~Woooo~ ‘tis the season of spookiness as All Hallows’ Eve approaches. I hope you all get cosy (but not too cosy) with your Jack-o-lanterns and candy corn…or whatever you eat to get your ghoul on! This Halloween, I’ll be bundling up and playing some games that are definitely not scary because I’m a massive wimp…but, where’s the fun in that? Even Halloween Scrooges deserve silly spooks so, if you’re like me, here are ten games that are unexpectedly creepy but ostensibly a-okay! 👍
Be scared, be very very scared for spoilers ahead!
Who doesn’t like to distort wholesome premises? Pokémon games start innocently. Wee tween in an idyllic town stumbling on grand adventure…but there have always been some odd moments beneath the singsong friendship between monsters and trainers. Ghostly manors with spirits vanishing from the corner of your eye. That soulsucking Lavender Town theme. If you take a closer look at the lore, there’s plenty to be chilled by! Exhibit A: Pokédex entries. Plenty of ghost Pokémon are -you said it- actual ghosts. Appearances are deceiving. You might know to avoid that creepy Drowzee but Driftloon? The cute balloon with the fluffy toupee is fine, right? Wrong. Even my favourite Pokémon of all, Gengar, stalks your shadows and can basically turn into the gates of hell.
Legend of Zelda
No, I’m not talking about the trippy Majora’s Mask because everyone would agree that the grinning moon meteor of impending doom nudges the game into the properly scary pile. I’m talking about any Zelda game with this monstrosity:
Wallmasters – hate ‘em. Horrible disembodied hands dropping out of nowhere, spiriting Link away to the dungeon’s entrance to scare the bejesus out of me. Maybe they’re friendly. They are more of an inconvenience than actively harmful. Maybe they’re trying to say: ‘Hey, this dungeon is dangerous – away you go, little friend,’ like one might do with an astray insect. Maybe. But that won’t stop
me Link gleefully hacking them up.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
I don’t like this one because it ruins my perfect ideal of the clownish Blue Badger, friend and protector to all, in the AA games. In one investigation, Edgeworth has to walk through a haunted attraction. Spoiler: he gets clobbered by a creepy Blue Badger. Technically, it’s the Proto Badger, the Blue Badger’s predecessor, and he’s an abomination with soulless eyes. There is something innately disturbing about costumed predators and this scene is particularly effective in building suspense as Creeper Badger sneaks up behind his unsuspecting victim. Set amidst a muted palette, the heavy music rapidly increases as the distance decreases through a claustrophobic pinhole perspective. Usually these kinds of cutscenes end in death. Edgeworth doesn’t die thankfully but the Blue Badger is forever besmirched.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
Sorry-not-sorry, here’s another Ace Attorney one! This crossover is weird anyway with its labyrinthine plot and theme of witches. Although AA and Professor Layton are relatively tame despite all the murder and stuff, their unholy child has some genuine 😱 moments. I’m mostly talking about the Witch trials, where Phoenix defends accused witches against a mob of witnesses, and there’s an awful moment where it all goes wrong. Witches proven guilty (and it doesn’t take much) are shut inside an Iron Maiden style cage and cast into a pool of lava. Early on, we see the tearful last moments of a ‘witch’ before she’s plunged into the hellfire but that’s nothing when Maya is accidentally jammed into one when one rescue attempt goes awfully wrong. The abject fear on her face, just like all the other damned, is a galling moment and much darker than anything seen before in these series.
Many otome have infamously tragic ‘bad endings’ where the heroine ends up dead or worse – sometimes at the very hands of her love interest! Hey, the yandere archetype is a thing and there’s a reason why Toma is the King of Yanderes. You’ve seen the memes, the cage, the bambi-eyed heroine who inadvertently trusted the worst possible boi. Jokes aside, the reveal of Toma being batshit insane after he drugs and imprisons the heroine is so scary because it’s a very relatable abuse of trust. Toma also blindsides the reader, initially coming across as a dependable, easy going guy. In fact, I chose his route because of these overt traits and felt thoroughly betrayed by him in the end. It’s brilliantly written to catch you off guard – I’m just glad I was on this side of the screen!
Like Amnesia, Boyfriend Dungeon shows that the scariest things are often (and unfortunately) relatable. In Boyfriend Dungeon, there’s a dude who just doesn’t get the message. He barrages the protagonist with texts, talks over them, leaves unsolicited ‘gifts’ at their door. He acts like a nice guy. He isn’t. Now, Boyfriend dungeon received a lot of flack about their trigger warnings (or apparent omission of them) and final redemption of said stalker and – whatever you think of that – I think it was very effective as the sort of understated fear of the known.
Ori and the Blind Forest
There’s a part in amongst all the marvelling and gleeful gallivanting in this picturesque Metroidvania where your little guardian of light has his proverbial wings clipped. This is a stealth portion where Ori must inch past the monstrous owl, Kuro, who towers over the background scouring your every move. The music really elevates this scene. It’s appropriately haunting, low and slow, then the pitch changes – screeching – whenever Ori is in a precarious position. It’s extremely effective, both as a mechanic (indicating you should get into cover) but also as a source of pressure and uncertainty, since Kuro abruptly will fly out of view every so often before diving back in a threatening way. This scene is so different from the majority of the game – the screen is drained of light, you can’t move as freely as usual – it’s an apt reminder of Ori’s vulnerability.
Cupid is a masterclass for mixing horror and eroticism. On the surface, Cupid is a gothic romance set in 18th Century France from the perspective of a beggar girl who crawls up from the dirt into the manor of a marquis. Cupid skirts this list because it’s clearly not not-scary and intends to disturb from the start, but I’d argue that you don’t see the full extent of its psychological horror until the climax, literally and figuratively, which is a brilliantly visceral piece of madness and bodily horror. It’s free, relatively short and I don’t want to spoil the story any further, so just read it.
Mario Party 4
Back to safety. Who would describe Mario Party as scary of all things? We’re not talking about the trepidation of stars being stolen or Bowser launching his arse into your game. No, have a look at Boo’s Haunted Bash, a board that is decidedly not scary despite the coffin train and red boos floating about. However, there is one part that made me pause as a child and that was the summoning of the Big Boo if you landed on a ? space three times. It’s signalled by a clock counting down in front of a blurry painting of the big blighter. The anticipation! What would happen? A cackle punctures the air and – actually I don’t know what happens because I never managed to trigger the conditions in game. It’s probably anticlimactic – Boo is always used to steal coins or stars – but I don’t want to ruin the magic.
Like Amnesia, I remember this notorious game blindsiding a lot of players back in the day. Half of Hatoful Boyfriend is a quirky pigeon dating simulator everybirdie can enjoy but, if you trigger the right conditions, the game warps into something very different. You can tweet your happy highschool romance away as the game ventures into an even more bizarre dystopian tale of decapitated heads, bloody revenge and biological warfare. It’s called Bad Boys Love for a reason – read it at your own risk!
There you go – ten games even a Halloween Scrooge can enjoy! Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any other recommendations (don’t say Resi Evil) in the comments!