It's the day before Halloween, and everyone's in the spirit. It's a time of year for autumnal leaves, dropping temperatures, and putting on a scary movie.
Admittedly, this year is a bit different than most. Trick-or-treating is a bit more complex now, and some of the scariest things have involved living inside for months on end. It's not exactly a normal Halloween, and honestly, we could all do with a bit of virtual tourism back to the one we know and love.
That's why, in the spirit of the holiday, we rounded up some games that do Halloween great. They're not the scariest games, but the ones with fun or interesting ties to the holiday itself, and all the festivities that entails. Grab a pail, throw on a mask, and let's go virtually door-to-door through some of gaming's best Halloween celebrations.
A gem from Double Fine's smaller, downloadable games renaissance era on the Xbox 360 and PS3, Costume Quest is the Halloween game to play if you're just itching for something that actually involves trick-or-treating. Written by Tim Schafer and Eliott Roberts, Costume Quest injects Double Fine's distinct oddball humor into a story about kids facing down candy-hungry monsters on Halloween night—when the RPG combat begins, Costume Quest's heroes transform into giant, superpowered what they've dressed up as.
Costume Quest's 2014 sequel didn't get quite as warm a reception, but if you think you've heard something about something new from the franchise in recent memory, you're not mistaken—last year, Amazon Prime Video released a cartoon adaptation of Costume Quest. I've not seen it, but having just learned that Will McRobb (The Adventures of Pete & Pete) and Fred Seibert (Adventure Time, Dexter's Laboratory) executive produced it, I'm willing to bet it has some good gags mixed with Halloween nostalgia too. —Mathew Olson
Spider-Man's Halloween mission is one of the handful of times where Insomniac really nails a balance of fan service and fun in the game's walk-and-talk sections. Tasked with tracking down a particular university scientist who's in danger, Peter rolls up to a Halloween party at the fictional Empire State University in his Spidey costume. Everyone else there is dressed-up, so he just sorta rolls with it, encountering a few fellow web slingers (including one drunk, shirtless, multiverse drop-out Spider-Man along the way).
Conveniently, Peter knows that the professor and his colleagues are all dressed up as some of his greatest foes, which is a great set-up for Insomniac to sneak in some classic comic book looks for Mysterio, Vulture, and The Lizard. After a tense section of combat inside one of the university's labs, the fight spills out into the university quad and lets players whip some pumpkins at enemies. All in all, a great use of Halloween in a superhero game. —Mathew Olson
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is an adventure game that's swathed in perpetual fall sunsets and shadows. Its haunting atmosphere alone cries "Halloween!" like a tormented Banshee, yet it still contains a specific tribute to All Hallows' Day. Partway through the game, protagonist Mae is recruited to play the role of a witch in the "Harfest" play that narrates the founding of Possum Springs. Mae falls into the role easily, which mostly requires a lot of cackling and cursing the rude young trappers who fail to offer her any food or drink (or one of their 300 beaver pelts) during her time of need.
Shortly after the play, Mae has a truly spooky encounter with a shadowy figure carrying a body—but her aunt, a member of Possum Springs' meager police force, tells Mae very firmly that she saw nothing. That night, Mae has a vivid dream involving a blood-red sky and a dark well. Maybe it's nothing—or maybe Possum Springs is a perpetual horror show that makes actual Halloween as tame as a kids' play. —Nadia Oxford
This is basically the free space on the Video Game Halloween Bingo Card, but Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the few hallmarks of Halloween filmmaking. Until we get a video game about Charlie Brown fighting the Great Pumpkin, we work with what we've got.
And to be fair, there's more than a lot here. Kingdom Hearts has done a number of Nightmare-themed levels over the years, though the original stands out thanks to its adherence to Halloween Town rather than a venture into Christmas Town. All of Kingdom Hearts' Halloween Town is set in a world full of Halloween, with Jack and Sally livin' like Jack and Sally, and there are some good creepy experiments from the doctor, too. It is ominous, spooky, and arguably one of Kingdom Hearts' better worlds. You get to fight Oogie Boogie on top of his slot machine! It rules! —Eric Van Allen
I've heard some people have save files set aside so they can always go back and play the Halloween section from Bully. In a game truly about being an annoying jerk, Bully embraces a side of Halloween that few do: the pranks.
Many forget the "trick" part of trick-or-treat, but Bully does not forget. The Halloween mission sees you running around in the same skeleton costume that the school bullies from Karate Kid wore, egging students and sticking Kick Me signs on their back. Are you absolutely a terrible person for doing all these things? Yes. That's also kind of the point of Bully. —Eric Van Allen
Sonic Adventure 2
"You know me, the fighting freak Knuckles! And we're at Pumpkin Hill! You ready?"
