The Nintendo Entertainment System broke a lot of ground in the video game world and paved the way for the much more advanced games we have today. It also was the first home video game console to make survival and horror games possible. While there were some survival games on older consoles, they lacked the graphical detail that the NES was capable of.
Because of this power, NES games could deliver excellent graphics alongside a compelling story and soundtrack. These combined to create a genre that could terrify those playing. Many of these games turned into popular franchises which are still beloved today.
Castlevania is an all-time classic that many fondly remember from the NES era. It is a typical action/ adventure game but also fits the survival/horror genre. If you only play one game on this list, then make sure it is Castlevania.
In the game, you play as a vampire hunter that seeks to kill Dracula but must first navigate through his castle. As you make your way through, you must battle various enemies. To do this, Castlevania provides several weapons, such as a dagger, an axe, and even a watch that can stop time.
While the game still plays great and is fun, it has a wonky climbing mechanism that sometimes feels odd. Nothing is inherently wrong, but trying to go past a staircase versus climbing is sometimes frustrating. The graphics still look good despite their age and the technology available. Some of the combat can also be challenging, with some levels continuing for long periods of time.
But Castlevania is probably most well-known for being a tough game. Although many find it fun and enjoyable, few people can stand its difficulty. But its platform nature and well-rounded combat make it one of the best survivor/horror titles on the NES and one of the best overall.
2. Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th, the game is based on a movie of the same name. The game isn’t the greatest on the NES, and some even consider it one of the worst. However, it does a decent job of staying true to the source material. Most of the other movie IP games on the NES were literal train wrecks, so it is nice that Friday the 13th at least does a decent job of that.
The game occurs at Camp Crystal Lake, where children are murdered. As a camp counselor, you must rush between cabins to save the campers before Jason comes to kill them. The game has some filler, primarily zombies that you must deal with in between the cabins. While this isn’t true for the movie, it adds some decent content between the main beats.
The areas where you confront these zombies are set up like a 2D side scroller. In contrast, the scenes inside the cabins are from an over-the-shoulder perspective. Together these work to provide a nice variety of gameplay. The ultimate problem is that Jason isn’t very intimidating since he is wearing a blue-purple jumpsuit that looks more childish than scary.
3. Monster Party
Monster Party is a 2D sidescroller that has become a cult classic. The game starts with the protagonist’s backstory, which is strange, to say the least. You play as a boy named Mark that gets crossed with a winged monster. You can turn into this creature by taking a special pill while playing.
The only weapon in the game is a baseball bat, which is appropriate for a kid. The monsters and bosses throughout the game take inspiration from mythology. But others make absolutely no sense and are just downright weird.
“Creative” is the best way to describe Monster Party. Some of the nonsensical creatures are well thought out. Similarly, the gameplay is pretty good, and you can even use the bat to ricochet objects that creatures throw. In addition to playing well, the graphics are also pretty good for an NES game.
4. Sweet Home
Sweet Home is a turn-based RPG slightly different from what we now consider a survival/horror title. But the game was groundbreaking for its time on the NES. However, the game did release in the states and received some notice from RPG and horror fans.
The characters in the game are trying to recover paintings but end up getting trapped in a mansion by a ghost. There are five characters you can control individually, each with unique abilities. The game also has a range of objects to use, such as a camera. One problem is that they are limited in how much they can carry.
Further complicating matters is that the characters have to split up, and you may need one player’s ability rather than the one you chose. Plus, you can only carry two objects per person which means backtracking when you need a different item. None of those are dealbreakers, but a large amount of button pressing and lack of actual combat may not be what you are looking for in a survival game.
5. Ghoul School
Ghoul School lets you play as a high school student whose school turns from “cool school” to “ghoul School.” Odd puns aside, the game is a sidescroller that includes battles with different creatures. The game takes place entirely inside the school but is much larger than expected.
While playing, it is normal to feel a little confused. In addition to battling creatures, much of the game involves exploration. There are many things to find, making the world even weirder and more confusing. As for weapons, they are not the usual combat weapons for a survival game, some combat mechanisms include towel snapping, water gun shooting, and even cheeseburger throwing.
You can also swap between various items and weapons in your inventory. The wackiness of the game is really what makes it great. Unfortunately, the enemies do not have the same pizzaz as most are easily defeated and can best be described as “dumb.” Expect some boss battles, but these, too, are overly easy in most cases.
Uninvited on the NES is a port from the Apple Macintosh. The game is designed for use with a keyboard and not an NES controller. Making matters even worse is that the game was initially released over five years before its NES port did.
When you first start playing, Uninvited provides minimal backstory and instead drops you into the game. The gameplay is a basic point-and-click style found in most computer games from the 1980s. Throughout the game, you explore a haunted mansion, and no matter what you do, it seems to have the same ending constantly, you die.
This feels very similar to the classic Oregon Trail, with one benefit being that you can restart where you died. Although Uninvited may not be a gory mess of a horror game, it is undoubtedly a survival one since everything centers around trying not to die. However, the endless puzzle can get repetitive as some questions and clues don’t seem logical.
Abadox is the only game on the list to take place on an otherworldly planet. It is a sidescrolling shooter, but you cannot control the speed. The world is made up of organic matter, with some looking like brains. But if that isn’t weird enough for you, then the story probably will be. A parasite eats your home planet, and you must fight it to save the day.
Throughout the game, you work to get through the parasite to destroy it. You must battle enemies that look like a mashup of body parts and organs to do so. There are numerous levels with different types of enemies you must battle through. Each level has some nuance, and the background and layouts are also different.
But things really escalate when you get to the boss battles, particularly the final boss fight. The game gets intense and feels like a real survival/horror title. The graphics and some level designs feel dated. However, this is expected for an NES game released in 1989. Overall the game is still a lot of fun, and its horror nature is a standout in the NES lineup.
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