Top 10 Halloween Games for 2020 – A Haunted Harvest of Indie Offerings

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes, but then it goes on with a bunch of lyrics about Christmas or something. Here at IGR, we know the REAL most wonderful time of the year is of course Halloween. Who needs mistletoe and jingle bells when you’ve got witches, ghosts, goblins, vampires, bats, costumes, pumpkins and truly terrifying helpings of candy corn?!

And if all that isn’t enough seasonal fall fun for you, how about video games? Depending on the status of lockdown in your neck of the haunted woods, actual trick-or-treating might not be an option, so let us provide some quarantine-friendly entertainment instead with…

A Haunted Harvest of Indie Offerings

Pumpkin Jack

by Nicolas Meysonnier

The pumpkin-headed ghost of a criminal brought back to life by the devil himself, fighting scarecrows, ghosts and skeletons and aided by a talking crow? Pumpkin Jack is almost too on-the-nose. God forbid you try and play this one in March or April, but right now? Perfection!

And the imagery might be stereotypical, right down to the big iron witch’s cauldrons you drink from to save your game, but it’s beautifully done, more Walt Disney than Wes Craven, but in the best possible way, with exaggerated, cartoonish animation and beautifully rendered candlelight and fog effects capturing that eerie autumnal atmosphere (and if you’ve got a cutting-edge graphics card, all the better, as Pumpkin Jack also features ray tracing).

Protagonist Jack himself is particularly well-done, his flaming eyes full of glowing menace in spite of the game’s comparatively lighthearted approach.

The action is great, too, very reminiscent of early PlayStation-era third-person action and horror games like Nightmare Creatures – a personal favorite – relying more on skill and timing than complicated combinations.

Don’t let the comparative simplicity fool you, though: Pumpkin Jack offers plenty of challenge both in terms of environmental puzzles – for some, Jack can detach his “gourd” and scuttle unsettlingly around on his roots – and timed jump sequences.

Good stuff, ticking every box for seasonal spookiness, and the incredible production quality here is especially impressive given that Pumpkin Jack was created by a single person.

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Xbox One, Windows PC, Steam

Carrion

Phobia Game Studio

A big part of the Halloween spirit is the intermingling of horror and laughter, glee and the grotesque. Just think of blindfolded kids giggling nervously as they plunge their hands into a bowl of cold spaghetti: “And these are the witch’s GUTS.”

Nothing embodies that spirit quite so much as Carrion, a reverse take on The Thing that puts players in the shoes – or rather the amorphous, slimy appendages – of an otherworldly monster loose in a scientific research facility.

From the joyfully squishy movement to the over-the-top bloody bacchanal of tearing scientists apart with your tentacles, Phobia Game Studio invites players to revel in gore, but it’s delivered with a playful spirit rather than a cruel one.

In addition to the unique but brilliantly executed sense of locomotion and perfect sound design – the clatter of ventilation grates pulled loose and flung around with abandon is particularly evocative – the graphics are beautiful, as well.

TheOvermatt, who covered Carrion recently in his Game Pass Good Stuff column, praised it for “excellent background art and sprite work that manages to be equal parts beautiful and gruesome.”

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Xbox One, Windows PC, Mac, Steam

Maid of Sker

by Wales Interactive

So many of our biggest Halloween symbols – not least the venerable jack o’ lantern – come from Celtic cultures, so why not spend your Samhain with a horror game based on a Welsh folktale?

Maid of Sker is classic survival horror – our own Kit Goodliffe compared it to the early entries in the Resident Evil series – albeit with some modern updates, like phonograph records that serve the dual purpose of advancing the story and acting as save points.

Another creative addition: as you explore the levels of the game’s hotel, you’ll need to hold your breath with fear – literally – because the roaming monstrous creatures haunting its halls track you by sound. Watch out for dust, because a sneeze could mean your end!

Kit gave developers Wales Interactive especially high praise to the game’s presentation for both its lighting effects and its frightening sound design: “From creaking floorboards to stranger, indistinguishable noises, the hotel is full of sounds designed to cause any exploration to grind to a tip-toed snail pace.”

Platforms: Sony PS4, Microsoft Xbox, Windows PC, Steam

October Night Games

by Octobear Knight Games

The title says it all, doesn’t it? October Night Games is a digital board game involving preparations for an evil ritual planned for Halloween night itself.

You’ll work with – and against – other players as you sneak into swamps and graveyards looking for magical ingredients, conduct experiments in your alchemical laboratory and do your best to figure out which of your fellow players are working with you and which ones are trying to undermine your efforts.

If your cult is successful, your work will culminate with no less than the summoning of the Great Old Ones. Admittedly, Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror isn’t automatically Halloween-appropriate, but the imagery and characters here – witches and ghouls and old tombstones abound – fit the autumnal mood perfectly, as do the sepia-toned, collage-style graphics.

Intriguing even against AI opponents, this one really comes to life – or perhaps some horrid sort of undeath – as a multi-player game.

