The time is upon us, people—that grand ol’ period of the year in which all the kiddos dress up and beg for candy at the doorsteps of strangers. A holiday filled with peace, joy, and the mutual exchange of goods. The spookiest 31st day of any month: Halloween.
With all holidays, there’s no better way to celebrate than to play some gosh danged video games. Fortunately for us, Halloween boasts the best selection of titles by far. Here are seven spooky arcade games for the Halloween season.
Developed by Exidy and released in 1986, on-rails shooter Chiller absolutely lives up to its name—for all the wrong reasons. In this demented piece of interactive garbage, players are tasked with creeping through dungeons and brutally torturing hapless (and helpless) human beings.
From everything I’ve read, it seems Chiller wasn’t all very widely available back in the day, thank goodness. Few arcade operators wanted to touch this utter nightmare.
The imagery is ugly, the soundtrack is dreary, and the gameplay doesn’t look all that fun. I don’t know what group of edgy, incel freaks put this “game” together, but I can’t imagine they’re of reasonable mental standing. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, there’s never another game like Chiller.
Developed by Namco and released in 1988, Splatterhouse follows the exploits of parapsychology student Rick Taylor as he slashes through hordes of nasty monster guys in an effort to rescue his girlfriend Jennifer Willis from the mortifying West Mansion.
Although I’ve never played it myself, I find the sheer level of atmosphere presented in Splatterhouse truly astonishing, from the music to the boss designs and everything in between. Who would have thought an arcade beat-em-up, of all things, could relay such an eerie narrative?
As gross as Splatterhouse may be, I have to respect it for being, in my opinion, the first video game to acutely capture the essence of slasher films. Sure, it’s not entirely my cup of tea, but compared to the laughable efforts of Chiller just two years earlier, Splatterhouse is as grim and engaging as can be.
Developed by Sammy and released in 1995. Zombie Raid chronicles the tale of “miserable detective” Edward Winsor as he investigates a series of grave robberies and kidnappings in 1918 England. What ensues is a zombie and monster hunting adventure like no other.
The few minutes of Zombie Raid I played via MAME struck me—hard. I wasn’t expecting an old rail shooter to ooze such ambiance. The attract mode sequence and interactive opening credits set the perfect tone right out of the gate.
Zombie Raid is one arcade game I want to experience in person so badly—and I think you can see why. Maybe it doesn’t look all that scary, but it certainly seems to be an experience of its own.
Developed by Midway and fatefully released Halloween 1998, CarnEvil documents the unnamed player-insert protagonist who, while taking Spooky Sam’s tour through a Greely Valley, Iowa cemetery, hops off the hayride and fiddles with Ludwig von Tökkentäkker's tombstone—setting into motion the “greatest show unearthed.”
Along the way, you’ll make chunks of various freaky dudes, such as cannibal zombies, deranged clown doctors, mascot dinosaurs, undead fast food workers, and even a giant, deformed baby. The more I dwell on the sick and twisted world of CarnEvil, the more I wonder how it became Midway’s most successful light gun game of all time. (Spoiler alert: I’m glad it did.)
CarnEvil is the most unique hodgepodge of gory horror and dark comedy one could ask for, and I cannot recommend it more highly during the Halloween season. As local legend has it, “When the moon is full and trees are bare…” play through CarnEvil if you dare.
Dark Escape 4D
Developed by Bandai Namco and released in 2012, charts the disturbing path of two unnamed protagonists who wake up with no recollection to a masked man commanding them to complete his challenges and meet him alive to secure their freedom. While the hammy voice acting all but ruins the fear factor, Dark Escape 4D is still deeply unsettling in its presentation.
The few minutes I played of Dark Escape 4D back in 7thgrade were hugely formative in fostering my love of arcades. Yes, the game scared the daylights out of me—but it also showed me what a well crafted arcade experience could be. Believe the hype: Dark Escape 4D is true “body shocking 3D horror shooting.”
Even though I still haven’t beaten it myself—something I fully intend to do someday—I know for a fact that Dark Escape 4D is one of the best games to play during this especially spooky time of year. But bring lots of cash: They’ve got the difficulty cranked up like crazy on these machines.
The Walking Dead
Developed by Play Mechanix and released in 2017, The Walking Dead is a mounted-gun (well, crossbow) rail shooter set in—you guessed it—The Walking Dead universe following a handful of original characters as they combat the undead breakout.
Like many other titles on this list, I wouldn’t call The Walking Dead outright scary, but it has some genuinely tense moments. Most of all, it plays supremely well. I remember enjoying it tons when I first played through it at Dave & Buster’s, especially as crossbow controller added a unique flair to experience.
Since the plot and characters are unique to the arcade game, you don’t need any prior TWD knowledge going in. All you need to do is watch your back…because they’re everywhere, and they’re hungry.
The House of the Dead series
Developed by Sega and released in five (arcade) installments from 1996 to 2018, the House of the Dead is the most iconic action-horror rail shooter series of all-time—an honor it has rightfully earned.
As much as I loved Zombie Raid, CarnEvil, Dark Escape 4D, and The Walking Dead, none of these games have impacted me the way The House of the Dead has throughout most of my life. When I was in second grade, I longed to play the first House of the Dead at the Roller Dome Fun Plex. In 2018, I bought that exact cabinet for myself and operated it in my (now closed) game room at the Main Street Tavern.
Now that I’ve become engrossed in the series lore, I appreciate the unique qualities in each installment—even Scarlet Dawn. So this Halloween, if you want a truly special experience, blast through all five House of the Dead games. You will not regret it.