Monday, August 23, 2021

Playing With (Horrific) Super Power! 30 Years of Super Nintendo in North America

Really, what more can anyone say about the Super Nintendo, which has now hit the big 3-0 here in North America? The successor to the NES was the best-selling console of its era, went toe-to-toe with the Sega Genesis in the “console wars” of the 90s, and for many remains the most-cherished Nintendo console of all time. Part of that cherishing is, of course, the games.

Say what you will about Nintendo’s kid-centric image, developers still gave genre fans plenty of horror in amongst the over 700 titles released for the system. And yes, many fans will know about these titles. But, for those who didn’t grow up in the 90s, here’s a sampling of some of the best horror games on the system. It’s by no means “definitive”, but at least it’s an excuse to run to your parents’ attic and dig out your SNES. And yes, some of these are Japan-exclusive. But, if you’re savvy enough, you’ll be able to find a way to play ’em.

Zombies Ate My Neighbours (Lucasarts, 1993)

Surprising for some, Lucasarts did more than just Star Wars or Indiana Jones games. Zombies Ate My Neighbours scratches that B-movie itch with humour and challenging gameplay that was addictive as it was fun. The simultaneous two-player gameplay made the game a blast with a friend as you tried to save your neighbours from being killed by zombies and other movie monsters. The game spawned a sequel in Ghoul Patrol, which is equally as fun.

Clock Tower (Human Entertainment, 1995)

A Japan-only release, the first instalment in the Survival Horror series is often sadly overlooked by the Resident Evils and Silent Hills. But as we’ve mentioned before, the game deserves recognition for its innovations in the genre. Clock Tower is great send-up to many horror film classics, and the game continually has the tension ratcheted up as you try to solve puzzles and/or hide from the dreaded Scissorman. Adding to it all is a soundtrack that only serves to up the tension all the more. The game was eventually ported to the PlayStation as Clock Tower: The First Fear in North America.

Super Castlevania IV (Konami, 1991)

All these years later, and Konami’s classic still remains as fun as ever. But you already knew that. Everything from the graphics and the atmosphere to the controls to the legendary music by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo makes Super Castlevania IV a definite must-play for the system. The “reimagining” of the first game adds a few new tricks, such as a directional whip and the ability to swing from specifically-placed hooks. Also, the game made use of the SNES’ famous Mode 7 graphical capabilities in several levels. While it’s seen as one of the easier Castlevania games, it still presents a worthy challenge for many.

Doom (Sculptured Software, 1995)

That “kid-friendly” image? That wasn’t going to fly with id Software’s iconic first-person shooter. So it was a surprise that Doom would end up on the SNES relatively intact. Despite that, the reality was that the SNES was never going to pull off a great version of Doom. But, thanks to Randy Linden (who would go on to create the PlayStation emulator Bleem!), the port managed to pull off something that was thought impossible in the first place. It’s pixelated as hell and runs pretty choppy, but it’s an engineering marvel when you think about it.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Psygnosis, 1993)

Film-to-video game adaptations almost always scream “cash-in”, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula is really no different. Playing as Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker, you’ll be battling Dracula, his brides, his coach driver (??), his dragon (?!) and more through six stages. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s a pretty standard action game involving you walking and killing enemies as you make your way to the exit. And while the graphics aren’t anything impressive, and the boss fights are pretty mundane, the music is probably the most impressive thing about this game. Really, the game itself is far better than what Sega CD owners got, so that has to count for something.

Demon’s Crest (Capcom, 1994)

A spin-off of the Ghosts ‘N Goblins series, Demon’s Crest is another game that often gets neglected by fans. And again, it’s a shame, since Demon’s Crest offers up a different experience than what Sir Arthur provides. Capcom added RPG elements to the game, as well as making the game’s tone a bit darker. The soundtrack by Toshihiko Horiyama makes better use of the SNES hardware than Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts with some great gothic organ music. There are also multiple endings to the game, giving you more incentive to explore. About the only real drawback is the game’s short length, which isn’t helped by the fact that you’ll end up revisiting the same areas multiple times to grab certain items. Still, it’s worth a play for those who are looking for something along the lines of Super Metroid.

Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (Capcom, 1991)

Speaking of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the third game in the series continued the tough-but-fair gameplay of the first two games, while also redeeming the questionable port of the first game on the NES. While the soundtrack is very early SNES, it still has some memorable tunes to match the tough-but-addictive gameplay that admittedly didn’t change much from the previous games. Just be sure to memorize everything if you’re going to master this one.

Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994)

We’ve mentioned before that Super Metroid isn’t pure horror, but it certainly borrows a lot from the Alien films, and that’s more than alright with fans. There are also more than a few horrific moments, such as the battle with the Chozo statue that has it walking around with a gaping hole dripping blood, to the Crocomire battle that has it pursuing you, even after you melted its flesh off in the lake of lava. Coupled with Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano’s wonderfully atmospheric score, it’s really no wonder why many fans feel this is one of the best (if not the best) the SNES offered during its lifetime.

Majyūō (Nihon Soft System, 1995)

Known as King of Demons, this was one title that Nintendo of America would never have allowed to be published in the West. The story has you trying to rescue your wife and daughter from the depths of Hell after your former best friend Bayer sacrifices them to resurrect the King of Demons. Mixing a combination of Castlevania and Altered Beast, you’ll not only be blowing away demons with your gun, you also have the ability to transform into various demonic forms. Majyūō does fall a bit in its length, but it makes up for it with some epic boss fights. Plus, the road to hell is paved with some excellent music by composers Hiroshi Iizuka and Tomohiro Endo. The grim plot will be lost on non-Japanese speakers, there are “ways” to enjoy a translated version. You’d be hard-pressed to find a game in the SNES library that deals with this sort of subject matter and tone.

The Addams Family (Ocean Software, 1992)

Yes, another example of a video game tie-in that was made solely as a blatant cash grab. Once again, the game is playable, though nothing stands out for this generic side-scroller. Controlling Gomez as you explore the Addams’ mansion is a slippery affair, and it doesn’t help that the hit detection on Gomez will have you being hit while jumping on enemies on more than one occasion. The game does offer open-ended gameplay in allowing you the choice to visit any area of the mansion you choose at the start, as well as after completing a level. There’s also thankfully a password system that eases the pain of having to memorize level layouts in order to survive. The film’s sequel, Addams Family Values, also saw an video game adaptation for the SNES, which was released in 1995.

Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror (Jorudan, 1992)

Admittedly, Musya isn’t the best game. It won’t win any awards for its originality (the story is your typical “save the damsel in distress” premise), and the controls are, shall we say, “interesting”, but it certainly looks good. Enemies have a Japanese tone to them (hence the subtitle), but one would think severed heads, giant floating eyeballs and demons are able to breach the divide. The environments are well detailed, but don’t really venture into hellish territory as what we see in Majyūō. Sadly, the controls are stiff, and your main character Imoto seems to defy the laws of physics (in a bad way) with his movement, making platforming a chore. Your attacks don’t repel enemies so much as they just barrel through you and eat away at your health. It’s not a bad game, but when you have superior alternatives, it’s definitely a curiosity more than a must-play.

Nosferatu (SETA Corporation, 1995)

More Prince of Persia than Castlevania, Nosferatu has no connection whatsoever to the F. W. Murnau classic, or the 1979 version. That’s probably for the best, as it probably would have made for a more interesting game, as what’s here is wasted potential. You play as Kyle, who must rescue his love Erin from Nosferatu’s clutches. That involves Kyle making his way through the castle, avoiding traps and enemies. Combat is limited to hand-to-hand, where you can grab crystals to upgrade your combos. It’s not as satisfying as a Belmont whip, and the hit detection will drive you nuts during boss fights. The animation for Kyle is quite good as he leaps, climbs and runs, but honestly, that doesn’t make up for the fact that this game should have been so much more. You’d be better off sticking with the two games that Nosferatu drew inspiration from, and ignore this disappointment.

