It's been awhile since I've done a Free and Worth Every Penny installment, but Halloween seemed an excellent time to resurrect this feature (see what I did there? ...sorry), and I can't think of a better way to do it than with my favorite type of freeware: a retro-themed, hard-as-nails side scrolling platformer. Welcome to...
This is as straightforward as they come, folks. You're intrepid hero Jackie Gun. (Yes.) It's Halloween, and you're trapped in a graveyard with a bunch of ghouls, ghosts, spirits, specters, and so on. Help five trapped friendly Caspers escape from their imprisonment, and you'll be free to leave. Go.
If you don't feel like reading, the trailer is going to tell you 90% of what you need to know. Take a look.
Yes, that is Vampire Killer from the Castlevania series playing in the background. It also plays in the game, constantly. Ordinarily, I might rankle a bit at having music ripped from a commercial series plopped into a freeware title, but being as this is a clearly themed homage and Vampire Killer is some of the best videogame music of all time, I'm gonna let it slide. If it bothers you, you won't miss much by turning the volume down.
The gameplay is extremely barebones (heh. bare bones. on Hallow-- sorry again), giving you no more options than you'd expect if you were playing this on the Gameboy it's built to resemble. You can run, jump, and shoot. That's it. No items to collect, just coins for score and the extremely rare health pickup. No areas to unlock. Just one big map, a whole lot of enemies, and you.
There are some secret areas, though, which is a nice touch.
For all its simplicity, it's pretty brutal. You can take five hits before you're done for, that's all. No continues, no checkpoints. You clear this puppy in one try or you start from scratch. And you'll only find one of those precious health pickups when you free one of the five hidden spirits, so don't count on them to save you. Luckily, the game controls well and enemies telegraph their attacks and move in patterns, so it really is just a matter of learning what to expect and then executing well.
Still, you'll see the Game Over screen a lot. It isn't a terribly long game - it's all one interconnected map, no branching paths or doors - so that's a frustration I can deal with, but I certainly would have appreciated a checkpoint after saving each spirit, or at least an Easy Mode with that option. What can I say, I'm getting soft in my old age.
This is not a game trying to hide its influences.
There are a couple of minor gameplay problems that need mentioning. Hit boxes are a little bigger than you think they are at first, leading to some initial frustration as you learn how much room you need to give enemies. You need to press X every time you want to fire, which led to me getting out Pinnacle Game Profiler and setting up a rapid fire profile pretty quickly.
For all the minor kvetching I'm doing, though, I had a good time with 8-Bit Halloween. Lionsoft has put together a tight, fun little side scroller with pleasing Gameboy-inspired visuals, classic music, and well-worn but reliable mechanics. Just the thing to burn through on a late night as the last trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell. Happy Halloween, everybody!
8-Bit Halloween is...
- a game that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. And steals its music outright.
- still creative enough in other ways, with challenging level design and an amusingly silly, intentionally throwaway conceit.
- maybe a little too happy to kill you, but that's kind of in the spirit of the holiday, isn't it?
- probably largely forgettable, but worth a spin if you want a little retro Halloween gaming.
Windows only, under 5MB, download it right here.
BONUS FOR READING THIS FAR! This is not free, but man is it close and it's totally worth every penny. The Humble Indie Bundle is doing something new: you can get in on the alpha (and all subsequent versions) of the incredible-looking top-down shooter Voxeltron by paying any amount you want! You should do this. Because it's great.
"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Colony of Gamers. This piece also appears there. If you're done with this one and want more, feel free to browse the archives.