All Hallows Eve approaches dear mortal! Looking into my bubbling cauldron I can see you are in for a treat! Though considering the devilish nature of this piece, perhaps you would consider it more a hideous trick! Nonetheless, we are going to delve into the spooky, the haunting and the downright fearful this evening!
But we didn’t want to just do a “10 scariest games” post, that would be far too cliche. We only bring those out on “special” occasions. In no way do these coincide with the office party I’ll have you know! Anyway, we decided to focus on the horror tropes of yore. The Vampires, Ghouls and Werewolves that make the foundations of so many horror franchises. No psychological horror games playing on jump scares and plot twists here!
So sit back, grab your trick or treat candy and ensure your hands and arms remain inside throughout the experience! Prepare yourself for a spooooooooky ride!
The best Vampire – Dracula (Castlevania)
Surprisingly, Vampires get a bit of a low representation in video games, and part of me thinks this guy is to blame. Dracula, the literal big daddy of the vampire world, needs no introduction. In the Castlevania franchise, the character is heavily based on the Bram Stoker original. With his story taking a heartbreaking twist. After losing his wife the man known as Mathias Cronqvist became the immortal vampire after taking advantage of the powers of the Crimson Stone.
What makes him the most iconic of all the vampires is the sheer number of times he appears. Constantly being the protagonist to the Belmont’s as they constantly oppose and thwart the vampire’s plans. Dracula has been enjoying a video game starring role since 1986. Combine this with the fact that the Castlevania titles are incredibly popular, even to this day with the recent remake. Dracula may not have conquered the Transylvania, but he’s certainly managed to conquer the gaming world.
Of course, there are plenty of other vampiric characters in video games. But none as iconic. Our honourable mentions come from the gaming worlds of The Witcher, Darksiders and Vampyr.
The Witcher 3 will be remembered as one of the most well-loved action RPGs of all time. With a hit Netflix series tagged onto it now and a really successful Nintendo Switch port, the game gathered a considerable amount of life. In fact, the game itself could be considered vampiric in nature, CDPR draining the life of the game years after its release. However, the vampires in-game are our real focus. While these are strong enemies for Geralt to fight, they are simply one of many.
Vampyr and Darkstalkers walk the earth…
Next up we have the Vampire equivalent of the old man in “Squid Game”, Demitri Maximoff (no relation to Wanda….) Again, whilst a key figure in his own Darkstalkers series. Unfortunately, Demitri himself even submits to the awesomeness that is Dracula.
Finally, our last contender would be Jonathan Reid from Vampyr. Struggling with the moral dilemma of being turned into a vampire after life as a doctor. Jonathan creates a far more compelling character than Carlisle Cullen. The game itself, however, just wasn’t strong enough and struggled to garner anywhere near the fan base of other games mentioned.
The Best Ghost – King Boo / Boo (Luigi’s Mansion / Super Mario)
Just because something is “family-friendly” doesn’t mean it can’t be spooky! King Boo has certainly done enough to cement him and his kind as the most iconic ghosts in gaming. We couldn’t really separate the two here at BDG, so they’re combined in this section. We never said we were going to stick to the rules, and the legal department already doesn’t like me so…
Anyway, King Boo first really made a name for himself when he left the Mushroom Kingdom with dreams of becoming an art dealer. It’s a shame he didn’t meet up with Redd from Animal Crossing as the two of them could have developed quite the side business! But no, King Boo had his sights set on capturing not just the likeness, but the form and very essence of our beloved characters. Enter the worlds most unlikely (but lovable) hero, Luigi.
But Boos themselves have been around for so much longer. Originally being introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 (known as Boo Diddleys, in reference to blues singer Bo Diddley) they are now rarely not seen karting, playing tennis or even having their own power-up. Their only weakness is that they hate all the attention they now get…
We’re sticking with (mostly) Nintendo titles for our mentions this time. But we couldn’t miss out on the iconic ghosts from Pacman, who are arguably older and more iconic, have not seen the same universal appeal. These guys have however appeared on pretty much every format from arcade cabinets to the Nintendo Switch, but often what they are remembered for is the fact one of their names is not like the others.
