Survival horror games have long been a popular source of high adrenaline, fear-induced dopamine rushes for a particular kind of gamer. Visceral atmospheres, haunting soundscapes, and terrifying ghoulies all threaten to spook us in today’s modern horror titles. But before polygons rivaled Hollywood special effects, classic horror games were far more varied in both their presentation and gameplay styles. Today we’ll be looking at eight of the most horrific SNES horror games ever made, and their impact on the horror gaming community as a whole.
The Creepiest SNES Horror Games of All Time
Clock Tower: The First Fear
One of the earliest SNES horror games to ultimately find an audience outside of Japan, Clock Tower: The First Fear was the first installment of the renowned Clock Tower series and would mark a paradigm shift for future survival horror games.
In First Fear, players step into the shoes of Jennifer Simpson, an orphan who was just adopted and relocated to a new home- the titular mansion known as the “Clock Tower.” After her arrival, the woman who transported her, Mary, takes off to find the mansion’s owner. When she doesn’t return on time, Jennifer sets off on an adventure to discover the horrific secrets of her new abode and its mysterious inhabitants.
Hifumi Kono, CEO of Nude Maker Games and lead developer for this SNES horror game, described his project as a homage to his favorite film director: Dario Argento. His inspiration can be felt throughout the game- from the dreary and almost surreal environments to the scissor-wielding antagonist that relentlessly hunts Jennifer throughout the mansion.
While the Argento-inspired visuals would ultimately go on to inspire future horror titles and help define the genre, critics would initially pan the game’s use of a 3D perspective, finding the environments confusing to navigate at times. The presentation was deemed too ambitious for its hardware but found appreciation in retrospect. Clock Tower: First Fear is an exciting adventure worthy of being the top of any SNES fan’s list.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
First released to American audiences in 1993, Zombies Ate My Neighbors SNES horror game is a faced paced run-and-gun horror title from Konami. Beloved for its dark sense of humor and tight combat, Zombies is a cherished SNES horror game that’s garnered a massive cult following over the years, despite initial launch reviews being only above average.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors allows players to choose between Zeke and Julie, or both should they play co-op. The game uses a top-down perspective and follows the protagonists as they blast horror-movie inspired monsters with makeshift weapons and save various neighbors from the undead. Each level, Players have to rescue numerous neighbors before a door to the next level opens, which is easier said than done.
Neighbors die if any enemy comes in contact with them, and on certain maps, turn into non-rescuable werewolves if the player doesn’t save them by sundown. The game is notorious for being challenging, with difficulty increasing handily as the adventure progresses.
While still definitely rooted in the horror genre, Zombies is more light-hearted than many titles on this list. The creepy visuals and fast-paced gameplay combine to make an accessible horror experience. Not too frightening, and with a great sense of dark humor throughout.
Gamers looking to experience a thrilling and challenging adventure should look no further than this classic SNES horror game. The cooperative experience alone makes this title a must-own for fans of couch co-op.
Initially released for the Commodore 64 and the Apple II in 1987, then ported to the SNES for America in 1990, Maniac Mansion is a monolith of a horror adventure game that helped shape the future of the genre. A point and click SNES horror game marred by controversy and censorship, Maniac Mansion is an unforgettable title with a legacy that continues to inspire modern media.
Maniac Mansion met with critical acclaim during its Commodore 54 launch, but didn’t make much of a financial splash. Critics lauded its point and click interface, which would go on to become a genre standard feature in future adventure titles. The game was also the first to use ‘cutscenes,’ a term coined by Maniac Mansion co-creator Ron Gilbert to describe brief animations that carried the game’s narrative forward, requiring no input from the player. Critics and gamers agreed that the title was an instant classic, even if sales said otherwise.
Just a year following the Commodore 64 launch, a SNES port was developed and launched exclusively in Japan, though it was poorly received and is generally regarded as an inferior experience. Blurry graphics, missing background visuals, and harsh censorship stripped much of the character from the original release. An American SNES launch came a few years later in 1990, which was much closer in quality to the original but with added background music- a well-received addition that no other version of the game offered.
Maniac Mansion has a lot to offer for gamers looking for a classic adventure experience. An engaging story, fun and intuitive gameplay, and several different endings that change depending on the player’s actions all put this title high on any gamer’s list of must-play SNES horror games.
This SNES horror game is a direct sequel to Zombies At My Neighbors, Ghoul Patrol has gone on to earn its own distinguished spot among the shelves of retro gamers. Conceived initially not as a sequel but as its own standalone game using the same engine, Ghoul Patrol would evolve into a darker, more serious take on its predecessor’s subject matter.
Much of the core gameplay and combat mechanics from Zombies carry over into Ghoul Patrol, with a few new additions such as jumping and sliding thrown into the mix. Level design was altered to accommodate these changes, with stages now featuring steep platforming sections that require pixel-perfect accuracy. With a few exceptions, enemies now follow set patterns and patrol routes instead of swarming towards the player, and neighbor lives restock at the start of each new stage. Difficulty was ultimately toned down from the original but still offers a hefty challenge.
