The Best 16-Bit Horror Games

The horror genre didn’t explode in popularity until the PS1 days, but before that, there were several quality horror titles out there. Not a lot of pure horror games, but definitely ones that are horror-themed or horror-adjacent.

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A common element among them is that they’re not very extreme in terms of their violence. In the early ’90s, video game violence was a hot-button issue after Mortal Kombat, and most countries didn’t have a rating system. After the ESRB came into reality in 1994, you’d see more violent retail games, and that truly kicked off in the next generation.

8 Clock Tower (SNES)

A screenshot from Clock Tower, showing Jennifer observing a bird's nest in the Barrows Mansion

The first instalment in the Clock Tower series wasn’t originally launched in the West, and Clock Tower 2 on the PS1 dropped the number when it came to the States. Clock Tower 1 is a short and sweet horror romp with a lot of replay value and good scares.

A large part of the gameplay is solving puzzles but also evading the Scissorman. You have no weapons, so you’ll have to hide, which has become a common staple of the genre.

7 Splatterhouse 2

Level 5 of Splatterhouse 2 for the Genesis

Bandai Namco’s Splatterhouse series is a strong cult favorite of retro horror fans, and for good reason. For one, these titles were some of the only graphic console games at the time, and their gameplay still feels fresh. Splatterhouse 2 is a 2D beat-’em-up, but you only traverse in one plane.

This means you’ll be evading and attacking incoming threats in a rather tight space, which makes it feel much different than other games in the genre. The graphics and music are fantastic for the Genesis, and the levels are very diverse and constantly switching things up. Of the two Genesis Splatterhouse games, the second is the best, as part three turned the series into a standard 2D beat-’em-up that lost what made the series special.

6 Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Zombies Ate My Neighbors characters walking through a cemetery with zombies patrolling and coming out of the ground

An absolutely incredible title from LucasArts back in the day was Zombies Ate My Neighbors. You must go through a gauntlet of 48 levels, ensuring you rescue your neighbors but have enough supplies for what’s to come. It feels like an arcade game but also survival horror in that sense.

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The enemy roster is the best out of any 16-bit horror title. It has close to everything, and even many modern horror games don’t have this level of enemy variety. Thankfully, playing the title is easy today as it was rereleased alongside Ghoul Patrol on modern platforms in 2021.

5 Super Castlevania 4

The intro of Super Castlevania 4 featuring Simon entering the castle.

There are a lot of great Castlevania titles, but the best old-school traditional one has to be Super Castlevania 4. What made this title truly special was the ability to whip in all eight directions. This changed the game tremendously and made all other instalments at the time seem like child’s play.

It made the title feel a lot more fair despite still being a good challenge. Castlevania 4 is actually a remake of the first game. This makes the experience somewhat familiar but also refreshing and exciting due to the new controls. Despite Castlevania 4 being the best of this era, there were other instalments equally worth checking out.

4 Castlevania: Rondo Of Blood

Castlevania Rondo Of Blood, Attacked By A Swarm Of Fleamen

Rondo of Blood launched exclusively in Japan for the PC Engine’s CD-ROM add-on, and it’s a shame the West didn’t get it until over a decade later. This game lacks the eight-directional whip controls of Castlevania 4, but it has other features that make up for it. The story’s impressive for a 1993 title, complete with animated cutscenes.

Back in the day, these were still fairly new to video games, so it was especially stunning. The music is incredible as well, making good use of the CD format, and the levels are the same quality you’d expect from the series. Rondo of Blood is a must-check-out Castlevania entry, especially as the series’ favorite Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to it.

3 Super Metroid

Samus fights a Torizo in Super Metroid

While not a traditional horror game, Super Metroid definitely has some horror vibes going on. The atmosphere can be pretty eerie at times, and you do feel a lot of the sci-fi horror influences that went into this game. Plus, there’s actually some gore.

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When Crocomire’s face melts during its boss fight, that’s shockingly brutal for an old game like this. Super Metroid is one of the greatest titles on the SNES and still holds up. The bosses are great, the map is decently large considering the hardware, the story’s the best so far, and you also have quite a bit of replay value.

2 Doom

Three Cacodemons, floating heads, attacking in Doom E2M9

Doom is a PC game, but it launched in the 16-bit era and did come out on the SNES. It’s horror-themed, with demons running about, and there are zombies in it, too. Not many people realize it, but Doom is technically a zombie game and one of the best ever.

Episode One, in particular, is still a blast to play through and John Romero’s best work in the industry. The SNES port of Doom is probably the best old-school port, at least regarding content. It doesn’t play great, but you do get all three episodes, and it has the final boss. That can’t be said for every other old-school port, which has tons of missing content.

1 Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

Fighting a dinosaur in Super Ghouls'n Ghosts

Older games from the 8 and 16-bit eras are known for being much harder than the games you get today. Many simply can’t tolerate these titles, but for those willing to take on the challenge, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is one of the best hard games to play on the SNES.

Controls are super tight, the levels are diverse, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you finally beat a stage you’ve struggled on. It’s unfortunate this series doesn’t have much of an audience in today’s age, but all the entries are worth checking out.

NEXT: Best Horror Games For Beginners

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