This content originally appeared in issue #1 of the Nintendo Fun Factor zine. The issue is available as a free download here; check it out!
While the survival horror genre did not reach its peak point of popularity until the mid-90’s and the advent of CD-ROM technology, the Famicom/NES did feature some incredible horror games. Whether they be licensed takes on popular 80’s slasher films or more original and obtuse attempts to frighten gamers on 8-bit hardware, the system featured a handful of terrific horror games worth looking back on.
Sweet Home (1989, Famicom; Translation by Gaijin Productions and Suicidal Translations)
Sweet Home, released on the Famicom in 1989, is best known for being Capcom’s and designer Shinji Mikami’s primary source of inspiration in creating the original Resident Evil (RE1 was initially planned as a remake of Sweet Home). After playing it, one can clearly see the influence of the game in Resident Evil and also why this groundbreaking horror adventure/RPG was so inspiring to the the team who would go on to create the most successful video game horror franchise of all time.
Sweet Home opens with five characters entering a mysterious, secluded mansion
surrounded by woods (sound familiar?). The characters’ initial goal is to capture a
photograph of a painting, but as the door of the mansion slams shut behind them,
another goal becomes immediately apparent: survival. In order to survive the horror of sudden chandelier crashes, gruesome character deaths (by Famicom standards), and battles against creepy enemies such as undead dolls, snakes hidden in skulls and more, the player must initiate teamwork between characters. Each character has a unique item necessary to make it through the mansion, but none can progress in traversal or battle alone- forcing the player to make use of the “team” command, which creates small adventuring parties and increases the characters’ chance of survival.
Far from a mere footnote in the history of a successful franchise, Sweet Home is an
innovative, atmospheric, and immersive experience that is unlike any other game on the
Famicom. Stick together and you may even make it out alive…
Friday the 13th (NES, 1989)
Friday the 13th, developed by Japanese studio Pack-In-Video and published by LJN games, is a fairly faithful and frightening interpretation of the most iconic horror
film series of the time. The game places players in the role of a handful of employees charged with caring for the children of Camp Crystal Lake, all of whom are soon to be hunted by the game’s antagonist, Jason Vorhees.
Because the player’s primary purpose is to rescue campers from the blood
thirsty Jason, the game’s opportunity to create fear and tension is two-fold. The threat of Jason appearing on-screen and attacking the player is constant, but there is also a perpetual feeling of racing against the clock. While we may not want to race through the games map in fear of Jason popping out on the next screen, we must if we are to save the campers in peril. The game is notoriously derided by the gaming press and fans alike, though we at Nintendo Fun Club are frankly confused by its poor reputation. Friday the
13th offers a unique, faithful, and at times genuinely frightening, take on an 80’s horror staple. It may not be a technical marvel or gameplay innovator, but it is exactly what an NES interpretation of the Friday the 13th series should be: campy, sometimes frightening, often illogical, and always fun.
Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom, 1989)
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, before Mortal Kombat and DOOM, Splatterhouse symbolized everything risque, bloody, and violent about video games. So, basically everything cool if you were an elementary
school student like I was at the time. After playing Spatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti for a few minutes and seeing a super deformed version of the axe-wielding Rick confront a disco dancing vampire leading a rendition of
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” you may ask yourself: “is this a joke?” Yeah, it kind of is. But it’s a very good joke.
If the inspiration behind the original Splatterhouse was Friday the 13th and Evil Dead, Wanpaku Graffiti is more Evil Dead 2 mixed with Walt Disney’s classic macabre musical short “Skeleton Dance.” It’s colorful and silly, but also contains some gross-out gags, like a woman lying on a table whose stomach bursts open, releasing monsters from within that are quite disturbing (it’s even more unsettling when she gets up, yawns, and walks away afterwards).
More platformer than sidescrolling beat-em-up, Wanpaku Graffiti’s bouncy gameplay matches its aesthetic. Don’t be deceived by the chibi visuals though- this game has some pretty fierce difficulty spikes, specifically regarding boss battles. While the common enemies in the stages are
pushovers (and drop enough health to ensure any player familiar with the genre should be able to progress through the
stages with ease), the mid and end level boss fights are true tests of perseverance.
The sometimes frustrating nature of these
boss fights should in no way deter you from checking out Splatterhouse: Wanpaku
Graffiti though. It’s an enjoyable, playful take on the source material with enough
understated creepiness to please fans of the original.