While Zombies Ate My Neighbors featured a whacky, more cartoonish art style, Ghoul Patrol adopted a more mature and sober aesthetic. The SNES color palate was fully utilized to render more realistic colors. Environments are far less outlandish than the first time around, and enemies are decidedly more creepy. These visual evolutions make Ghoul Patrol graphically one of the most impressive titles on the SNES.
Gamers who enjoy fast-paced undead killing action and beautiful classic visuals should look no farther than this incredible title.
King of Demons
King of Demons, also known as Majyūō in Japan, is a hidden gem of a SNES horror game. Never released outside of Japanese markets, King of Demons is a cult classic that has all but been forgotten by most retro gamers.
More of a platforming game with horrific elements than a straight-up horror title, King of Demons is often described as “Castlevania with guns” by game critics. Players control Abel, a reluctant hero who must save his family from demons with the use of guns and demonic abilities. Abel navigates levels from left to right, jumping through dangerous environments and taking out demonic forces as he goes.
Despite being a short experience, King of Demons is praised for its unpredictable plot and beautifully realized world. Even the smallest sprites are packed with intricate detail, and stages feature breathtaking scenery that ranges from wonderfully angelic to downright demonic. The narrative is incredibly somber and bleak and can change unexpetantly depending on the player’s decisions.
King of Demons gathered a cult following quickly after its release, even if its distribution was limited. Gamers looking to experience an unforgettable entry into the Castlevania-like horror platforming genre should seek this rare title out.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street is easily one of the most recognizable franchises on this list, though perhaps not due to its presence in the video game market. Originally planned to be the start of a series of games based on the then-ubiquitous horror franchise, Nightmare would ultimately far short of its lofty financial goals, but find an audience of fans nonetheless.
Initially, the concept for the game saw players assume the role of Freddy himself to hunt his victims before they woke from their dreams. This concept was scrapped, however, to avoid controversy similar to what earlier Atari 2600 horror title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre experienced. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre featured a playable Leatherface who hunted down and brutally murdered teenagers, and, fearing backlash for stocking the violent title, few game retailers stocked the title. The game financially flopped shortly after.
After a quick developmental course correction, A Nightmare on Elm Street would go on to become a horror platformer with strong Castlevania inspirations. Players take control of an ordinary teenager whos trying to collect Freddy Krueger’s bones and burn them in the local high school’s furnace. Players platform across various environments inspired by the movie, avoid undead monsters, and collect coffee to help them stay awake.
The game features a “Sleep Meter,” an ever depleting gauge that empties faster when players stand still. When it’s empty, players are teleported to the “Dream World” version of their current level, where Freddy is more likely to attack. Players beat each stage after they collect the bone at the end of the level and defeat Freddy in a boss battle.
Gamers looking to experience one of the best translations from a horror movie into a SNES horror game should look to add A Nightmare on Elm Street to their collection.
Friday the 13th
Launched exclusively to North Americans in 1989, Friday the 13th would launch to universal criticism for its frustrating difficulty and middling soundtrack. It wouldn’t be until almost a decade later that the game would start to gather a cult following, and to this day many still argue over its contribution to the genre as a whole.
Players control one of six teenage camp counselors who must defend against numerous wild animals and navigate the dangerous Camp Crystal Lake in search of Jason Vorhees. The game uses a side-scrolling perspective to navigate the camp, entering into a ‘Punch-Out!!’ styled battle when encountering Jason inside a building.
The game is exceptionally challenging, with a player’s lives determined by the number of counselors left alive. Every time a counselor dies, they stay dead until a new game begins. Each counselor has unique stats and activities they excel at as well, meaning that a player can doom their run if they lose their best counselors. Basic enemy encounters are numerous and often impede fast progress.
Despite the daunting difficulty and early criticism, Friday the 13th has earned a spot in the collections of many retro gamers due solely for its unique blend of gameplay mechanics and sense of accomplishment from completing the title. Gamers seeking to challenge themselves with a difficult but timeless cult classic SNES horror game should throw down with Friday the 13th.
One of the creepiest SNES horror games, Sweet Home is based on the 1989 film of the same name, Sweet Home is a horror roleplaying game that would ultimately become a template for how future survival horror titles would look. Released exclusively to Japan audiences, Sweet Home is a relatively underground title for many horror aficionados.
One of the first horror games to ever combine puzzles, cutscenes and quick-time events into a single RPG experience, Sweet Home is appreciated as one of the forefathers of the modern horror title. Set in an intricate old mansion and utilizing a top-down perspective, Sweet Home features five playable characters that explore in groups of two or three. Players are free to swap between them anytime, and cannot recover characters who die. Combat is a first-person turn-based affair, with the player also having the option to flee.
Sweet Home has numerous endings depending on which of the characters survive the campaign. Item spawns also change depending on character deaths. If the team nurse dies, for example, the team may find healing items near her corpse later. These gameplay mechanics give Sweet Home a high replayability factor and make the game a reasonably tricky ordeal.
In retrospect, Sweet Home is one of the most essential horror games ever developed. Directly inspiring the original Resident Evil, which initially was set to be a Sweet Home remake, Sweet Home ultimately helped spawn the survival horror genre as it is known today. Gamers hoping to get a first-hand look at one of gaming’s many forgotten forefathers should add Sweet Home to their collection.