Next up is the most well known of all Kanto’s ghost types, Gengar! Whilst we could have taken any of the three from their evolution line, Gengar not only appears on the starting animation for the original games, they’re also the ghost who gets the most exposure come Halloween time. Because of this, Gengar is a particularly more recognisable ghost type than say Litwick or Pumpkaboo (who I REALLY wanted to include because… Pumpkin…)
Finally, to coincide with the release of Metroid Dread, we couldn’t really not plug the adventures of Samus Aran! In the Prime series of games (More on that when Prime 4 releases remember…) Samus encounters ghosts of her former adoptive race, driven violently insane by Phazon. Given the current popularity of Metroid Dread (and the recent free demo of the game released on the eShop) it’s clear that this series is getting a lot of love at the moment.
The Best Werewolf – Bigby Wolf (The Wolf Among Us)
Telltale Games at one point were a household name in gaming. Their fall from grace almost being as iconic as their rise to fame. Picking up big-name franchises for their novel treatment, combining quick time events with point and click mechanics to develop games strong on narrative. These included big names such as Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, The Walking Dead and Batman. But none of them contains a werewolf…
On the heels of The Walking Dead, TellTale released “The Wolf Among Us.” This is largely based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novel series “Fables.” In this universe fairy tale characters live among us (Think Once Upon a Time but less Sebastian Stan). Instead, they inhabit a gritty film noir style world similar to.. well… LA Noire.
Bigby, canonically a werewolf, interacts with the world to uncover the murder of another fable. During the episodic game, we learn more about how he wrestles with his “big bad” side. Many of the characters don’t trust him for his past deeds and this helps develop our love of him. Adorable roguish bad boy detectives have always been popular and the idea of “taming” or redeeming a character like the Big Bad Wolf definitely plays here.
I still argue now that our first honourable mention is technically a werewolf, but I resigned myself to concede. Whilst not having been bitten to cause his transformation, Link certainly has the biggest criteria for werewolf ticked off. Being able to turn into Wolf Link was both a huge selling point of the Twilight Princess and later a highly popular Amiibo. He has since been featured in other Nintendo games such as Animal Crossing: New Leaf Welcomes Amiibo.
Our next mention probably should be forgotten as a bad dream. Unfortunately, back in 2008, Sega released the horror that was “Sonic Unleashed”. Whilst not as terrible as his previous outing in 2006, the very mechanic designed to entice players back into Sonic’s world was the thing most people disliked. Many claim the werehog sections prevented them from enjoying an otherwise much improved Sonic experience. This infamy is enough to garner a mention surely.
Finally, how could we ignore games with werewolf in the title? Sadly, Mia and her pack, whilst part of an incredibly popular tabletop roleplaying game, just wasn’t enough. Even when up against a similar style of game, it is that “rabbit hole” like immersion that TellTale mastered that stops Werewolf: The Apocalypse from gathering the same level of attention.
Best Witch – Gruntilda (Banjo-Kazooie)
I think the witch category was possibly the hardest to decide. With quite a few contenders, witch certainly seems to be the more popular antagonist for franchises. But of course, we just couldn’t justify naming “Vroom in the Night Sky” as a popular enough title, so we went with Gruntilda!
Banjo-Kazooie needs very little fanfare. A masterpiece from the original Rare Studio, a shadow of its former glory. Gruntilda has been the main antagonist of all the Banjo games, with a slight caveat of the newest title, “Nuts and Bolts”. But what makes Gruntilda such a strong fan favourite is the humour and creativity that were given to her by the team at Rare. One of her more famous actions is deleting your save file in-game if you try and cheat too often. Whilst this didn’t make its way onto the Xbox remake, it’s still talked about by fans to this day.
Another example of her humour is unfortunately lost in localisation. “Grunty” is often heard to talk in rhymes. That is until she meets up with her sisters in Banjo-Tooie whereby she agrees to stop because it irritates them. These subtle nuances of character make even a villain a lovable character for years to come.
As I said, this particular topic was hard to pick a winner from, Mainly because of the diverse range of characters that fit the profile of “witch”. But nevertheless, let us start with Platinum Games’ gun-toting spell-slinger. Bayonetta has certainly suffered from the “Valve Syndrome” for a while now. But hopefully, 2022 will finally see the 3rd instalment of the franchise hit the shelves. A game with a huge cult following, kept alive in part by Nintendo helping the development of Bayonetta 2. The draw of Cereza comes from her confident nature whilst ensuring that the cringe-worthy sexual innuendo is avoided. She combines the straight-shooting logic of Lara Croft whilst maintaining her self image.
