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Backlog Impressions | Haunted: Halloween 86 and Creepy Brawlers

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Just in time for Halloween I take a look at two spooky games made for a crusty dusty zombie of a console, Haunted Halloween 86 and Creepy Brawlers! But do the limits of the NES hardware help or hinder these blasts from the past?

Spooky Scary Homebrew

The NES homebrew community is a thriving scene where hobbyists and professionals alike can take a nosedive into the nitty gritty of how games for this classic console were made. You’ll find passion projects, fan translations for games never released in your region and silly hacks for the games you know and love. It’s actually kind of amazing that even to this day, development is in full force for a console that’s over 30 years old. The only caveat is you need to know your way around the dark and scary corners of the internet to find them!

And speaking of scary, the retro-centric folks over at Mega Cat Studios and Retrotainment Games have laboriously studied the ancient and eldritch 8bit scriptures to bring us not one, but two spooky NES games just in time for the eeriest night of the year! With their chilling entries Haunted: Halloween ‘86 and Creepy Brawlers!

The best part is you won’t have to dust off your big gray toaster to play them, because they’re both available right now on your Nintendo Switch!

Haunted Hardware Limits

Feeling right at home on the NES, Haunted Halloween ‘86 and Creepy Brawlers were developed with the restrictions and challenges native to the hardware in mind. Mostly because that’s where they were intended to run! And not only that but they pay homage to some of the classics from the 80s, like Bad Dudes or Double Dragon in the case of Haunted Halloween and Punch Out! In the case of Creepy Brawlers. Only spookier!

Truthfully, the coolest thing about these games is that you can actually acquire an honest to goodness physical NES cartridge for them. In other words, a brand new set of NES games! Think about it! 

Inspired but Lacking

Honestly it’s that fact alone that makes them so unique! They’re like the games you grew up with, except they’re Halloween themed! And you’d be able to line them up with all of the other favorites from the era on your shelf! But on the other hand, the fact that they’re so true to the original design philosophies of the NES hardware kind of hinders them. At least when you’re playing the digital versions on a modern console.

I mean, the novelty of being able to hold the physical cartridge in your hand isn’t there and that feeling of playing a brand new game on this vintage piece of technology is lost. And all you’re left with is a flat experience that you probably would have just rented once and never touched again. While playing them the controls never felt responsive, the password based continue systems were antiquated and the sprite work was just OK. 

Truth be told it wasn’t all bad though because I really liked the upgrade system in Haunted Halloween 86. It added a nice layer of depth and strategy to the game, instead of just having to bee-line it through the story. And the fact that all of the opponents in Creepy Brawlers were monsters, was super cool and inspired! Not to mention it had an achievement system!

But because the devs were restricted by the specs of the NES, I feel the games suffered somewhat in retrospect. And if given the opportunity to expand upon these games using modern hardware and design techniques, I think these games could really shine. It’s also probably why so many retro games being ported to modern consoles these days, have so many extra little features added to them for those of us spoiled by contemporary conveniences.