As the spookiest day of the year looms, you may want to match the mood with the games you play. Fortunately, there are plenty of games to fit the Halloween theme out there, from action games with monstrous enemies to tense survival horror games which strike true fear into the player. I’ll be highlighting some of the best series for Halloween as well as an easy place to start for each.
First Installment: Resident Evil (Playstation), 1996
Average ESRB Rating: Mature
Resident Evil’s impact on gaming history is monumental, not only sparking the Survival Horror genre but helping establish zombies in popular culture around its release. The earliest installments task the player with making their way through the game by solving puzzles and fighting off zombies and other monsters, with a tense atmosphere created by forced perspectives, limited inventory capacity, limited controls, and even a limited number of chances to save your progress. These limitations may seem frustrating, but they enforce the realistic fear of the games’ scenarios to create a thrilling experience. Later installments such as Resident Evil 5 shifted focus to third-person shooters, preferring bombastic action to the slow, deliberate tension the series was built on. While the true fear factor is lost, these later titles can still provide an exciting experience as an action title. If you’re looking to experience the classic tension and fear, you can pick up fan-favorite Resident Evil 4 on just about any platform, and the recent Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Resident Evil 2 remake for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 maintain the dark atmosphere of the series’ beginnings. Resident Evil 5 and 6 are widely available for those looking for action, recently being released for Nintendo Switch as well.
First Installment: Castlevania (NES), 1986
Average ESRB Rating: Teen\
Although it was hard for anything on a Nintendo Entertainment System to be scary, Castlevania uses classic horror-film motifs and settings to create a sufficiently spooky experience. The classic-style titles are linear 2D platformers, focusing on getting to the end of the challenging stages while facing carefully-constructed scenarios along the way. The player character, usually a member of the Belmont clan out to put Dracula back into his grave once again, has a limited moveset which serves to force the player to think ahead and carefully consider their surroundings. Features such as jumps which follow specific, unalterable arcs and the delay on the start of the basic whip attack make for a difficult experience, but players who adapt to these limitations will come to appreciate the tightly-designed challenges every unique stage offers. Later titles broadened the appeal by shifting focus to exploration; while still 2D platformers, the limited controls were cast away, RPG elements like character stats were added, and Dracula’s Castle became a single, interconnected setting which players could explore; however, they wanted. With a breadth of weapons, gear, upgrades and new moves to find, exploring the intricately detailed castle is a satisfying experience. Some prefer the careful challenge of the classic titles while many favor the experimentation and exploration which newer titles offer. For a sampling of some of the best of both worlds, PS4 owners can pick up Castlevania Requiem, which includes the standout classic title Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and the first of the newer-style games Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Those interested in a wide sampling of the classic-style titles can pick up Castlevania Anniversary Collection on any platform.
Devil May Cry
First Installment: Devil May Cry (Playstation 2), 2001
Average ESRB Rating: Mature
Innovator in the Hack-and-Slash genre, Devil May Cry, is all about the action-packed demon slaying experience. Initially conceived as Resident Evil 4, the gameplay was deemed out-of-line with the franchise’s subdued themes but considered good enough to be its own project. Players assume the role of Dante, an occupational demon hunter, with the objective of fighting off the legions of demons he faces. Players are encouraged to chain together their wide variety of attacks in interesting and stylish ways for not only better scores but better damage, all the while being careful to avoid damage in the process lest their combo-fueled power trip be interrupted. While games of this type can seem like mindless button-mashers, a combo meter which rewards players for using attacks they’ve yet to use in the combo and the need to manage evasion and aggression adds some engagement to what’s happening. With near-constant action throughout every mission, it’s necessary to make a multitude of split-second judgements while balancing the wide array of options at your disposal. The learning curve can be high with so much at the player’s disposal, but mastery of the infinitely flashy combat is immensely satisfying and rewarding. The most recent installment, Devil May Cry 5, is easily available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4, while the first three titles are available as part of the Devil May Cry HD Collection on the same platforms. Nintendo Switch owners can also get a taste of the original versions of the first two games in the series.