The "Zones" that make up the levels in Sonic the Hedgehog games don't always make sense. "Green Hill Zone?" That's fine. "Marble Zone?" Sure, that's an OK name to describe a bunch of ruins. Just don't ask me what the deal is with Pumpkin Hill, a level in Sonic Adventure 2 that's easily identifiable by its grinning pumpkins, its eternal twilight, and its bopping rap theme.
Pumpkin Hill is Knuckles' domain. He glides from hill to hill in search of pieces of the fragmented Master Emerald. He doesn't stop to ask himself why the area is teeming with jagged hills that are topped with stone Jack-O-Lanterns. Are they the remnants of a pagan culture? Does someone in Sonic Adventure 2's universe just really freakin' love Halloween, so they made a half-assed theme park dedicated to the celebration? I don't know. I don't ask questions. I just make Knuckles dig while the disembodied voice raps over his shoulder.
(I've no doubt the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book has covered the origins of Pumpkin Hill in explicit detail. Feel free to educate me in the comments.) —Nadia Oxford
Mega Man 7
Shade Man is a Robot Master from Mega Man 7 for the SNES. Though his name suggests otherwise, his special weapon doesn't let Mega Man throw sick burns that cause his enemies to rage-weep while they tweet vague song lyrics. No, Shade Man is a vampire robot, and he embraces his role with relish. He can even dive-bomb Mega Man, latch onto him, and drain the little blue bot of his energy.
I like Mega Man 7 more than most Mega Man fans, and I admit Shade Man's stage is a big reason for that. It's a tribute to all things spooky and scary. It references another classic Capcom franchise, Ghosts n' Goblins (hold down the "B" button when selecting Shade Man to get a Ghosts n' Goblins music remix, though nothing beats the original stage theme to be honest), it takes place in a gothic castle that has ravens perched everywhere, and there are even knight robots that transform into wolves when the full moon peeks out of the clouds.
"But where's the Halloween, Nadia?" Well, the stage's sub-boss is a big-ass Jack-O-Lantern. What more do you want? Oh, aim for its eyes when you shoot it; that's how you open up a passage that hides a picture of Dr. Wily dressed as a vampire. Is it a portrait of Wily's distant Carpathian ancestor? Or is Wily just proud of his Dracula cosplay? You make the call. —Nadia Oxford
Darkstalkers 3 / Vampire Savior
Also, those are all about the monster and horror movies, but Darkstalkers is about the origins. It's the classic tales that frightened children for years, only now they have fireball inputs and mix-ups. It's also just a fun fighting game, with some characters that have lived on outside of the series even if Darkstalkers itself has been quiet for ages. Celebrate Halloween by reviving this one from the beyond and playing a few rounds—DarkStalkers 3, also known as Vampire Savior, is generally considered a good place to start. —Eric Van Allen
Ghosts and Goblins
One of our more throwback picks is scary for a number of reasons. It's set in a world with actual ghosts and goblins, where braving the journey ahead means contending with all manners of things that go bump in the night.
Arthur's journey through Ghosts and Goblins is also arduous, because good heavens, these games are tough. It's a good kind of challenge, but getting through the legions of undead ghouls and wraiths to rescue the princess is no small feat. It's the right pick for those who want to celebrate Halloween by tearing their hair out. —Eric Van Allen
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
This notorious game has a fairly simple premise: you, with potentially the help of a friend, need to rescue your neighbors from the terror of many different terrors of the night. Some of these are standard spooky fare, while others come from movies or just the depths of one's unknown fears. I never knew a giant baby could be so frightening.
The thing is, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is pretty solid. It's surprisingly in-depth, there's a lot of enemies and weapons, and the co-op mode is some good fun. A retro throwback isn't a terrible way to spend Halloween, and it's good to be kind to your neighbors. In their shoes, you'd probably want them to save you from a legion of evil monsters too. —Eric Van Allen
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Rockstar hit upon a great idea with Undead Nightmare that it never really executed on in the same way again (you could argue that Ubisoft took a similar approach with FarCry 3: Blood Dragon a few years later, but I digress). Taking Red Dead Redemption's world, its gameplay, and its characters to then repurpose them for a non-canonical, zombie-infested expansion pack released one week before Halloween would be a savvy move even if it was only so-so in execution.
In reality, though, Undead Nightmare was a great demonstration of what Rockstar's capable of when it drops some of the self seriousness and hit-or-miss satire in favor of just having fun. Recycling Red Dead's open-world gameplay and tossing in the undead proved to be a winning idea, and the Wild West setting really helped the expansion stand out in the already crowded zombie game space of 2010. We even had two Left 4 Deads at that point, but the appeal of hopping back in the saddle as John Marston for a B-movie horror plot was too good to resist. —Mathew Olson