Warlock (Realtime Associates, 1995)

Inspired by (not based on) 1989’s Warlock (though coming out after the sequel, 1992’s Warlock: The Armageddon), this adaptation is another average platformer. You are a druid who must follow the Warlock through time in order to stop from assembling six ancient runestones that will undo creation itself. That doesn’t explain the game’s clunky controls. Jumping and dodging are a chore, and attacking forces you to stop in your tracks, completely ruining any sort of pacing to the combat. That being said, the game certainly looks good, and the music is appropriately moody. That being said, you’re probably better off sticking with Alien 3 or Jurassic Park if movie adaptations are your thing.

Jurassic Park (Ocean Software, 1993)

While the Sega Genesis version often gets the most notice, the SNES version is no slouch, despite being completely different. Taking on an overhead perspective, the gameplay is admittedly shallow, since you’re having to run around doing things like restarting generators or getting the computer system back online. However, things change up once you enter a building, as the game switches to a first-person perspective a la Doom. Once again, the SNES doesn’t exactly handle these segments well, but the atmosphere created by the sounds of Raptors and Dilophosaurs roaming the dark halls is enough for anyone to sit up and take notice.

Alien³ (Probe Software, 1993)

Say what you will about Alien 3 the film, but Probe’s Alien 3 the game once again bucks the old trope of video game adaptations. Released a year after the film hit theatres, Probe took it upon themselves to update the SNES version to give it extra polish. The result is an enjoyable run & gun game for the system. Admittedly, the game is bogged down by its repetitive nature. But the tension of Ripley having to traverse the correctional facility with a limited arsenal, coupled with the equally-tense score by Steve Collett that mimics music from all three films, is very satisfying.

Mortal Kombat II (Sculptured Software, 1994)

After the controversy of Nintendo censoring the first game (leaving the Genesis with the superior version), Nintendo came to their senses and gave Midway’s wildly-successful sequel the gloriously gory port it deserved. The result was closer to the arcade version than the Genesis, and retained all of the arm ripping, acid spewing and gut grenades to the delight of SNES fans. While it wasn’t arcade perfect (slowdown persists during some fights, and character sprites aren’t as detailed), it was the best Mortal Kombat game for home consoles until Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 came around.

The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang (Bullet Proof Software, 1994)

For those looking for a bit more cute to their horror, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang. The story for the game involves the titular Spike McFang, a young vampire who faces off against the evil zombie general Von Hesler, and his attempts to invade his parents’ kingdom. Unfortunately lost in the shuffle when it came to other games in the Action RPG genre (such as A Link to The Past, for example), the game has a few novel ideas. For example, Spike McFang employs the rarely-used mechanic of an AI companion, which can also be controlled with a buddy for couch co-op play a la Secret of Mana. Spike also makes use of his cape and top hat for attacks, as well as magic cards for spells. Combined with some quality animation, bright graphics and a fun soundtrack by Hisashi Masashita, Spike McFang is admittedly a little linear (not to mention difficult), but it’s an enjoyable title.

Contra III: The Alien Wars (Konami, 1992)

Alongside Castlevania, Contra was Konami’s other big-name franchise that received a superb upgrade with the 16-bit era. Granted, Contra has always steered towards being more sci-fi action a la Aliens than outright horror. But that seems like splitting hairs when you’re blowing away waves of the Red Falcon’s minions, or taking on a T-800-esque boss that harkens back to the original Terminator if you blow it in half. And once again, Konami’s sound team provides an awesome score that only gets you pumped up even more as you dodge enemy fire while waiting for the Spread Shot to show up. It’s still hard as hell to this day, but it’s so damn fun.

