I see that look in your eye. You’ve got the urge. Do you feel it welling up in the dank, festering pit of your stomach? It won’t be long before the craving overtakes you! Don’t worry, all it means is that you’re hankering for some horror videogame action, but you’re not at home. Perhaps you’re on the train headed into work. Maybe you’re flying in the sky getting ready for a business trip. Most likely you and your thirtysomething year old sibling are in the backseat of a station wagon for a road trip vacation with your sixty year old parents. Yeah, your old asses are heading to Story Land in New Hampshire for some inexplicable reason (I’m not judging). “Hey, quiet back there and keep your hands to yourself…so help me I will turn this Goddamn vehicle around!”
Whatever the case might be, I’ve got you covered. Today our destination is the the exotic, miniature, and far away realm of handheld gaming. Be careful not to squish any of the native pixel people. We are, of course, giant sized to their punitive forms. While we’re on this weird Gulliver’s Travels style adventure we are going to be discussing five totally awesome handheld horror-themed games that you can play ANYWHERE! Whether you’re soaking up some sun in Pismo Beach or the getting the skin flayed from your back in the Pits of Hades…as long as you’ve got battery life left you’re gaming baby! Think of me as your skeletal boatman that is here to personally guide you down the treacherous waters of handhelds. Just grease my boney palm with some coin and I’ll push this skiff into the icy waters!
Ghostbusters II (Game boy)
Are you still rocking that OG Nintendo Game Boy? I don’t blame you. It’s library is filled with classics and the damn thing is nearly impossible to destroy. Sadly, there isn’t a whole hell of alot to choose from in regards to spooky games. Lucky for you, there is a port of the SUPERB Ghostbusters II NES game. Wait, not that shitty one you probably remember. I mean the European exclusive Ghostbusters II from HAL Laboratories.
For us Americans, this Game Boy port was the only way of experiencing any version of this excellent licensed game. Ghostbusters II is a 2D top down action game where you control a pair of the Ghostbusters working your way through scenes from the film. One Ghostbuster shoots their proton pack while the other traps the ghosts. Once all the ghosts in a level are trapped you can move on. Mix in some fun power ups, the Scolari Brothers and others as boss battles and you’ve got yourself damn fine game! The cartoonish sprites look great and you can actually tell which Ghostbuster is which. That’s mighty impressive for a Game Boy Title. The Ghostbuster’s license has been notoriously shitty in the realm of videogames. This game stands out among the neon green piles of slimer shit. Bustin’ does indeed make me feel good!
The Pinball of the Dead (Game Boy Advance)
Confession – I am a pinball junkie! I’m not always a fan of pinball videogames because the ball psychics can get floaty and wonky. The translation to digital gaming removes the sweaty reflexes and the adrenaline isn’t captured properly. Where videogames can excel is with imaginative tables that feature enemies and other objects that would be impossible to have on a real pinball table.
Pinball of the Dead is based in SEGA’s House of the Dead Franchise. That means it’s got pinball tables with digitized zombies that you roll down and crush with a chrome ball. It’s like Phantasm the videogame! Each of the game’s three tables has some interesting level design and learning all the different nuances and tricks takes practice. Best of all, it’s perfect to play in small quick bursts. What initially seems like a silly novelty actually turns out to be one hell of a time waster.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS)
There was no chance of creating this list and having it be devoid of Castlevania. The Nintendo DS is home to a trilogy of “Metroidvania” style Castlevania games and they’re all tip top! I chose Portrait of Ruin because it’s a sort of sequel to the criminally underrated Genesis game, Castlevania: Bloodlines. Plus, this was the first Castlevania game in a while that didn’t strictly take place in Dracula’s Castle. So it’s got some excellent vistas to explore while you’re whipping skeletons in the fucking face!
Throughout the game you jump into different Portraits which transports you to different levels. It’s a great curveball to the Symphony of the Night blueprint that had proven so popular. Like the Genesis game it offers two playable characters, but in Portrait of Ruin you can swap them at anytime. This leads to some clever puzzle mechanics and you get two very different playstyles. Portrait of Ruin tends to fly a bit under the radar, but if you want a beefy action rpg adventure on the go it’s hard to say no to Castlevania in any form!
Oh how I miss the days of crazy game ideas and arcade action. Infected feels like it was designed in the mid 1990s and I mean that as a complement. The game takes place during Christmas and a worldwide zombie outbreak has occurred. You’re one of the few people on the planet who’s blood contains the antedote. This silly premise essentially means that you pump undead filth full of lead until their health bar get’s low and then shoot them with a “viral gun” which “cures” them.
By “cure” I most definitely mean…blow them them into bloody fucking giblets and chunks. If you can wear down enough enemies in close proximity to one another they will tether together. By firing your viral gun at a group of tethered enemies it will result in a huge score increase. This creates an addictive and challenging risk vs reward arcade sensibility that is downright, well, infectious. You want to high scores because in-between levels you can buy upgrades that will help you advance. There isn’t much meat on Infected’s bones, but if you crave arcade action this unique shoot em’ up offers a one of kind experience. I really can’t think of anything else quite like it.
Corpse Party (3DS)
Corpse Party sounds like a totally rad horror party movie from the 1980s doesn’t it? Well, it’s actually a horror RPG that combines a mixture of top down 16 bit style graphics with a chilling anime ghost story. I would only recommend this to people who miss adventure games of the mid 90s. You need to be a patient and don’t expect much in the way of gameplay that will get your blood pumping.
Corpse Party’s slow and deliberate approach to horror is of the slow burn variety. Expect to explore the haunted school grounds where the game takes place, interact with items, and wade through a whole mess of dialogue/character interactions. It’s not for everyone, but for those people smack dab at the center of this game’s quirky Venn Diagram will likely fall in love with it. The less said about the plot and experience the better. I recommend playing it in the dark with a pair of headphones on! It’s the one game on this list that will actually get under your skin and creep you out!