Halloween Meltdown ’14: Games for Halloween, pt. 1

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Games, you guys. They’re fun. I like them. Also, some of them are very Halloween-ish. Here’s one of them!

Almost exactly one year ago I included Demon’s Crest in a list of scary game moments. For this year’s Halloween Meltdown I thought I’d give this game its due, because it’s really that good.

Released in 1994, Demon’s Crest is actually the third entry in the Gargoyle’s Quest series, which is itself a loose spinoff of the venerable Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I never played the Gargoyle’s Quest games (though I’m kind of wishing I had), but Demon’s Crest is, in my opinion, a clear answer by Capcom to Konami’s Castlevania franchise. DC has all of Castlevania’s creepy (but cartoony) ambience, its at times maddeningly difficult combat, and more than its share of the so-called “Metroidvania” gameplay (exploring an area, then backtracking through it once you’ve collected new items or abilities which allow you to uncover hidden items). It is, in short, a total Castlevania ripoff, near as I can tell; and it is every bit as good as Konami’s gothic horror franchise (at least through its SNES incarnations).

You play as Firebrand, a sort of antihero in that, you know–he’s a demon. But see, there are other demons, and they’re way worse. So Firebrand, like, fights them.

Alright, so, it’s a little thin on plot. Basically, Firebrand needs to reassemble these magical crests that grant him crazy powers and take down this big demon lord named Phalanx. The game is ostensibly set in the “demon realm,” populated entirely by, well, demons; but there are hints that humans once existed here as well, but have long since died out.

The environments are gorgeous, full of chain-rattling ghouls and creepy castles. Makes me want to move right in.

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I could totally live there. I hear they have great schools.

Demon’s Crest isn’t scary, but it’s full of undead monsters and demons and ghouls and it’s perfect for getting into the Halloween mood. Just be warned: it’s hard.

Stitches: On the Need for a Good Horror MMO

I have to preface this by saying I’m not a big World of Warcraft guy. By that I mean, I haven’t played it in nearly a decade and I was never any good at it, and I don’t know the lingo, and I’m sure I’m going to screw up all kinds of details here that will make serious players cringe. But I was into it for a short while, enough to appreciate some aspects of the game that probably sailed right by the majority of folks who were actually good at it.

Right. That grisly character up yonder is Stitches, an undead monster that periodically rampages through an area in WoW called Duskwood. Now, the storyline here, such as it is, is really immaterial: what matters is that, in this portion of the game, you’re in this creepy haunted forest full of, like, spidery trees and undead monsters and all kinds of other generic crunchy horror goodness. If you suck at the game, as I did, you’re likely just trying not to die. Then at random moments this giant pile of rot comes barreling down the road, and it’s just great. I couldn’t find a video with a good view of the Abomination as he lumbers through the forest, but this at least gives you some idea of what the man himself is like in-game (via YouTuber WCQuests):

Doesn’t look scary, right? And it’s really not. Except when you play it, it has this weird mix of cartoonish graphics and weird sounds and the fact of the aforementioned giant undead thing blubbering towards you with several giant sharp killy things. It’s creepy in a fun way, and the only games I can think of offhand that manage a similar air of cartoony creepishness are Ghosts ‘n Goblins and its sort-of sequels, Demon’s Crest and the Maximo games. Oh, and MediEvil. Look at how fun this nonsense is:

As for WoW, there is some creepy stuff here, as I recall: the mythos could get pretty dark, and if you take the time to read all the fluff text that accompanies various quests, it can actually be kinda horror-y. But there’s also this alchemical combination of a dark, purplish color palette, trees that disappear into the fog, dim lantern light, and the pervasive knowledge that you’re in a cursed forest that makes Duskwood a compelling environment, and Stitches’ inevitable arrival something of a treat for horror fans. At least, it was for me.

Trouble is that there don’t seem to be many games that make use of this type of cartoony aesthetic in a generally horrorish context. These days we get Outlast and Dying Light and The Last of Us. And those all look great, though I haven’t been able to play them myself (Dying Light‘s not even out yet). But there’s this emphasis on gritty, gory, hyper-realistic, stressful horror, while the kind of supernatural, atmospheric, slightly goofy but also creepy kinda thing that Duskwood and Stitches manage to achieve is neglected.

I’d love to see an MMO where a Duskwood-like environment is the norm, where mist and lamplight and ambient noises create tension and where things come barreling at you out of the forest (I love it when things come barreling at you).

Actually, inexplicably-famous YouTuber PewdiePie has some videos on a recent horror game that captures some of the aesthetics I’m talking about (yes, okay? Sometimes I watch PewdiePie videos. Shut up.). I’d like to see this sort of look combined with RPG-style gameplay. Somebody do that.