The Halloween List Pt. 1: Horror-Themed PC Games (1986-1990)

Every year someone puts out a Top 5 or Top 10 horror video game list that contains only the most recent additions to the genre, but somehow manage to miss the games that started it all.  Horror-themed PC gaming has been going on for some time, beginning with text adventures and continuing with the action-adventures that we play today.  Let’s look at those games (sorted by their release dates), and made before 2000, because after all, this is a blog about retrogaming!

Today is part one – 1986 though 1990…

Part Two can be found here: The Halloween List – Horror-Themed PC Games (1991-1993)

Transylvania (Polarware, 1986).  A text adventure with optional static graphics set in the dark land of Transylvania.  Tasked with finding Princess Sabrina by King John the Good, the player faces several monstrous challenges, including finding a weapon capable of killing the werewolf that is an ever-present danger.
Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins (Capcom USA, 1987).  This classic side-scrolling arcade game ended up on several platforms, including the PC.  Players take the role of Arthur, a knight on a quest to rescue the Princess from a Demon King.  Along the way Arthur must defeat a variety of creatures, including a few varieties of undead.
The Lurking Horror (Infocom, Inc., 1987). An H.P. Lovecraft inspired text adventure (read: no graphics) game set in an empty university campus (G.U.E. Tech)…that’s not quite as empty as you’d like it to be.  Lots of puzzles and a constant creepy feeling that something is not quite right make this a great game. Great interactive fiction from the same writer of Spellbreaker and cowriter of the Zork series!
Dracula In London (SDJ Enterprises, Ltd., 1988).  This is a solid adventure game that can also become a multiplayer board game.  Dracula has arrived in London, and six adventurers are hot on his tail.  Each character has their own special function, and if you play it as an adventure game, you access all six, or individually if played as the board game version. All inventory and creature locations randomly reset for the next game, so the gameplay is huge.  (Yes, the box art shown is for a later re-release!)
Psycho (Box Office, Inc., 1988).   It seems that Norman Bates is the chief suspect in both a jewel heist and kidnapping, and a detective enters the Bates Motel to find solve the case.  If you’re touched by your opponents while in the mansion you fall asleep, and if you sleep for too long you’ll miss your four hour deadline to solve the mystery.  Don’t worry about talking to anyone in this action game; if it moves you might as well shoot it.  Did anyone actually see the movie before making this game?
Uninvited (Icom Simulations, Inc., 1988). A graphic text adventure (which essentially meant that a static image with text descriptions) that saw the player waking up after a car crash to find their brother missing, and a nearby castle the only reasonable place to begin the search.  Unfortunately, the castle turns out to be the former abode of a wizard and is now teaming with the undead, which are decent-sized obstacles to locating your missing sibling.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (Monarch Software, 1989).  In this game based on the movie of the same name, you play a character trapped in Freddy Krueger’s neighborhood, and needing to find four of your friends before Freddy carves them up.  The soul and power meters are interesting ways to make the nightmare scenario work, as is the constant torment from Freddy himself. Oh, and Westwood Studios were the actual programming team for this game!
Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet (Hi-Tech Expressions, 1990).  You play as Beetlejuice himself in a skeleton destroying arcade mashfest.  Lidia cleans up the skeletons with a vacuum cleaner (I’m not making this up!) and when she does Beetlejuice gets stronger.  Every so often a giant worm shows up and tries to kill you (all it takes is to touch you).  Lots of undead, but not much fear factor.
The Hound of  Shadow (Electronic Arts, 1989).  In this interactive fiction game, the action takes place in London during the 1920’s as your character is being hunted by a supernatural being.  The good news is that your character can improve their skills during the game (somewhat like an RPG); the bad news is that there is a time limit to solve the mystery and defeat the Hound.
Castlevania (Konami, Inc., 1990). Simon Belmont is a monster hunter who takes on the task of cleaning up the countryside of the monsters and undead that infest it, including Count Dracula himself.  This side-scroller was a classic NES game, but few realize that it was also released for the MS-DOS platform, too!
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed: The Action Game (Ocean Software, 1990). Based on the movie of the same name (and based on Barker’s novel, Cabal), the player assumes the role of Boone as he searches for access to the city of Midian, and then to free the Breed.  Not all that scary, though, but on the list as it is a Clive Barker game.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (Accolade, Inc., 1990). A graphic adventure/RPG hybrid with a first-person perspective where you must clean Elvira’s castle of the undead and other monsters that are preventing her from leaving her rooms.  A more detailed review of this game can be found here: Retro Game of the Week – Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1990).
Horror Zombies From The Crypt (Millennium Interactive, 1990).  A rare platform horror-themed game, with the focus on helping Count Frederick Valdemar escape his castle before the army of undead (including vampires, zombies, and spectres) can find him.  Lots of traps, hidden doors, secret levels, and other surprises, but nothing like playing a Mario game.
Hugo’s House of Horrors (Gray Design Studios, 1990). Hugo must rescue his girlfriend, Penelope, from a haunted house in an animated adventure game style.  Many puzzles need to be solved as you make your way through the house, and various enemies to be avoided or defeated. (Watch out for those vampire bats!)
Night Hunter (UbiSoft Entertainment, 1990).  In a nifty twist, players get to take the role of Count Dracula as he attempts to escape the clutches of his straight-laced nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing and his band of vampire hunters. Dracula has various vampire abilities on his side, but weaknesses, too, such as a mortal weakness to sunlight, so he must return to his crypt by dawn.  Not very scary, though!
Zombi (UbiSoft Entertainment, 1990). Four people are stuck on the roof of a shopping center after their helicopter runs out of fuel, with a zombie horde surrounding them looking to turn them into a tasty snack.  (Sound familiar?)  This is an adventure game, though, using a point-and-click interface to guide each character through the mall and to find (and use) a variety of inventory items along the way.

6 Responses

  1. […] Visit part one here: The Halloween List Pt. 1: Horror-Themed PC Games (1986-1990) […]

  2. […] The Halloween List Pt. 1: Horror-Themed PC Games (1986-1990) […]

  3. A most excellent selection. And there are two adventures I’ve never tried. I’m impressed.

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