“Family friendly” is a term often used to describe anything and everything Nintendo touches, but we all know better than that, don’t we? The famous Japanese card maker’s consoles have been knee-deep in the dead for as long as they’ve existed.
So! In the spirit of this spookiest of seasons we’ve selected some of the very best horror titles from Nintendo’s hardware history for your gaming enjoyment. Whether you want to be scared silly on SNES or get the gore going on GameCube, we’ve got a game for you…
It’s true to say the bones of the survival horror genre can be found here but the term “Prototype Resident Evil” sells the ambition and achievements of this 32-year-old Famicom game short.
The Mamiya mansion is a complex web of terrors, your under-equipped party of five encountering anything from possessed furniture to desperate final warnings scrawled in blood. The looming spectre of permadeath not only makes you fret over every injury but also serves as a constant reminder that your actions have real lasting consequences…
Honourable mentions: Any time you seat a NES cartridge not quite right and the graphics mess up but the game still tries to run in a broken, garbled, state. We hate that.
Orphaned teen Jennifer attempts to survive Bobby’s relentless scissor-snapping pursuit as well as uncover the dark truth behind the murderous Barrows family in this chilling point-and-click adventure. Cleverly, the placement of several key rooms is slightly randomised at the start of each fresh play, ensuring even veterans won’t know exactly where to run every time, and Bobby has an awful habit of turning up at the worst possible moment.
There are almost as many endings in Clock Tower as there are ways to die, keeping the game in your Super Famicom as well as your nightmares long after Halloween’s been and gone.
Honourable mention: Laplace no Ma — Explore a haunted mansion by claustrophobic lamplight in this creepy but stylish RPG-like adventure set in 1920’s Massachusetts.
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Angel Studios
Claire and Leon’s zombie-splattered journey through the remains of Raccoon City is a finely-tuned slice of survival horror perfection on any format, and the miraculous work needed to squeeze two CD-ROMS worth of FMV movies and prerendered backgrounds onto a single cart somehow only makes it feel even more special. It even manages to have a few extras too — including memos tying the story into what was at the time was the upcoming N64 prequel Resident Evil 0, a game which would eventually migrate to GameCube.
Honourable mention: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time — We’ll just say one word: ReDead.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Silicon Knights
Come for the murder, mystery, and ancient horrors plotting against us across multiple time periods, stay for the innovative sanity effects. From subtle “Did I really just see..?” changes to reality-bending weirdness to outright pretending to wipe your precious save files, Silicon Knights’ unforgettable GameCube title plays with its players in a way rarely seen before or since.
Honourable mention: Resident Evil — Remember the dog corridor? Everyone remembers the dog corridor from the PlayStation version of Resident Evil. And that’s why the remake only has the window panes crack, but not shatter, on your first time through. It’s your early warning to forget everything you thought you knew about the Spencer Mansion.
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Climax Entertainment
This alternative take on the events of Harry’s search for his daughter in Silent Hill is another horror game keen on drawing the player themselves into the spine-chilling experience, and as such the answers you give to Kaufmann and your own behaviour throughout the game effect everything from character attire to the twisted form the monsters you must run away from take.
This non-canonical version of Konami’s famous series builds into a surprisingly personal horror story, the revelatory ending perfectly merging Harry’s search for his daughter with your own attempts to uncover the truth.
Honourable mention: The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return — You’ll be so busy smiling at the endless supply of meme-worthy dialogue you’ll let your guard down just long enough for a screen-filling end of level monstrosity to rush straight towards you and you just can’t seem to hit the weak spot as it raises an axe the size of a car above your head and before you get a chanc—
Publisher: Curve Digital / Developer: Superflat Games
A firm grip on reality is entirely optional — and not necessarily all that helpful — in this malleable post-apocalyptic 2D adventure. Scavenge for food, try to get a good night’s sleep if you can, and do your best to hide in the shadows from the half-formed fleshy shapes roaming around wherever you go.
Do “You” finally succumb to madness and guilt, break free from the nightmares, or simply dance the night away?
Honourable mention: Project Zero: Maiden of the Black Water — We can see dead people, whether we want to or not — and we definitely don’t want to see any of Project Zero’s many dead people reaching out for our Camera Obscura with their ghostly fingers ever again.
“There’s nothing scary about a little boat out on the dark green zee” is a happy little thought that doesn’t survive contact with Sunless Sea’s excellent writing.
This is a game where human souls are delivered by the crate, impossible children made of snow and blood and teeth slowly melt away on your travels, and your strange and often cursed crew can be treated as anything from a lover to a meal depending as much on your mood as the cruel whims of inscrutable cosmic forces. THE SUN. THE SUN. THE SUN. THE SUN.
So terrifying that Nintendo Life got scared and didn’t dare review it. [Ouch! – Ed]
Honourable mention: Alien Isolation — Extensive attention to late Seventies sci-fi set details makes Amanda Ripley’s improvised attempts at survival feel like a personal tour of a place most of us hope we will never, ever, visit. Brilliant Switch port an’ all.
These were our picks, but what are yours? How about the handhelds? Which Nintendo horror games do you bring out for Halloween?