmare gives way to the comparatively placid Silent Hill), but its many strengths more than compensated for its few shortcomings, making it one of the most engaging experiences on the console.
7. Geist (Nintendo GameCube)
Nintendo’s paranormal shooter Geist may not be the most critically-acclaimed entry on this list, but its unique premise makes it more than a worthy inclusion nonetheless. As John Raimi, a scientist-turned-specter who was forcibly divorced from his corporeal self by the evil experimentations of the Volks Corporation, players must navigate the insidious complex in which they are being detained and regain their bodies before the organization can enact its plot to conquer the world. The game’s biggest selling point was the ability to possess both living creatures and inanimate objects (thanks to Raimi’s newfound apparition-hood), and it made ample use of this mechanic at every opportunity by incorporating it into its puzzles and navigation. While the experience was ultimately marred by an unimpressive engine and some sluggish controls, its vision and innovative premise made it a breath of fresh air in a largely rote genre and one of the most unique video games of the past decade.
6. Dead Space Extraction (Wii)
Often overlooked for being a light gun game, Dead Space Extraction is the Wii installment of Electronic Arts’ burgeoning survival-horror series. Set before the events of the first Dead Space title, Extraction follows four colonists from Aegis VII as they do battle with the grotesque Necromorphs aboard the frigate Ishimura. Despite the limitations of its genre, the game was able to maintain the atmosphere for which the first was renowned, and it successfully weaved a compelling narrative (which expanded upon the nascent Dead Space universe) into its frenetic gameplay. It also helped that the title was rife with scares, and its cooperative mode meant a friend could join in on the alien-blasting fun.
5. House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
The second light gun game to make the list, House of the Dead: Overkill was also the first installment of the series to be developed exclusively for a home console. Like Dead Space Extraction, the title supports cooperative gunplay, allowing gamers to team up with a friend to tackle its seven “episodes.” What sets it apart from EA’s take on the genre, however, are its backdrops, which take you through more traditional horror settings like a desolate carnival and a zombie-filled mansion. Its B-movie aesthetic also helps make Overkill feel like the video game equivalent of a campy horror flick, the kind of mindless, gorey entertainment that is perfectly suited for a Halloween night.
4. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Nintendo GameCube)
The first M-rated game published by Nintendo, Eternal Darkness was a startlingly original take on the horror genre. Silicon Knights crafted a veritable thriller of Lovecraftian proportions with its tale of eldritch nightmares, which spanned two millennia and a dozen protagonists. The intricate plot, in which the player, through the actions of the twelve chosen heroes, must halt the evil designs of unspeakable gods looking to invade the earth, spurred gamers deeper into the heart of madness, but most memorable were the various “sanity effects” the title employed to enhance the experience, shattering the fourth wall with their metaphysical (and often frightening) illusions. There may never be a true sequel to this cult (no pun intended) classic– though that certainly won’t keep us from hoping for one— but the title still stands as one of the greatest (and most disturbing) to ever grace a Nintendo platform and deserves a spot in every gamer’s library.
3. Resident Evil 4 (Nintendo GameCube/Wii)
While there have been many great Resident Evil titles on Nintendo platforms, it is Resident Evil 4 that arguably best fits the theme of this list. Set predominantly in an unnamed rural village located in Europe, the game follows Leon S. Kennedy on his mission to rescue Ashley Graham, the kidnapped daughter of the President of the United States. Eschewing many of the tropes that have come to be associated with its series, Resident Evil 4 breathed new life into the survival-horror genre with its outdoor environments, smarter enemies, and improved controls (which were refined even further thanks to the Wii Remote). It is no wonder the game is widely regarded as the best installment in its franchise, and it is probably the most fun you can have running for your life.
2. Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)
Certainly a change of pace from the gruesome titles that dominate the better part of this list, Animal Crossing: City Folk exemplifies the spirit of Halloween by incorporating the actual holiday into its gameplay. Come the night of October 31, your neighbors dress in identical costumes and trick-or-treat about the village, wreaking mischief on those unfortunate enough to be caught outside without a pocketful of sweets. Hidden amongst the townsfolk, however, is the czar of Halloween himself, Jack, who rewards astute gamers (provided they still have candy, of course) with a rare piece of Halloween-themed furniture if they can find him. This is the only time of the year players can obtain this special set of furniture (that is, without somehow tampering with the game’s space-time continuum), making it the perfect title to play on a Halloween night.
1. Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo GameCube)
Outside of Costume Quest (which was ineligible for this list because it has not been released on a Nintendo platform), no title embodies the whimsy and fun of Halloween quite like Luigi’s Mansion. The cowardly plumber’s first solo adventure (that is, if you discount his foray into edutainment), Luigi’s Mansion sees Luigi firmly thrust into the role of the hero, forced to brave a haunted mansion to rescue his older brother, Mario. The title’s cartoony aesthetic holds up remarkably well even to this day, making the game a treat to behold, and its fun, Ghostbusters-inspired gameplay put a comical spin on what had, even at the time of its release, already become a rote premise. With a 3DS sequel on the way in 2012, now would be the most fitting time to give the GameCube classic one final play-through before Luigi goes on to find bigger and better mansions to explore.
There are no doubt many other games that could have easily fit onto this list, but the ones above are those that I feel are best representative of Halloween. Is there a particular favorite of yours that I neglected to mention? Feel free to name it below in the comments section!