The only thing spookier (or, since this is being published online, “spoopier”) than one ghost is a whole bunch of ghosts—ideally all hanging out under one roof like they live in San Francisco and have to split their rent 6 (or 666) ways. The best haunted houses have a lot more than just ghosts knocking around, though. Maybe one of the ghosts invites their friend, Horrible Evil Dog, over. Maybe Horrible Evil Dog’s bestie, Yelling Man With Many Knives, moves in too. Then their mutual friend, Spider Made Up of Other Smaller Spiders, needs a place to crash, and now we’re getting somewhere. If that sounds like your kind of scene, then do I have a list of games for you… [And because we’re only considering games that actually still exist in the real world, no P.T.. Blame Konami.—Ed.]
While this is not the first appearance of Dracula’s spectacular old-world digs, it does breathe a lot of life into the place that the old 8-bit versions kind of lacked. Bigger sprites, more colors, and of course parallax scrolling make the overall effect of the castle and its countless hostile inhabitants a lot more impressive than they once were. There’s even more going on in Castle Dracula that in previous games as well, not that it was ever a dull place to begin with. I suppose when you’re an immortal aristocrat, you can probably afford to go through whatever Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue equivalent demonic baddies have access to and order one of everything.
Himuro Mansion is an interesting location for a few reasons. It has the typical story of tragic death and gruesome murder you would expect of a good haunting site, but there’s also a little bit of ambiguity about whether or not Himuro Mansion is a real place. A lot of the promotional material surround the first game in the Fatal Frame series implied that it was, but a lot of inconsistencies in the story make it seem just as likely that the story of Himuro Mansion arose from the game’s marketing alone. One thing’s for sure, if it is real then it’s probably the best place in the world to go if you want to escape people taking selfies.
If it was just the house in question, then Alone in the Dark 2 probably wouldn’t rate. In fact, Alone in the Dark 2 on any platform but the Sega Saturn still doesn’t rate. It’s on the Saturn alone where this house has its most haunting inhabitants—the creepy dough-faced characters that look like if Mattel tried to make a line of old apple dolls like the ones my grandmother had in her kitchen. Bonus points awarded for housing a group of mobsters who are actually pirate ghosts, too.
Brennenburg Castle feels like a rather solid argument against ever setting foot in any building that still relies on ominously flickering candles to keep it well lit. It’s bad enough that old buildings have a habit of shifting and settling and making all kinds of strange noises on their own, but when you pair an old building with a few powerful, malevolent forces vying for control, that takes things to a whole other level.
Okay, so the house’s resident demon wants to re-enact horrible events that happened in the past, but have you seen the greenhouse? The private theatre? The art nouveau décor occasionally and bafflingly tangled up with random medieval bits and pieces? All this and more, within the financial reach of a reasonably successful novelist and a photographer. Carno’s Mansion is one of the more eclectically designed houses on this list, but also among the more intense. If you want to check out this game, bear in mind that it comes with just about every content warning you can think of attached.
Considering that this is a place where a young woman who looks conspicuously like Jennifer Connelly is frequently being chased by a 9-year old child waving a pair of massive hedge clippers, there are a lot of ways to get killed in the Clock Tower. She can get stabbed of course, or stand in a room full of gas too long, or a bird can fly around her head for a while which is, as we all know, tremendously lethal… There are a lot of weird “if’s” and “or’s” that can be triggered in Clock Tower (as you might expect from a game with 9 different official endings) which make the game very replayable and the location very explorable.
Stauf’s mansion has everything you could hope for: Betrayal, drama, intrigue, creepy dolls, child ghosts, cake-based puzzles and, most important of all, loads of glorious and uncanny FMV. Most of the spirits residing here exist as a storytelling device between the puzzles that the player is left to solve, but even so they’re storytelling devices in incredibly colorful, campy costumes.
There’s little need to go on at length about Freddy Fazbear’s at this point, considering the success this series has seen. What does bear mentioning (that pun was an accident but I’ll be damned if I’m going to take it out) is the true brilliance behind the idea of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Simply put, it’s humanly impossible to look at an animatronic and not think about how it might, could, or certainly will kill you.
One of the most clever or most annoying things about Until Dawn, depending on your perspective, is just how many curve balls it throws at the player by peppering the story and setting with countless possible sources for all the frightening events going on around the group of stranded teenagers. There’s evidence of a half dozen different horrible, haunting things between the main house, the cabin, the forest, the mines and the sanitarium located in Blackwood Pines. As a result the truth takes many players completely by surprise, and when we’re talking about a story full of trope-heavy teens romping around in towels and underpants that’s not something that can always be said.
Speaking of curve balls, I had to give Spooky’s House of Jump Scares a home on this list. This game absolutely revels in jerking its players around in a way that’s endearing when it’s not, you know, intensely disturbing. With the contents of the titular house vacillating between adorably mischievous pranks and profoundly unsettling nightmare fuel, it’s hard to talk about Spooky’s house without spoiling the experience altogether. And, since the game itself is free, there’s all the more reason to check it out for yourself this weekend. After all, what’s “spoopier” than the blatant rejection of capitalism?
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.