Bee Raroo[Happy Halloween, GameSetWatch readers! After a short hiatus, Mister Raroo returns to discuss some of the games he’s been playing this Halloween season. As is par for the course in Raroo’s articles, other topics manage to find their way into the mix, including embarrassing Halloween costumes, scurrying cats, The Puberty Fairy, and more!

Halloween Time With Mister Raroo

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, going back to my earliest memories of childhood when my mom wouldn’t allow me to buy pricey costumes, opting instead to settle for budget-priced fare that was, in her opinion, just as good. “Just as good” didn’t cut it when I was a Return of the Jedi-obsessed elementary school kid in 1983 and had my heart set on dressing up as one of the pig-like Gamorrean Guards from Jabba the Hutt’s palace.

Since my mom wouldn’t fork over the cash for an expensive costume, I had to don a cheap plastic mask and body suit that made me look more like a Gamorrean Janitor than anything else. Such a get-up effectively made me a subject of mockery for some of the hooligan junior high kids who also chose to dress as Gamorrean Guards but were lucky enough to have realistic-looking rubber masks. But, I forgive her! Now that I’m a parent, I understand that there’s not always money available for frivolous expenses like costly Halloween costumes.

Still, even something like the Gamorrean Guard embarrassment wasn’t enough to deter my love of Halloween. I don’t think there’s been a year yet when I haven’t dressed up, and between chaperoning my niece Autumn and my son Kaz, trick-or-treating has continued to be an annual ritual for me. This year will be no different; Kaz and I will be dressing up as bees and Missus Raroo will be taking on the role of beekeeper. I’m hoping that having such a cute theme will score us extra candy when we make our trick-or-treat rounds!

Mister and Missus Raroo's WeddingHalloween was the first major holiday Missus Raroo and I celebrated together, and the memory was so special that we decided to make it our wedding date. Having our anniversary on Halloween makes it feel like the world is celebrating right along with us. Instead of a cheesy romantic dinner over candlelight, Missus Raroo and I will be carving pumpkins, eating candy, and watching Kaz take in the wonder of his second Halloween.

But when all is said and done, one of my favorite ways to wind down after a long evening of Halloween festivities is to kick back and play some video games. Over the years there has been no shortage of game releases perfectly suited for a creepy Halloween night, and this year has been no different. So, without further ado, I present you with Mister Raroo’s Top Picks for Halloween 2008!

Silent Hill: Homecoming (Konami, Xbox 360/Playstation 3)

The original Silent Hill on the Playstation will always be my favorite, not necessarily because I think it’s the best game in the series, but because it really scared the heck out of me. The game was released during a period in my life when I really didn’t have much going on. I had just graduated from college and was living back at home, working part time and basically trying to figure out what to do with my life. With so much free time, I often stayed up into the wee hours playing video games until I finally passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Silent Hill was one such game that I’d stay up playing until almost daybreak. While the game featured some pretty frightening visuals, it was the brilliant sound design that quickened my pulse and made me question if there weren’t unspeakable atrocities lurking in the darker corners of my room. I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared playing a video game, but that’s why it was so fun.

In the past few years, though, I’ve become less enthused about being frightened. I’ve stopped watching movies that give me the creeps and my gaming tastes have moved towards more light and cheerful fare. Perhaps avoiding scary games has lowered my tolerance for fear, but whatever the case, when I decided to give recently released Silent Hill: Homecoming a try, I once again came down with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.

I dabbled with all of Silent Hill’s sequels, but none of them managed to capture my attention as much as the first. Homecoming, however, has grabbed hold of me more than I expected, and I’ve spent quick a few late nights cautiously exploring the game’s unnerving world. In a lot of ways, Homecoming feels more like the first game than any of the other sequels, and while that might turn some fans off, it made me feel comfortable diving into the world of Silent Hill once again..

Silent Hill's Stupid Controls!As always, a frightening atmosphere is set by appropriately gloomy sound design, and thankfully, the game’s environments are detailed and filled with dreary fog and shadows. However, what appeals to me most of all is that the character control is vastly improved, making navigation and combat much less cumbersome than in previous Silent Hill games. There were too many times I died in the other Silent Hill games because I couldn’t get the character to move how I wanted (or at least I’ll just keep telling myself that so I don’t have to admit that maybe I just wasn’t very good at the games!).

I’m not sure how well the hardest of the hardcore Silent Hill fans have reacted to the familiar ground explored by Homecoming, but I’ve had a blast staying up past my bedtime, jumping at any tiny noise I hear in my house. For some reason my cats become particularly mischievous whenever I play Homecoming and decide to dart around the room at particularly tense moments. Or, at least I hope it was just my cats and not some gruesome monsters!

Dead Space (Electronic Arts, Xbox 360/Playstation 3)

Dead Space is billed by EA as a scary game, but it really didn’t have that effect on me. Sure, there are a few moments when a monster unexpectedly leaped out and frightened me, but overall I never had the same sense of perpetual dread that I did with Silent Hill: Homecoming. Still, exploring the game’s desolate setting—namely a dilapidated husk of a giant space ship—is the perfect fit for any Halloween.

Feeling like a mix between Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, and BioShock, Dead Space caught me off guard with its quality. I’m not anti-Electronic Arts by any means, but besides the Burnout series there really isn’t much released by the company that interests me. Imagine my surprise, then, when I first booted up Dead Space and found that not only was it damn good, but I couldn’t put the controller down.

