It’s me, back once again with a NES review. However, this one is slightly different. Even though I am playing Halloween ’86 on an original NES cartridge, which released back in 2016, this game is actually now available on Xbox One, Steam and now (the purpose for the timing of this review) the Nintendo Switch! So even if you do not have a classic system, and do not want, or need, the rather nice, translucent orange cartridge (and very well made box and manual) you can pick it up on a variety of other systems. And those even include achievements! So however you want to play it, you have many options. Just make sure that you do.
Halloween ‘86, is actually a sequel to Retrotainments earlier title, funnily-enough titled, Halloween ‘85 (which came on a tasty, slime-green cart) and carries on the story from that game. The game received a decent amount of praise, enough for the developers to start up a Kickstarter campaign for the sequel. Let’s get you up to speed (from the official site):
Are you rad enough to accept the ultimate challenge on Halloween night? This is the game that started it all for Donny Johnstown and his quest to save the town of Possum Hollow. This side-scrolling, platforming, beat-em-up adventure was released on Halloween in 2015 and challenges even the grittiest of NES players. With 6 unique levels, ’85 takes you on a journey back in time to the year 1985 when shopping malls and elementary school halls were the battleground for good versus evil.
The thing about this game is that it was the first NES game to be officially released on a Nintendo Console since Wario’s Woods in 1994. Not just a game that harkens back to the 8 bit days, ala Shovel Knight, but is actually made FOR an old system and ported to other systems later. So this clearly paved the way for many more which came after, which is a great honour to have.
Halloween ‘86 takes you back to Possum Hollow, the next Halloween, where the Evil has returned once again to wreak havoc on the town. Much like the previous title, you take control of Donny, and must fight your way through the wastroid menace in the seven chapters of the game, but this time, you have a buddy, Tami, who you can switch to at any time by pressing select. Between the two characters, you can punch, uppercut, skydive, and slide into enemies, with each character having various abilities to use. The range of moves on offer in this game is simply impressive, and not something that wasn’t even seen in the hayday of the NES The abilities however, are where the difficulty settings lie, as on easy mode you have access to everything right of the bat, but to increase the challenge, playing on normal or above turns on the feature of upgrades you get as you go through the chapters, Giving you a difficult choice of what to choose for a given situation. However, if either character dies, you will go back to the start of the level.
The introduction of Tami also brings with it a rather interesting addition, apart from the additional moves. The characters are truly independent, meaning that each has their own health. This is represented in the game by your character turning slowly green, with about three hits taking you out completely. Switching however, means you technically have double this and turns into a game of strategy — by deciding who to use in a given situation, move wise, and who needs the health pickups etc.
Enemies have a great variety to them, and some require specific moves, or even hitting in specific places to take down. Skeletons for examples, you can just punch into oblivion, but the shamblers require being hit in the head to knock it off. You can even pick up the heads, and use then as a thrown weapon against other foes. You can also find boxes that work in much the same way, and can also drop Life and Energy pickups. Bosses are also wildly varied. Appearing at the end of each chapter, From a lumbering golem charging at you on minecart tracks, to some king of lovecraftian horror hiding in the docks. You will have to have your wits about you and know your moves well to take these down. There is also a variety of environmental hazards, like Hands coming from the background, Spikes from the ceiling, and slime/acid that cannot be attacked, and must simply be avoided
The graphics in this game, if somewhat dark, are some of the most impressive i have seen from the system, with only a few, Like Super Mario 3, besting it. Colours are dingy and dark, but convey the levels in the correct light for the theme, and the tile-based sprite work is simply amazing. Levels are not flat, with slopes, bumps, and multiple levels of action to deal with. This is really a showcase for what the NES can do, with 30 years of experience and documentation behind it. Being a classic NES game also means the return of a staple of the era. With no save games or savestates, passwords are the order of the day and brings with it a nice pang of nostalgia.
Halloween ’86 is a great platformer, and also, in contrast to the games of the day, is not “NES hard”, to coin a phrase, but presents a nice challenge, and as mentioned, a bit of strategy on the harder difficulties. The game can also be made harder for yourself by not allowing yourself to switch characters. All in all, whichever system you play on, its a great platformer, and a fantastic showcase of what the NES is capable of.