Released 1986 / Master System
My earliest memories of horror icons such as Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster come not from the classic Universal Monster films, but rather Castlevania on the NES. I don’t think I was alone in this, either. While many parents in the mid-80s would not rent a VHS of something like Dracula for their seven year old, they would have no qualms renting a similar video game, which were considered harmless at the time. My mother was one of those parents and as soon as we got home from the rental shop with Castlevania and I started it up, I was transfixed. In the coming years, I would find myself drawn to every game dealing with the supernatural or macabre I could get my hands on, regardless of quality. I certainly didn’t play games like Simon’s Quest or Monster Party for the non-existent scares; I played them because I was loved the strange creatures and the dilapidated worlds they inhabited.
Although I consider myself fairly well-versed in the ghoulish games of the 8-bit era, Ghost House eluded me until very recently. Released in the same year the Master System launched in North America, Ghost House has a very arcade-like feel, despite only being released on console.
In the game, you play as a young, accidental monster hunter named Mick, who is trying to rid a mansion of the supernatural and undead- specifically the vampires. Defeating a monster sometimes nets Mick a key, which can be used to open a casket. Upon unlocking each casket (their slow-opening lids are a nice touch), a quick-moving bat will fly out and transform into a very Bela Lugosi-esque vampire. After Mick pummels the vampire into a pile of bones (your primary mode of attack in the game is his fists), you receive a gem. Collect enough of these and you’ll progress to the next level- a simple structure that the game follows throughout its entirety.
While there isn’t a whole lot of exploration to be had, the mansion is a fun setting for a single, wraparound-screen style of game. There are cracks in the walls, sticky spider webs, invisible pitfalls (ala Simon’s Quest), and coffins everywhere. It’s relatively easy to get around the place too, as the devil-locked Mick’s movement is pretty quick and agile (he even has the ability to go prone to avoid flying dangers).
Now in my 30s, I still love the spooky and supernatural just as much as when I was 7 and fighting ghouls in a run-down castle. Sure, since then I’ve seen Dracula (and scores of horror films loaded with far more tension, gore, and scares), but there is still something appealing to me about the playful interpretation of horror motifs in Ghost House. I may be over twenty years late to this monster party, but I’m glad I came.