There has been some criticism that the game’s overall structure is too linear, but to me it just makes playing Dead Space feel like I’m on an awesome amusement park ride I don’t want to end. The game begins with a dramatic voyage to the doomed spaceship and the pace stays brisk from thereon out. There are times when it feels as if the game is on-rails, but I can’t imagine the pacing would be so steady and engaging if a different design direction had been adopted.

Isaac is LostMore than the spectacular visuals and sound design, more than the fantastic pacing, and even more than the innovative removal of a typical HUD in place of ingeniously-integrated in-game menus and options screens, what had the biggest impact on me is that at any point in the game I can press a button and a line will appear on-screen directing where I should go next. The line only appears for a few brief seconds, functioning more as a clue or reminder than a way to hold your hand, but it has been integral to my Dead Space experience.

I have a tendency to get lost and frustrated when I play games that require even the slighted bit of exploration, so I am very thankful to whatever member of the development team decided to integrate such a smart navigation feature. This means that instead of the annoying omnipresent direction arrows found in many other games, Dead Space players who want to explore without any unnecessary guidance can do so. But for a doofus like me who can’t find his way around the game’s spaceship, being able to bring up the visual guideline whenever needed is a godsend.

Though Dead Space may not inspire the same visceral sensations of horror that I felt while playing Silent Hill: Homecoming, it’s still a great choice for a Halloween romp. Dead Space’s eerie spaceship is the type of destination that’s almost begging to be visited on a dark, quiet night. And, it’s worth pointing out that the main character’s outfit that sort of makes him look like he’s wearing a Halloween costume! In fact, since killing the game’s monsters often results in them dropping a useful item, it’s almost like trick-or-treating!

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami, Nintendo DS)

About halfway through fifth grade, I arrived at school one morning and found a strange man sitting near my desk. I thought maybe he was a new student teacher or one of my classmates’ fathers. It turns out this “strange man” was actually an unusually tall new student named Adam. Standing at 6’4”, Adam was literally head and shoulders above the rest of us. The Puberty Fairy had definitely visited him early; he shaved regularly and had a deep, booming voice. Needless to say, the rest of us boys were in awe.

Adam Looked OldDespite looking like a man, Adam was definitely still a kid when it came to his interests. This became abundantly clear when I attended his sleepover birthday party near the end of the school year. Adam’s parents went all out, turning the family living room into what most of us deemed to be heaven. There was a table overflowing with every type of junk food imaginable, a stack of action and horror videocassettes to watch, and a massive pile of Nintendo Entertainment System games to play. It was at Adam’s party that I became acquainted with one of my lifelong loves: Castlevania.

Since that fateful gathering, I’ve played every Castlevania sequel imaginable, even those there weren’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the series. I love the atmosphere, I love the music, and I just love the core gameplay. Cracking skeletons with a whip (or sword, or axe) never gets old! Whenever a Castlevania game hits stores, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll be there on day one to pick up a copy.

In the past few years, the Castlevania series has become a Halloween tradition of sorts, with annual releases coming right before the big day. This year was no exception to the rule as Konami released their third Castlevania for the Nintendo DS, Order of Ecclesia. Thankfully, the development team did more than churn out a cookie-cutter sequel. Order of Ecclesia makes a number of small but interesting changes to the formula, including a darker art direction, an intriguing magic-based attack system, an overworld map filled with atypical locations, and (not counting Sonia Belmont’s lackluster starring role in Castlevania Legends for the original Gameboy) a female lead character that can go toe-to-toe with any of the rugged protagonists from previous games.

All things considered, Order of Ecclesia seems to have been a labor of love. The sprite animations and background graphics are meticulous, the music is catchy and often hauntingly beautiful, the character control feels spot-on, and the entire package comes together into what I consider to be one of the best Castlevania games ever constructed. With this in mind, it's no surprise that I adore it, except for one troublesome aspect: Order of Ecclesia is hard!

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the relative ease of the past half-dozen or so Castlevania games, but Order of Ecclesia’s enemies and bosses really seem to have it in for me. It’s shameful how many times I’ve seen the Game Over screen, but I’ve got to hand it to the strength of the overall game design that I’ve jumped back into the mix every time. That being said, would it have killed the development team to put in an Easy Mode for sissies like me?

Like many of the kids I grew up with, chances are Adam has left playing video games in the past. Of the few friends I’m still in contact with from my youth, most of them no longer partake in gaming, instead funneling their efforts into other uses of their free time, such as watching sports, playing golf, or getting drunk. Nevertheless, some part of me hopes that Adam is still a Castlevania fan and gets excited the same way I do whenever a new entry in the series is released. Who knows, maybe Adam will happen across this article and realize his birthday party is what got me hooked on Castlevania in the first place!

Happy Halloween!Happy Halloween from Mister Raroo!

The three games discussed above are but a few pebbles upon the massive mountain of video games ideal for a Halloween night. Whether you dust off your Atari 2600 and go vintage with Haunted House, pop a well-loved Luigi’s Mansion disc into your Gamecube, or download Siren: Blood Curse for your Playstation 3, I hope your Halloween gaming is pleasant and satisfying.

And if you’re not doing any gaming on Halloween, have a good time all the same! Halloween is one of the rare holidays that you can have a blast without spending any cash. There is a certain type of magic in the air that only appears on Halloween night. Whatever you have planned for Halloween, I wish a safe and fun evening to you and your friends and family. Happy Halloween, GameSetWatch readers!

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. Some of his Halloween costumes from past years are a creepy old man, a flower, Super Mario, and a giant banana. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com]