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Spooky Chase

by Burning Goat Studio

If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in simple but fast-paced arcade action, Spooky Chase offers a trick-or-treat-themed spin on classic single-level, side-scrolling action.

Seemingly a simple capture-the-flag game on Halloween night, the twist here is that each time you grab a collectible, the game spawns a new enemy that follows your previous movement path. As you progress toward winning each level, the screen fills with more and more foes to dodge, so mapping your route requires quick thinking as well as quick reflexes.

It’s simple in concept, but the steeply increasing difficulty curve – not to mention loads of costumes to unlock and local multi-player for added complexity – makes this a compelling little game likely to appeal especially to fans of the high-speed madcap action of classic Vlambeer games.

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Living the Nightmare

by Reanimate Games

It was John Carpenter’s Halloween – and its murderous masked madman, Michael Myers – that kicked off the golden age of slasher films, so why not celebrate the genre and the holiday together with this homage to butcher knives and the maniacs who love them?

Living the Nightmare starts at the end of the movie: our antihero slain by the teen girls he once stalked. Now our killer finds himself in a strange new world, part wooded campground and part surrealistic hell.

Turn-based but fast-paced procedural levels keep the actions moving, but it’s the creeping strangeness of the enemies that makes this game so compelling: at first, demons and ogres from world folklore, then a menagerie of twisted Day-Glo monstrosities that look like ‘70s drugstore monster toys as designed by Clive Barker.

The industrial ambient score and visual nods to decaying VHS tapes certainly don’t hurt, either.

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Burn Me Twice

by Null Reference Studio

As an executed witch brought back from the dead by infernal forces, it’s your job to solve a mystery and hopefully prove your own innocence in this adventure game.

Burn Me Twice features clever writing, charming low-poly character design, and loads of folk horror imagery, from plague doctor masks to pointy black hats to bloody demonic rituals, not to mention that one of the key mechanics is your character’s ability to jump between the realms of the living and the dead – very appropriate right now, when the veil between those realms is thinnest.

On top of being unsettling topical – a central plot point involves a mysterious plague – Burn Me Twice is a project created by graduate students at U-TAD and is therefore available as a free Steam download. There’s no excuse not to check this one out!

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

The Swine

by Vincent Lade

Speaking of folk horror, Vincent Lade brings it by the shovelful this time by way of the Southern Gothic – in first-person horror adventure The Swine. From Tarot cards to pig-masked cultists, this short adventure game from the Deathbloom developer hints at sinister rituals and builds a slow, steady tension.

The game’s relatively short playing time and comparatively small environment – the entirety of the game takes place within a single medium-sized house – make this a fun-size Halloween treat rather than a king-sized candy bar, so to speak, but that actually enhances the creepiness, letting the mixture of occult and psychological dread build up inside a tiny enclosed space.

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Unfamiliar

by Mana Tea Games

Witches or black cats? Why not both? In Unfamiliar, you play a cat who also happens to be a witch. It’s light on action, with a more casual approach familiar to mobile games. You can explore at your own pace, gathering witchcraft potion ingredients like bones, skulls and insects for later use in crafting outfits for your cat and decorations for your treehouse.

The soft pastel art and mellow trip-hop soundtrack make this a soothing Samhain offering rather than a scary one, but this year especially it makes for a nice balm for both video game and real-world horrors.

Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Steam

Ray’s the Dead

by Ragtag Studio

Ray’s the Dead -screenshot courtesy Steam

Ray’s the Dead is the spiritual successor to Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel without a Pulse, made by members of the same development team, and if you played the original, that’s more than enough to pick up this long-awaited Kickstarter game.

Combining the action adventure elements of its predecessor with some light RTS moments a la Overlord and even Pikmin, Ray’s the Dead is also suffused with more ‘80s trick-or-treating nostalgia than the second season of Stranger Things.

Platforms: Sony PS4, Windows PC, Steam

An Extra Tricky DLC Treat

And that’s our list of 10 excellent indies for a haunting harvest season, but because you all just look so adorable in your costumes, we can’t resist tossing one more treat your way:

Graveyard Keeper – Game of Crone DLC

by Lazy Bear Games

It’s no secret that we love Graveyard Keeper here at IGR. We gave it an honorable mention in our list of Top 10 Indie Games of 2018 and even included it in a previous Halloween list.

So it’s no wonder that we’re excited that Lazy Bear Games released a massive new DLC expansion to the morbid farming simulator just in time to make it onto our list two years running – a first, we believe.

Game of Crone features tons of new narrative content – including a donkey revolution – new mysteries to solve, a new area to maintain and, perhaps most seasonally appropriate, the arrival of an annoying vampire to hassle the nearby villagers.

There’s also loads of new items, gravestones, scrolls, etc., adding at least a dozen hours of new content to a game that’s already packed full of things to do, so grab your shovel, Keeper, and be on the look-out for bloodthirsty monsters from beyond the grave.

Platforms: Sony PS4, Windows PC, Steam

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