The Evil Dead, Commodore 64

Another great film turned into video game kitty litter! This one in 1984, by Palace Software.

The interpretation is as an overhead survival game, with you playing Ash (spelled incorrectly in the game – slap on the wrist to the programmer!) who is besieged by Kandarian demons inside a remote log cabin. You can close the doors and windows to stop the demons getting in, and must also kill any that make it into the cabin. To kill them you must first find a weapon (randomly located around the cabin, or outside), and then use it on them. Whether it’s an axe, a sword, or a shovel – it makes no real difference – the effect is the same. Eventually, when you’ve killed enough demons, the ancient Book of the Dead will appear and you have to throw it into the fire to triumph.

As a huge fan of the 1981 film I’ve always thought that this game was total and utter rubbish. I remember as a young gamer hoping that it would be good enough to buy, but I read the reviews and thought “there’s no way I’m buying that!”. And I was right. The graphics are pathetic, the cabin is tiny, and the gameplay is clumsy and repetitive. There’s no escaping the fact that The Evil Deadthis Evil Dead (there are others) – is both a missed opportunity, and a steaming pile of crap.

Are there any positives about the game? The intro sequence and tune are quite nice. The scrolly text message at the bottom of the screen describes the monsters as “mutants”, which is sure to piss off any die-hard Evil Dead fan who reads it. Other than those like me who don’t really give a toss.

A BBC Micro version of The Evil Dead was also released by Palace. A ZX Spectrum version was developed and completed, but was never released as a stand-alone game. It later appeared as a freebie on the b-side of another Palace release: Cauldron, so eventually made it out.

More: The Evil Dead on Wikipedia

Day of the Tentacle, PC

This is the original 1993, VGA, MS-DOS version of Day of the Tentacle, with graphics presented at a fairly low-resolution 320 x 200. They still look great to me though.

Compare this to the high def Double Fine remake of 2018 and there is no contest – the high def version wins every time – although there is still a perverse nostalgic thrill to be had from playing the original VGA version.

Day of the Tentacle is the sequel to the classic Maniac Mansion, but is far funnier and far more interesting. Bernard, one of the main playable characters from Maniac Mansion, makes a comeback in this as the ‘lead’. And he is helped along by two other playable characters, Hoagie (a roadie), and Laverne (a ‘kookie’ girl). Together they embark on a surreal time-travelling mission to stop an evil tentacle from taking over the world… With hilarious results.

If you’ve never played Day of the Tentacle: you’re missing out. It’s one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games of all-time and is still available to buy and play today.

More: Day of the Tentacle on Wikipedia
Steam: Day of the Tentacle Remastered on Steam
GOG.com: Day of the Tentacle Remastered on GOG.com

Day-of-the-Tentacle-Cover

Maniac Mansion, Commodore 64

Released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Maniac Mansion was the birth of SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), the game engine that defined LucasArts point-and-click adventures for a decade. Actually, back then they were called Lucasfilm Games, and they were breaking new ground in a number of different places.

For starters: you can play Maniac Mansion as one of seven playable characters – and switch between them at will (at least when the game lets you), and the game has puzzles that can either only be solved by one character, or have multiple solutions to one problem. Pretty groundbreaking for the time.

Maniac Mansion was also the video game that defined “verb lists”, or verb charts – lists of verbs that can be clicked-on, then used to carry out certain actions. This was an interesting new development in the graphic adventure genre back in 1987, and one that still reverberates to this day, with games like Thimbleweed Park.

At its heart Maniac Mansion is a tribute to late-night horror films, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but with a humorous – almost Richard O’Brien-like – twist. The game cuts away to other characters doing things, like a TV soap opera, and the dialogue is self-referential and funny.

The graphics in Maniac Mansion are pretty basic, but work very well and are colourful and full of character. The big heads of the main characters are very distinctive and somewhat reminiscent of the main character in Labyrinth. The backgrounds are ‘interactive’ and sometimes change when clicked-on (the fridge for example). A lot of this was very innovative back in 1987 and it really made the gaming world sit up and take notice.

There are better-looking versions of Maniac Mansion around, but this original Commodore 64 version is still well worth a play any day of the week. The MS-DOS, Amiga and Atari ST versions all have updated graphics and mouse controls, and are all excellent. There’s also an NES version too. And – as the eagle-eyed will already know – the full Maniac Mansion is also available to play as an Easter egg in the 1993 sequel, Day of the Tentacle.

More: Maniac Mansion on Wikipedia

Maniac-Mansion-Cover

Touch the Dead, Nintendo DS

Known as Dead ‘n’ Furious in Europe, but I’m going with the North American title for this Nintendo DS rail shooter – a touch-screen tribute to Sega‘s infamous arcade game House of the Dead. Only the title reference doesn’t work properly because there’s no “of” in it… I would’ve gone for ‘Touch of the Dead‘, which doesn’t really make sense but is better than what they used, because it at least references the original game properly. Anyway…

So a touch-screen House of the Dead? That should work okay, shouldn’t it? The DS has got a stylus, and the idea is to simply touch where you want to shoot. You don’t directly control the movement of your character (a prisoner), although you can occasionally choose the direction of travel. Some branches being easier than others.

