Seven Perfect Halloween Arcade Games

Arcade games are unappreciated Halloween decorations. True, they’re harder to arrange than plastic severed zombie feet or cheap, potentially toxic spider webbing, but I maintain that they’re worth the trouble. Whether you run MAME on a laptop or actually have a basement full of original cabinets, nothing sets apart a Halloween gathering or mood table like some appropriate old arcade games.

Why old arcade games? A few reasons. They’re easy to grasp, they’re often visually striking, and they display generous game footage when no one’s playing. That’s the beauty of it: even if they go untouched, these games look great just running in the background, as fitting as Addams Family episodes or every Sleepaway Camp movie.

I picked seven lesser-known examples of Halloween-friendly arcade games. Ghosts ‘N Goblins, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, and Splatterhouse are the first-round choices of just about everyone, so I don’t need to extoll them here. I also left out anything that requires a light gun or other proprietary hardware to truly appreciate. House of the Dead isn’t the same without big plastic Wicked City revolvers, Crypt Killer loses something without a massive shotgun to pump, and a full Golly! Ghost array is probably beyond the price range of the average Halloween shindig. I went after games easy to appreciate in any form.

Released: 1987
Aka: Devil World

It’s tempting to stick Gauntlet in your arcade lineup and be done with it. After all, Gauntlet is a reliably entertaining race through top-viewed dungeons. Yet there’s a more seasonal alternative available: Dark Adventure, Konami’s unabashed 1989 knock-off of the Gauntlet ideal. Three players control two archeologists and an unlucky reporter in a realm of mazes full of skeletons and minotaurs and…well, evil rats. Yet mundane rodents are forgivable when the first stage has giant mud swordgolems chasing you.

While you’re at it, throw in the Japanese version of the game, Devil World. No mere language swap, it differs a great deal: only two players can join, but the characters get projectile weapons instead of melee attacks, power-ups are more complex, and the expanded arsenal includes a rocket launcher that beautifully demolishes everything. You won’t find that in off-the-shelf Gauntlet.

Released: 1994-1997
Aka: Vampire, Vampire Hunter, Vampire Savior
Also On: PlayStation, Saturn, Dreamcast, PS3, Xbox 360

I’ll have you know that this list was not an convoluted excuse to push the Darkstalkers games. Yet I will admit that I cheated here. Underrated as it is, Darkstalkers is still popular enough to see recent reissues, and Capcom can’t make a Marvel crossover fighting game without including succubus antiheroine Morrigan at the very least. Even so, Darkstalkers escapes a lot of people when it comes to Halloween-appropriate games, and that is a bitter shame.

In fact, I will count the Darkstalkers line as the best thing to play on Halloween. It’s a great series of fighting games stocked with wonderfully animated monsters, from a karate werewolf to a mercenary Red Riding Hood to a vampire lord who transforms every character on the roster into a biteable young maiden. And that barely scratches the surface.

I recommend either Night Warriors or Darkstalkers 3, both of which are impressive and approachable even for casual players who haven’t touched a fighting game since trying Mortal Kombat at a deli in 1993. Some of the more risque Darkstalkers characters might not sit well at an all-ages party, but just remember that Felicia, the technically naked catgirl, is intended as a “cute” character. She’s not supposed to be sexy. It says so right in some official artbook that I can’t locate at the moment.