Adventures of Dr. Franken (MotiveTime, 1993)

An enhanced version of a mediocre Game Boy title of the same name, Adventures of Dr. Franken sees The Creature (known as Dr. Franken) having to recover parts of his girlfriend Bitsy, who had disassembled herself in order to ship her body parts to New York City (which were subsequently lost) as part of their vacation. Unfortunately, as amusing as the premise is, Dr. Franken boils down to searching the level, collecting what’s necessary, and finding the exit. Dr. Franken is also a bit cumbersome to control, and the hit detection often has you taking needless damage. Combined with the lack of a continue or password system (though you start out with three lives, and can find more as you progress), Adventures of Dr. Franken is another play for curiosity’s sake title.

Laplace No Ma (Group SNE, Vic Tokai, 1995)

Also known as “Demon of Laplace”, this Japan-only RPG is dark and tinged with Lovecraftian undertones, with a sprinkling of Survival Horror to boot. Taking place in Newcam, MA (which in turn is modelled after Arkham, MA, hence the Lovecraft aspect), you must investigate the Weathertop Mansion, whose owner just so happened to have been dabbling in black magic. The results of which have populated the mansion with all sorts of otherworldly creatures. While the combat is typical for RPGs of the time, the game’s real strength is the quality of its quests and story. The sheer number of things you can investigate during your playthrough to discover clues to unlock more of the mansion and to find out what happened is quite detailed. Obviously, you’ll need to get a translation patch for this one (no, we’re not going to tell you where), but once you do, you’ll be rewarded with an RPG that, while linear, relies on the strength of its story to entertain. And it does.

Out Of This World (Interplay, 1991)

Known as Another World outside of North America, OotW is more in line with Super Metroid as a sci-fi thriller, but does share more than a few tense moments. Plus, the landmark title served as inspiration for other games of the genre in its cinematic presentation. As Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama put it, the opening of the game made him realize “the potential games had for stirring an emotion like fear in the player.”

Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The Video Game (Acclaim, 1995)

Spawn’s first video game outing may be a derivative beat-‘em-up to casual fans, but it does try to do more than that. For one, the production values in the art and animation quite good, and add more variety to the the presentation. The fact that Spawn has far more moves available to his attacks adds variety to the gameplay, as does the mechanic of having to watch your Necroplasm energy while performing some of these attacks. However, execution of these attacks can be a bit clumsy at times. Not to mention that the game employs a lot of cheap hits coming from offscreen enemies that can frustrate in later levels. If you can tolerate the frustration, you’ll be rewarded with one of Spawn’s better video game adaptations.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Sony Imagesoft, 1994)

Another film adaptation that sadly looks good, but seriously lacks in the gameplay department. Taking a loose approach to following the film, you guide The Creature across six levels. Despite the game’s animation being quite good and the appropriately moody music, the controls are abysmal. Sony made the brilliant decision to frontload the first two levels with switch-hunting and block puzzles, which if that doesn’t kill your interest, then the aggravating difficulty of the later levels with their lack of health powerups will. Obviously, there are better film adaptations than this, so avoid wasting your time with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Shin Megami Tensei (Atlus, 1992)

While the Megami Tensei series didn’t begin on the SNES, this entry is the earliest to have been translated for Western fans. Another example of a game that would have never been allowed on Western shores, SMT has you battling between God, Satan, and everything in between with monsters, demons and other creatures from an array of religions and mythologies. If the decidedly dark and serious subject matter didn’t turn off Nintendo from importing this one, then the complexity of the conversation system and the series’ iconic fusion system would have made it even less accessible for the majority of the West. Of course, years later, we can now appreciate what Atlus was doing, and through various means (and ports), SMT can be seen as not only one of the better RPGs for the console, but also one of its more horror-centric RPGs.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!


Some of Scary Horror Stuff's Freakiest Short Horror Film Features!

The latest on the horror genre, everything you need to know, from Freddy Krueger to Edgar Allan Poe.

How Plausible Is It to Have the "Hocus Pocus" Kids Back for Some More Halloween Hijinks?

Potentially very good. See below. It turns out that the announcement is official according to the Carrie Bradshaw of the Sanderson bunch (Sarah Jessica Parker): there will be a "Hocus Pocus" sequel, premiering on Disney+.