Where Touch the Dead falls down for me is with gun reloading. The game was criticised at the time of release for the way you have to drag a clip onto the magazine, which works okay for me, but what I didn’t like was that you then have to wait for the reload animation to complete before you can shoot. Which takes too long. Either drag the ammo and you’re reloaded, or have the reload animation – not both! It feels like you’re being penalised by having to wait twice…

Touch the Dead is not a bad game, but it is both limited and lacking the graphical detail we’ve come to expect from the House of the Dead series. And I’m willing to bet there are better rail shooters on the DS.

More: Touch the Dead on Wikipedia

Realms of the Haunting, PC

I have to admit that, in spite of the slightly wonky graphics/cut scenes, I have a real soft spot for Gremlin Interactive‘s 1997 PC MS-DOS release, Realms of the Haunting. Mostly because I was lucky and got to visit Gremlin‘s offices in Sheffield to see the game in production, and to talk to the people who were making it. I drove all the way from Bournemouth – where I worked as a video games magazine editor – and spent an entire day there to preview the game for PC Power magazine.

Back then, Realms of the Haunting looked good. It was a Doom-type 3D engine-based survival horror game, co-programmed by Tony Crowther, and written and produced by Paul Green. It had specially-filmed cut sequences using professional actors and came on four CD-ROMs. The thing it had over Doom, though, was being able to interact with objects on-screen, by clicking a mouse cursor on them.

Now time has passed and we can use hindsight to inform us, I have to say that I still quite like Realms of the Haunting, even though it’s dated badly and the graphics look weird (especially when looking up and down – the game doesn’t have any real perspective correction, just like the original Doom). Also: I always thought the cut scenes were hokey – even back in 1997 – so watching them now doesn’t appal me. It’s not the acting in them that’s bad (it’s actually pretty good), it’s the way the cut scenes have been produced. The film “special effects” are awful; the compositing is basic at best; and the video encoding is worse than standard definition. And I’m being charitable…

Thankfully the story is quite good. You play an investigator called Adam Randall who goes into a dark house looking for clues about the mysterious death of his father. And of course he finds more than he bargained for… Again, thankfully: there are weapons to be found and used against whatever it is that is out to get him. Eventually Adam discovers that the house is in fact a portal to different universes and that he must prevent an impending apocalypse by visiting each universe and unlocking its secrets. So nothing major…

Realms of the Haunting is involving and atmospheric – even gripping in places. It’s been designed to be scary, and succeeds in places. Some of the monsters look a bit dodgy but are tough opponents to beat, and the environments are relatively simple, but overall RotH is well worth a play if you like old school survival horror games. It’s still available to buy on GOG.com and Steam, which is heartening.

More: Realms of the Haunting on Wikipedia
Steam: Realms of the Haunting on Steam
GOG.com: Realms of the Haunting on GOG.com

Super Castlevania IV, Super Nintendo

Released in 1991, Konami‘s Super Castlevania IV was one of the earliest releases for the Super Nintendo console – and one of the best.

And it remains one of the best – to this day – with spectacular, horror-themed platforming action, full of deadly ghosts and monsters, and demanding boss battles.

The Super Nintendo‘s famous Mode 7 graphics rotation and scaling is used to great effect too, with drawbridges raising and falling smoothly, and entire levels rotating around effortlessly at certain points.

Super Castlevania IV gave the series the boost it needed to go on to become legendary, and Simon Belmont’s quest to defeat Dracula is still enjoyed by gamers to this day.

More: Super Castlevania IV on Wikipedia

The Addams Family, Super Nintendo

Back in the early 1990s Ocean Software had a reputation for producing mostly movie-licensed action games, and The Addams Family on the Super Nintendo is arguably the pinnacle of that niche.

Because of the strict approval process for Super Nintendo games (basically having to demonstrate to Nintendo, well in advance, that the game was free of bugs or unplayable sequences), The Addams Family was obviously highly polished by Ocean before release. Which makes it an enjoyable game to play overall.

Based on the 1991 film of the same name, in The Addams Family you play Gomez, and you must explore the platform-based mansion – and surrounding areas – in order to rescue your family members. Each one has been kidnapped and is being held by a boss that you have to find and beat, and they can be tackled in any order.

The Addams Family owes a huge debt of gratitude to Nintendo‘s Mario games. To kill enemies you either bounce on their heads, or use any of the available weapons (which of course must be found and picked-up first), which is pure Mario. It has to be said, though, that The Addams Family is nowhere near as good as any Mario game I’ve ever played. It’s far too simple to be even in the same league.

That said: The Addams Family is still a decent game and is especially good for kids to play. Like many SNES games: it’s aged quite well.

More: The Addams Family (The Game) on Wikipedia