With the explosion of games like Dead by Daylight and Phasmophobia, horror-themed games are seeing a large rise in popularity, especially since the “everything zombie” obsession seems to be winding down. This Halloween, we bravely revisited games with moments of tension filled with creative creepiness and atmospheres that keep us on the edge of our seats!
Not the most memorable level from this classic platformer, but Big Boo’s Haunt housed one of the most subtle surprises and genuinely terrifying experiences in a game. Typically, when Mario entered a room, the camera would be positioned directly behind him. This was not the case when he stepped foot into the dreaded piano room.
As players crept toward the seemingly unthreatening piano to collect the auspiciously placed red coin behind it, the piano suddenly grew fangs and leapt out at Mario! The enemy is invincible despite what the Super Mario 64 Official Player’s Guide says and will chase you around the room.
Biohazard carries itself as a masterpiece of setting in a horror game. But early on when you go upstairs to the attic with mannequins to fix the fuse, the scene serves as the beginning of the descent into this mad house. Ethan faces no immediate threat as he repairs the fuse box. But when he turns around, a mannequin now blocks the stairs. The dead silence of this cursed house does not help welcome its new guest as he descends past the lifeless mannequin to what awaits.
While modern games rely on graphics and sound effects to create tension in the atmosphere, older games had to rely on context and music. The Game Boy versions of Pokémon used some of the most eerie chiptune music ever composed to set the stage for Lavender Town and the Pokémon Tower.
Contextually, as players enter the grim town, they discover NPC’s mourning dead Pokémon. Team Rocket killed a Marowak mother trying to defend her young Cubone and now her ghost haunts the Pokémon Tower.
The player must eventually traverse 7 floors of the Pokémon Tower with this track looping, while getting attacked by unidentifiable assailants. Not to mention the girl in the lobby who cries out “My GROWLITHE…Why did you die?” While not explicitly scary, this sequence was a lot to take in for a game aimed at children.
Interestingly, the original Japanese name of Lavender Town is シオンタウン Shion Town. The origin of this name comes from 紫苑色 shion-iro (light purple color of the Tatarian aster). Hanakotoba is the Japanese association of cultural meanings with flowers. The Aster (Shion), represents remembrance with a symbolic meaning that translates to “I will not forget you.” This original emphasis on loss and remembrance is lost in translation.
There is an excellent lore dive video by Sir Gabriel where he summarizes the dark background of the Windmill Village in Elden Ring. Outright creepy, the tall dancing maidens of the Windmill Village are locked in trance under the Godskin Apostle’s spell. The Apostle wears the skin of all the men from the village who were killed by the women. This is disturbing enough, but Sir Gabriel connects this evil village to a historical event: the Dancing plague of 1518. What started as a woman dancing in the streets ended up in what experts consider to be a stress induced mass hysteria caused by rampant plague. Whether or not this allusion is intended, if you are exploring the Atlus Plateau, be sure to drop by the Windmill Village for a dance.
As shown above, there are many ways to create tension in games. Sequences such as these make players uneasy and absorb them into the world. One last honorable mention: take some time to watch this clip from Little Nightmares. Fair warning though, if you are grossed out by eating noises you might want to skip this clip. But if you are looking for a new game to put you on edge this Halloween, Gamescribes recommends Little Nightmares I+II and a dark room to play it in!
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