Looking for a few unsung 16-bit horror games to get your Halloween season rolling early? Well, here a few hidden (and horrific) gems for Sega’s beloved console
By: Jimbo X
When it came to horror games, the Sega Genesis absolutely pummeled the SNES. The “Splatterhouse” trilogy, a console-exclusive “Castlevania” that was even better than the hallowed “Super Castlevania IV,” and of course, quite possibly the finest “Ghosts ‘N Goblins” game ever all called the Genny home. Throw in semi-genre related titles like “Altered Beast, “Alisia Dragon” and “Mystic Defender,” and you had quite possibly the greatest console library ever for horror enthusiasts.
With so many high-quality games featuring ghoulish monsters, supernatural themes and buckets of pixelated gore, of course, a couple of unheralded gems were bound to fall through the cracks. Today, I’d like to draw your attention to five above-average to freakin’ great horror offerings on Sega’s venerable 16-bit unit that -- bloody tears a plenty -- you may have never experienced back in the day.
Consider this a two-for-one special: not only do you get a nostalgic taste of overlooked retro gaming goodness, you also get a glimpse at five titles positively perfect for getting you in the mood for some All Hallow’s Eve hokum. So plug in your lima-bean controller pads, shut off the lights and spark up a pumpkin spice scented candle -- it’s time to get Clinton Era freaky, folks.
Dragon’s Fury (1992)
Yeah, this is basically nothing more than an upgraded version of “Devil Crush” on the TG-16 -- but at the same time, it’s an upgraded version of “Devil Crush” on the TG-16, ya’ll!
You really wouldn’t expect video pinball and horror to gel so well, but “Dragon’s Fury” proves otherwise. This Tengen release fuses the tried-and-true mechanics of traditional pinball with an almost “Gauntlet”-like emphasis on top-down, kill-em-all action, as wave after wave of supernatural armies march their way across the playing field and do their damnedest to block your shots and send your silver ball down the drain. Add to that a never-ending stream of projectiles and some pretty gnarly mid-boss enemies (who conveniently double as bumpers) and you have one of the more intense 16-bit video pinball games you’ll ever play.
Each playing field has three levels, plus six (count ‘em six!) bonus stages, which are basically mini-games in which you use your flippers and rudimentary knowledge of physics to survive some nasty boss fights. Presentation-wise, this game is just phenomenal, with vibrant visuals (which owe more than a nod or two to the work of H.R. Giger) and some really awesome chip tune music. Of course, the big draw here are the controls and gameplay, and “Dragon’s Fury” does not disappoint in either category. Sure, it’s structurally simplistic, but nonetheless addictive - try firing this baby up late one evening, and don’t be surprised if you don’t burn a couple of hours on the gripping (and ultra-atmospheric) experience.
Haunting Starring Polterguy (1993)
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Once upon a time, not only did EA create NON-sports or racing games, they even went as far as creating their own mascot characters, complete with their own corresponding, original titles. While most of those were rather forgettable (anybody remember James Pond?), “Haunting” is a welcome exception.
The premise of the game is very simple. Much like “The Sims,” it revolves around a virtual family, engaging in typical, ordinary, completely banal every-day behaviors. The twist is, instead of playing a God-figure manipulating every aspect of their lives, you play a mischievous specter hell-bent on driving everyone in the house insane.
I’ve you ever played the underrated Gamecube offering “Geist,” this title is pretty much its two-dimensional forerunner. In every room in the house, there are certain items you can possess - for example, you can take over a mirror and make zombies crawl out of it, or turn the sofa into a living bear-hydra abomination. The key, ultimately, is to link together as many “scare-traps” as you can, so that the family member you’ve marked for spectral harassment gets walloped every which way he or she turns. Of course, you have to ration your ectoplasm (your lifeblood for being able to possess objects) or else you’ll get sent to hell (literally) to collect more ghost chutzpah. Granted, it doesn’t have that much replay value and the controls and slower pace take some time to get used to, but as a seasonal play, it’s really entertaining, and most certainly one of the more unique Halloween-centric games out there in Sega Land.
Mutant League Hockey (1994)
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
More people recall “Mutant League Football” (if you ask me, it probably had something to do with those gruesome magazine ads in EGM), but this was certainly the better game. While the pigskin game had more than a few problems adapting the “John Madden” football engine to a fantasy/comedy/sports title, this ice-hockey spin-off benefits from borrowing the engine of “NHL ‘94,” considered by just about everybody with any sort of sense to be the best hockey video game ever.