Not all Witches can be sexy though (did I just overshare there?)
Next up is Cackletta, now resigned to the “Nintendo Vault.” (Like the Disney Vault except it never comes out unless it can be done for no cost at a huge price…) Cackletta is the antagonist from the Bean Kingdom and features in the hugely popular Mario & Luigi series of RPGs. Originally in Superstar Saga on the GBA, the game was remade for the 3DS by Alphadream not long before they went bust. The great thing about these games was the diverse characters that were being developed, with Cackletta and her assistant Fawful being strong examples of this. Sadly, with the push towards Paper Mario, it’s unlikely that fans will see a return of either of these.
Speaking of the Disney Vault, I couldn’t mention witches without bringing in the Mouse. In fairness, so many references could be made to Disney games in this article that I did try and limit them. From the Skeletons and Ghosts in Mickey Mania on the SNES to our remade Mizrabel in Castle of Illusion. The biggest failure with this is its lack of ports on Nintendo hardware. The game is crying out for a release in some form, perhaps the NSO+ Genesis will give her a chance to steal Minnie again?
Best Mummy – Gibdo (Legend of Zelda)
I genuinely struggled with Mummies for a while, then so many hit at once. Then a load of messages from friends came in giving me some more that I ended up going with my gut on it. Gibdos! The mummified remains wandering around since 1986 in The Legend of Zelda. More recently they have been shown to have properties similar to Redeads and in Majora’s Mask, they even ARE redeads! But these things still conjure memories of avoiding the heck out of them.
What makes them iconic isn’t just their age. They are some of the harder minions at Ganon’s disposal. With slightly more resistance than other enemies. In some games, they aren’t even that obvious, hiding in the ground until Link gets close. But what gave Gibdos the edge over others was in Majora’s Mask
Later on, in the game, you come across Pamela and her father. Her father studies the supernatural, as a scientist. Obviously, I am already biased, but things take a turn for the worse as Pamela’s dad ends up cursed and the poor girl ends up hiding her father in a wardrobe while preventing him from joining the horde outside.
Other mummies have made their impression on the scene too. Mostly in older titles, so would a more modern one be on the horizon, or are we resolved to try to get lucky to stay on our Islands? One of our mentions requires us to take another trip to Darksiders. Anakaris, the 12th Pharoah at age 12 (convenient…) prophesied his own death and had a pyramid AND resurrection chamber built for his eventual return. The dude then time travelled and transported his people to another realm to keep them safe!
Time Travel, it’s wibbly, its wobbly
Speaking of time travel, we’re going further back now, to 1992! Mega Man 4 has just been released and with it, a new enemy. Creation of Dr. Cossack, Pharoah Man! Modelled on Tutankhamen, Pharoah Man is one of 8 robots sent from the secret Siberian Citadel. Awful references to the cold war aside… Pharoah Man has a high powered solar beam attack called Pharoah Shot. While not in every game after his reveal, Pharoah Man has been a regular occurrence in the franchise and is a popular character.
The time machine seems to be broken though as we’re going back further! What is this? Quantum Leap?! Will we ever get home! Oh good, it seems we’re now in… 1991 (sighs). But now we are treated to the Puntastic (it’s a word!) title that is “Decap Attack” featuring our resident mummy “Chuck” (Full name Chuck D Head). Chuck is sent out into the world after being created by, you guessed it, Dr. Frank N Stein to rid the world of Max D Head and his minions of evil. One of the more popular Genesis titles of the time and frequently emulated, Chuck deserved a mention!
Best Zombies – THAT Resident Evil Zombie (You know… Resident Evil)
The problem with Zombies is their scare factor is very much built on the idea of a horde. Think of scenes in your favourite title. It’s likely that the reason someone chooses not to just shoot them in the head is to not draw a crowd. Indeed it’s a big selling point behind The Walking Dead’s universe, at least it was early on. But that makes it hard to select individual zombies to identify as iconic.
