Most digital marketplaces are currently flooded with horror titles to coincide with the spookiest season of the year. Blood-splattered franchises like Resident Evil, Amnesia, Friday the 13th, and an entire catalog of games with the word “Dead” in their titles are all supplying scares for discounted prices. However, there’s no denying that a horror-based haul of this magnitude can at times be a little too intense and, dare I say, even too serious. Sometimes you need to take a different approach to the traditionally dark scenarios that are tied to this time of the year, and that’s just what makes Halloween Forever the perfect creepy companion for these cold Autumn evenings.
Holloween Forever is a 2D platformer that proudly sports a retro-inspired 8-bit art-style giving off that same warm nostalgic feeling that many gamers would associate with booting up their dusty old NES consoles. The story tells of a lowly pumpkin patch becoming subject to magical spells from an undead sorcerer who raises spirits in an attempt to twist the world into an enteral Halloween-like state. This results in one of the pumpkins shuffling to life and transforming into a humanoid with a Jack O’Lantern for a head.
The plot never gets any more fleshed out than this, and honestly, it doesn’t need to be. The brief outline is enough to convey the fact that you play as Pumpkin Man, Pumpkin Man has to stop the sorcerer, and everything in between is suddenly outlandishly spooky.
Just like its adorable graphical style, the gameplay in Halloween Forever is incredibly basic, but this does not mean that it’s bad. You can jump or double-jump to traverse the landscape, and barf up candy corn from your throat as a means of attack. The refreshing simplicity doesn’t make the game feel shallow however; it instead gives it an instant feeling of familiarity. By the time you’ve crossed the first gap in the opening seconds of Level 1, you’re also entirely at home with the control scheme, and confident enough to charge headlong into the darkened Halloween night to brave its array of cute and cuddly monstrosities.
The game’s five levels are spread out across classic Halloween clichés such as graveyards, creepy churches, and castles. Each of these adventures features a boss, a sub-boss, and a small army of spooky creatures for Pumpkin Man to overcome. Among them are tiny sorcerers with the ability to fire projectiles horizontally across the screen, skeletons that drop down from above and explode on impact, and worms that spring up from the ground whenever you get within proximity of them. Some of the common foes are quite reminiscent of classic enemies from the original run of Super Mario Bros. titles, including giant stone blocks sporting angry faces which attempt to crush you in a very similar style to Thwomp. The later levels see creatures that cling to platforms in the same vein as the Sparks which appear in Super Mario Bros. 2.
The pleasure that this Halloween Forever takes softening traditionally heavy themes such as zombies and chainsaw-wielding maniacs infinitely adds to the game’s charm. As you vomit candy corn at disembodied heads and or decapitate a large, clumsy dragon, you never feel like actions are even remotely nasty or fierce. The gently rounded edges of undead sprites coupled with their deliberately big oblivious eyes give the most ghastly of beasts a welcoming glow. Even the skeletons hanging from distant trees with nooses tied around their necks seem entirely endearing. The game from start to finish carries with it a warm, friendly atmosphere that celebrates the spirit of the season while continually reminding the player that this time of the year should be enjoyed by children.
Although every second of Halloween Forever is brimming with charisma it, unfortunately, all ends too soon. The game can easily be beaten in about 20 minutes and if a player knew their way around the title’s maps quite well, I’d imagine that timeframe could be reduced considerably. Obviously, this isn’t a huge issue for the $5 price tag, but worth mentioning. There are a handful of reasons to revisit it including seven other unlockable characters, each with their own play-style, and collectibles that serve as a means to change the ending of the story. However, since the story isn’t all that relevant, this isn’t overly enticing.
Halloween Forever is a much-needed counterbalance to the striking harsh situations put forth by other titles that are popular at this time of year. Unlike many other games that wrap a retro aesthetic over a deep, complex, combat system like a well-tailored costume, Halloween Forever is more than happy being itself, and it’s just perfect at it! It’s simple, family-friendly, and an absolute joy to play. From the gentle pumpkin-orange glow of the DualShock 4’s light bar throughout the game to the fact that extra lives come in the form of trick or treat buckets; it all feels like a genuine love letter to the spirit of Halloween.