If you like puns, you’re going to get a lot of them in “MLH” - among other high-larious bits, there are squads named the Dead Things, the Mighty Weenies, the Montroyale Cadavers and my personal favorite, the Saint Mucus Ooze. Obviously, “Mad Magazine” humor alone isn’t enough to make a great fantasy sports game, and thankfully, EA really put together something spectacular here.
All of the best gimmicks from “Mutant League Football” return. You can bribe referees to make shitty calls against the opposing team, landmines are liberally sprinkled across the rink and the puck itself has a nasty tendency to explode at the most inconvenient times. But really, it’s the small things that make this game so memorable, like being able to pull your goalie and replace him with a suicidal skull that explodes (hopefully, taking out the scorer with it) and the fact that “dead” players remain on the ice as obstacles (even cooler? When the fall through thin ice obstacles, their corpses float all over the rink for the remainder of the period.) With great visuals, nice sound effects and a hockey engine that ACTUALLY provides a real hockey experience, “Mutant League Hockey” is certainly THE sports game to break out in honor of Oct. 31. And my goodness … just WAIT until you see how the fighting engine works!
The Ooze (1995)
Developer: Sega Technical Institute
This was one of the last major releases on the Genesis published by Sega, and it really demonstrated the level of innovation coming out of the House Sonic Built in the mid-1990s. In a way, this game is even more innovative than the much-beloved “Comix Zone,” and thankfully? This cartridge isn’t as wall-punchingly difficult, either.
In short, “The Ooze” allows you to play as the iconic B-movie monster, The Blob. As an amorphous green slime glob, you have the ability to “punch” opponents using your viscous appendages or take ‘em out via a nice, juicy toxic loogie (best be careful, though, as you can literally puke yourself to death in this one.) Each stage is more or less a labyrinth, presented in a top-down, God’s-Eye-View, with numerous warps and secret passageways to connect your from point A to point Z. And, as expected, the stages are just gummed up with evil soldiers, robotic drones and plenty of other health hazards, including a few extremely annoying mines that are all but impossible to avoid.
Visually and aesthetically, the game is terrific, with some of the best sprites and animation on the Genesis. The level design is also great, with lots of brain-teasing puzzles, multiple paths to explore and some (for the time, anyway) impressive physics. With only five stages, it’s a bit on the short side, but there’s still plenty of stuff to hold you interest for multiple playthroughs -- including a hyper-addictive (and somewhat unnerving) “hidden” mini-game that’s anchored around gobbling up as many lab rats as you can in under a minute!
This port of the Commodore 64 favorite is, simultaneously, a complete rip-off and improvement on the “Ghosts ‘N Goblins” formula. Structurally and aesthetically, it owes a lot to Capcom’s iconic arcade platformer, but that’s not to say “Stormlord” doesn’t throw in a few of its own ideas - in particular, a greater emphasis on exploration than linear action.
This game is definitely a lot easier than its obvious inspiration, primarily because of its slower pace. Periodically, you’ll get swarmed by a sudden deluge of enemies, but it’s nothing you can’t weather. You only have a couple of weapons in the game (including the prerequisite projectile sword and this weird, arched blue fireball thingy) and the jumping mechanics, while a little awkward at first, are certainly manageable since it’s not a terribly-platform-heavy side scrolling action game. Gameplay-wise, you will be doing a lot of backtracking, as you try to free a bunch of fairies caught in giant bubbles and unearth oversized keys needed to make your way past barriers. Making things even weirder is this bizarre “teleportation” system, in which you have to hop on these little stone pedestals and wait for humongous falcons to carry you off to your next-destination. It’s confusing, no doubt, but you at least have to give the developers a little credit for trying something different.
The stages are pretty uninspired (you get your nighttime forest level, your grey castle level, your blue underground dungeon, etc.), but the layout is decent. The graphics and music is a tad minimalist (complete with some really out-of-place boingy cartoon sound effects), and there aren’t really any boss fights to speak of. However, you do get something that very, VERY few home console games from the era featured - honest-to-goodness, 16-bit nudity in the form of bare-breasted pixie statues. “Stormlord” may not be a truly exceptional title in any regard, but as a seasonal larf? If you don’t spend at least one evening this Halloween slogging your way through this game, you’ve squandered the most wonderful time of the year in my peepers.