That was until I remembered sitting and watching my younger brother playing his PlayStation. Raving about the device and its new title “Resident Evil”. Picture two young lads, late at night (for them) playing through the scary game for the first time. We get to THAT cutscene and….. Nope, I’m off downstairs to play Yoshi’s Story and you can’t stop me!
Few moments in video game history have that level of nostalgia that, even when remaking the game, this scene was kept in. I mean sure, so was the bad voice acting and the awful “Jill Sandwich” comment famed in song and story but still. You ask a lot of gamers today their first memory from Resident Evil and they will reference that cutscene!
When it comes to honourable mentions this time, they are quite short. Their games are vastly different, but all really work on the same ideas behind their fear factor. With Husks in Mass Effect, there is the added “Borg-like” aesthetic, with the flood it’s the alien menace and with the cordyceps zombies in The Last of Us it’s the fear of infection, the symptoms, the dread of “will they turn?”. But ultimately the idea of tens or even hundreds of these things running at you is enough to make you crawl into a tank and wait for Glenn to save you… (too soon?)
Best Skeleton – Sir Daniel Fortesque (MediEvil)
Daniel Fortesque is the ultimate charlatan-come-hero. Originally hailed as the hero of a great battle, what transpired is that he, in fact, took the first arrow of battle. Whilst not to the knee, as that would have ended his career! Daniel simply lost an eye and died on the field. Only to be resurrected when Zarok casts a spell to create an army of the dead.
His story of redemption aside, the game was a critical success when it was first released. With its quirky mixture or “Nightmare Before Christmas meets Ghosts n’ Goblins” aesthetic and Danny Elfman inspired soundtrack the game was always going to be a reasonable hit. But even the game’s criticisms are explained away when you remember that originally this was a tiny studio trying to punch with the big boys. Originally the brainchild of the developer of the “James Pond” series, the studio struggled with the jump to 3D, made all the more challenging by the success of Mario 64.
More recently, a remake made its way to the PS4 which helped address those earlier issues, something that Nintendo neglected to do with their own foray into 3D gaming. Sir Daniel has also seen himself garner a sequel and an earlier remake on the PSP. While not as proliferate as others in this list, most gamers would recognise that toothy grin as one of Sony’s early trailblazers in their quest for console supremacy.
We have an extra mention this time because It was getting late and I didn’t have enough coffee to justify cutting it down. So when in doubt, don’t kick them out! We can start off with Dry Bones. As ubiquitous as Boo in the Mario Universe, and arguably more so, Dry Bones has featured in almost every game released in the franchise since Super Mario Bros. 3. Whether trying to hurl its own body parts at you or electrifying opponents to score the winning goal (#MarioStrikersCharged2plsNintendo) Dry bones is definitely an iconic skeleton.
Next up is Manny Calavera from the LucasArts game Grim Fandango. Whilst many of the characters are based on Calaca, a symbol prominent in Dia de Los Muertos, Manny is unique. True, this is mostly because he is the lead character and needs to be. But part of his iconic charm is the sarcastic wit and endearing sense of justice that meant he remained a classic. Not only that but with a legacy that included being described as evidence for “video games as art”. This included the game being included in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” Exhibit.
The fiddler and the…. grocer?
With the release of Shin Megami Tensei V just around the corner. A game with all manner of demons and ghouls. It goes without saying that one character needed to be included from the series somewhere. While not the most powerful of the creations mentioned in-game, many of those taking angelic inspiration, David presents an incredibly difficult boss battle in the 3DS predecessor. I still cannot recall how I managed to defeat him in SMT4’s quest “Dance of the Dead” but simply remember it taking a good few attempts and a lot of grinding beforehand. The incredibly powerful fiddler is hopefully going to return in SMTV, though only time will tell.
Finally, no discussion on skeletons could leave out Sans. From the hugely popular indie titles Undertale and now also Deltarune. Sans is the laid back and often lazy support to our protagonist unless they decide they want to “have a bad time.” Thankfully the character returns in the popular episodic title Deltarune as the owner of a grocery store. A fan favourite for sure!
