Green Screen of Horror

By now I would imagine most gamer’s are at least aware of the existence of Friday the 13th: The Game – the ostensibly online asymmetrical horror game where one person plays as series protagonist Jason Voorhees and 7 other players play as camp counsellors and either get viciously and brutally murdered or manage to escape by the skin of their teeth. But what about the Friday the 13th game from 1985? That got me thinking…what about horror based games in general from that period and on that particular format? Let’s have a look.

Before we get properly into the games, I should point out that the reasons that I have chosen the Amstrad CPC 464 as the format is firstly, it the main computer I had as I was growing up from the age of about 7 right through until I was about 14. Secondly, I thought it would be a bit of fun to look at some horror games in an 8 Bit home computer format as a direct contrast to the ultra realistic horror games you see on home computers and consoles now. So, on to Domark’s version of Friday the 13th.

Safe in your cabin in Friday the 13th

What you are looking at just above this paragraph is an actual screenshot of the Amstrad version of Friday the 13th. I tell yiou this because I relaise that it is not immediately obvious that the screen shown here is actually anything to do with Friday the 13th! The basic premise here is that there are 10 counsellors runnign around the area whilst Jason is on the loose. The trouble is that Jason is disguised as one of the Counsellors so you never know who he actually is unless he a) attacks you b) you see him attack somebody else or c) it comes down to you and one other counsellor and you haven’t found Jason yet. From there you need to locate a large crucifix that has been inexplicably lifted from the church and placed in a random cabin and place it either back in the church or into another building of your choice which then becomes ‘sanctuary’. You then wander all over the map trying to find counsellors before the time runs out or before Jason murders them all, once you find them, you walk over them and they will attempt to ‘run’ to the sanctuary you have already set up.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, the game is terrible and I always kind of thought teh fact that it was a licensed F13th game was almost shoehorned in as when you did finally uncover Jason, he just became a character dressed in black clothes with black hair who would try his best to kill you with a rather large machete! On the plus side though, this game did have the most blood curdling digitised scream that any 8 bit machine has ever managed as well as a cool screen involving a knife to the head when you’ve been killed so at least there was a bit of horror there somewhere.

Oh no! It’s Oh Mummy!!

Ok so you may not think that this constitutes an horror game but this is the 8 bit period so really how frightening was a game ever going to be? For anybody who owned an Amstrad CPC 464 Oh Mummy was an absolute classic! For anybody unfamiliar with Oh Mummy it was kind of a cross between PacMan and Tomb Raider – that’s not even a joke, the basic element of the game includes something missing from a lot of the modern Lara Croft adventures – actual tomb raiding!

So, what you would need to do is go around the Tomb that you presumably have just discovered looking for treasures. The screen would be made up of a 5 x 5 grid of squares which you would need to make your character run all the way around to open the square and find a treasure. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Wrong! Every so often you would run round a square and it would look like a little door was opening and if this happened, you knew you were in for it as a Mummy would pop out and start chasing you. This is the PacMan element of the game as the Mummy’s take the place of Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde (The PacMan ghosts) and chase you around the whole screen – one touch from these bandaged baddies and you have had it! Each level had the same layout and as you went through the levels the Mummy’s would get faster and faster which did get the heart pounding at times to be fair. PS4 remake anybody?! Oh Mummy was one of the games that came free with the computer and what a game it was, certainly right up there with Harrier Attack and Roland on the Ropes. Speaking of which…

Can’t stop that Roland getting up those ropes!

Again Roland on the Ropes may not immediately scream horror game at you but stick with me on this one – this is essentially the 8 bit era’s version of The Descent! As Roland, you find yourself at the bottom of what can only be assumed to be a huge tomb or maybe a pyramid that you have to try and find your way to the top of, using the aforementioned ropes of the title, presumably to escape. I say presumably as I never managed to complete the game – games were waaaaayyyyyy harder back then! Your enemies would consist of skeletons, Mummy’s (again!), scorpions and bats as well as dripping poison from the ceilings so there’s plenty of horror related enemies for you to kill or avoid (some of them couldn’t be killed, only avoided!) and again this was a pretty decent game to be included in the 12 free cassette’s that came with your CPC and provided many a happy hour for my young self playing through this. If dripping poision and bats aren’t enough to convince you of Roland’s merits as a survival horror game then what about throwing a Xenomorph into the mix?

Ever wondered what it would be like to walk through an 8 bit version of HR Giger’s mind?

Aliens! Of course, this one had to be thrown into the mix. Aside from being one of my favourite films ever, it was also one of the 80’s biggest Sci-fi/Horror movies and as such various versions of it were inevitably brought to computers and games consoles alike. Over the years, James Cameron’s monster sequel has contributed massively to video games, to this day you still get sentry guns on such a lot of first person shooter games and the fact that this 464 version was also a first person shooter surprised approximately nobody! The way the game was presented was actually a pretty good idea, you chose (or were given) one of the Colonial Marines as a character and you would wander through the Hadley’s Hope colony looking for surviviors to save and aliens to obliterate. You even had to draw your own map as you played the game as there was no radar map in the corner of the screen in those days and it was so easy to get completely lost and not know where you were. It was the execution of the game that was a bit less desirable! Due to the limitations of the system most of the corridors that you would stalk looked exactly the same, they had clearly tried to add some Giger style flourishes to the backgrounds but it just ended up adding to the feeling of confusion as there were very few rooms with any individual characteristics. One positive thing I can say about the game is that whenever an alien appeared randomly in a room you had just entered and started to come right for you, you genuinely would start to panic, you had be accurate though miss even once and chances were you would be devoured by the alien or you would kill while it was too close spilling their acid blood all over your character. I did enjoy this game for a while but the frustrations of the game did tend to come to the forefront.

When will they stop feeding them after midnight?!

Finally, we have Gremlins 2 which I realise was more of a comedy horror but it was still had enough horror moments in the film to warrant inclusion in the genre. The actual game of the movie is an uncomplicated platform game in which you take control of Billy in his attempts to locate Gizmo. You do this by using various weapons to throw at the Gremlins including tomatoes and frisbees – not really sure what the thinking behind the weapons is here but you can kind of forgive it as it is quite an entertaining game in parts. I always thought that it might have made more sense for you to play as Gizmo in the game been as he was pretty much the hero of the piece in the actual film but as I say, it was quite an entertaining game which is more than you could say for some movie tie ins of the time. Alas, this is another game that I never managed to complete as I could only ever get as far as the intermittently appearing girl gremlin who would shoot kisses at you and was bloomin difficult to get past! I would have liked to have seen some of the other Gremlins characters in the game but as I never got that far I couldn’t do it although I’m sure a playthough video must exist on YouTube.

That’s it then, my little round up of 8 bit horror. Hope you enjoyed the stroll down memory lane and if you do have any memories to add, please add them in the comments section.

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