Best Monster – Deathclaw (Fallout)
The first time I picked up a Fallout game I was warned “don’t fight a deathclaw”. I wondered what all the fuss was, surely they couldn’t be that bad? I hardly see them. It was at that point I was killed by a deathclaw! Engineered to be the ultimate replacement for troops during the great war (that old chestnut!) The deathclaw is reptilian in nature but 100% killing machine. While they don’t go looking for trouble, they will certainly make sure trouble doesn’t go looking for them!
What’s a horror-themed article without H.P. Lovecraft? While many of his more famous creations fall under the guise of “elder god” or “old one” there are plenty that fall into the category of simply “scary-ass monster”. Developers Cyanide certainly hit the nail on the head when they brought out their visualisation of Lovecraft’s “Shambler”. This was one of the best enemies the developers included in-game. With homing tactics that would make an E.M.M.I envious, the shambler hunts down its prey with the intent of dragging it to its home dimension… to feast!
Wendigos have very little lore outside of their native North America. Surprising then that British developers Supermassive games chose the Wendigo as the main antagonist for Until Dawn over the European equivalent of the werewolf. The hugely popular at the time title, gaining the number 2 spot at release in the UK has been described as a “Sleeper Hit”. But there is no denying that Until Dawn combined the best of cliche horror films of the past and merged them into an immersive and terrifying world of their own.
The only game to beat Until Dawn on its release was, you guessed it, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. This brings us to our final “monster”. This one is fairly loose, as these could be described as creations (but then, so could the deathclaw). Being Seran in origin, the Locust horde evolved to live underground. Their creation story brings forth as much horror as their appearance in-game, making them a worthy addition, and questioning their title of monster.
Best Evil Creation / Contraption – Big Daddy (Bioshock)
I was working in the lab, late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight. The electrodes certainly gave this creature a Jolt. Not to mention the heavy doses of plasmids flowing through his veins. Nevertheless, I grafted skin to metal, sealing the creature inside. It is alive…… ALIVE! <insert maniacal laughter>
*Cough* In all fairness, we couldn’t really not make the Big Daddy winner somewhere in this article. The introduction of the Big Daddy in Bioshock brought fear to the most avid gamer. Preying on that fear of the faceless automaton. The notion that it cannot be reasoned with and as such there are only two possible outcomes. Overpower him or die. The sheer brute force as the drill mechanism tears you, and others apart. The shock as one charges you down. And all of this before you learn their true history in Bioshock 2.
They even managed to include Big Daddies in the sky world of Columbia. Albeit in the form of an Easter egg as the main story plot unfolds. Not wanting to include too many spoilers, but even DLC for infinite includes the opportunity to visit Rapture and repair an ailing Big Daddy. With three games under its belt and its unique design concept in games make the Big Daddy an icon in horror.
The next contraption is not just any reaper, it’s a human reaper! Mass Effect 2 is arguably the greatest title in the franchise. Maximising the choice-based mechanics, improved combat mechanics and the amazing cast of characters, both new and returning. Truly if the franchise had a peak, it was here. But the human reaper was scary as heck, more so if you didn’t finish all your friendship missions before reaching it. The Reapers had such a varied approach to enslaving the galaxy, from indoctrinating, inducing fear to just plain kidnapping. What made the Human reaper worse was what is was made from. Human reaper is… people!
As automatons go, GLaDOS is certainly a tightly fought contender. The malevolent AI given the genetic components of Cave Johnson’s secretary is a harrowing tale. Yet GLaDOS will always have a soft spot in my heart. Her sarcastic nature, while only second to my own, spurs you on through each test. Promises of Cake and her, partial, alliance later on in Portal 2 give her depth to the point you want to complete more testing by the end. There’s also the fact that I love using her video for teaching the difference between fission and fusion!
Finally, no horror franchise can now be mentioned without a reference to that bear being made. Scott Cawthon plays into one of my darkest fears. Being left alone in Disneyland when the lights are off and the animatronics are running. Just the thought as I type is giving me goosebumps! Then make it worse by having you stuffed into an animatronic! OK, the story got very convoluted as Scott and MatPat tried to one-up each other at one point. But on primal fears, Freddy Fazbear still manages to make my heart race.
That’s our list! Are there any creatures of the night that you feel we should have had on our list? Feel free to let us know and see you next time!