Scarecade: Our Top 3 Arcade Shooters!

Growing up in the ’90s and 2000s had its ups and downs. Cell phones weren’t readily available. The internet was around but wasn’t that great. Most forms of social media weren’t a thing unless you wanted to brave the landscape of those scary internet chat rooms where you weren’t quite sure who you were talking to.

Of course I’m a 20 year old super model. Why do you ask?

But there were a few golden beacons of hope in this glorious time to be alive, one of them being the arcade! Not all arcades had the same games available to them, so getting to travel around allowed you to see what the areas had to offer. Aside from a few small Mom and Pop locations, we had a few decent chains on the west coast. Places like Tilt and Aladdin’s Castle were amazing places to test the freshly honed skills you’d gained from practicing at home, but you also had the opportunity to try out games you couldn’t play anywhere else.

As much as I loved playing beat ’em ups like The Simpsons, X-Men, and Alien Versus Predator, I always found myself drawn to light gun shooters. Up until 1995, most shooters were 2D side scrollers where the screen would slowly move to the right as you shot at any enemy that showed up. Occasionally, a civilian character would jump out of nowhere, causing you to lose a life if you shot them. Of course, my favorite shooters were all horror related.

Prepare to enter a world of undead monstrosities, extra-terrestrial terrors, and genetic mutations the likes of which you’ve probably seen at least a few times thanks to YouTube and Netflix. Welcome to Scarecade: a list of our favorite arcade shooters!

The first stop in the Scarecade is Area 51, a fairly popular shooter that was published by Atari and made its first public appearance in 1995. Area 51’s story is pretty basic: you’re a member of the Strategic Tactical Advanced Alien Response team tasked with killing aliens as well as the zombies they create.

‘Cause this is Thriller!

You’re initially armed with nothing but a pistol, but you can receive an upgrade by shooting various icons. The backgrounds on this game were 3D, but all of the character sprites were 2D, which looked great back in the day. Upgrades include an assault rifle, pump shotgun, and auto shotgun, but you can lose them by taking enemy damage. For all of the tech people interested, the cabinet for Area 51 ran on Atari Jaguar software, which is funny because the game never received a home port on the actual system. Instead, the Sega Saturn, original PlayStation and home PCs received console ports.

There’s currently one sequel for this game, Area 51: Site 4, and one remake, which was a console only game. It received ports on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and also featured the voice work of X-Files’ David Duchovny and Powers Booth (Sin City franchise). The gameplay is pretty fun, but can get old after a while. There’s not much enemy variety and no boss battles, but Site 4 added a continual boss fight throughout. The overall game is pretty straight forward with a fairly linear plot, but depending on how you do, you could end up at the bad ending.

Next on our trip to the Scarecade is what’s probably the most popular light gun shooter out there. House of the Dead is a true fan favorite that dropped in 1996. Created by Sega, the game sends you into the role of one of two AMS agents as they arrive at the mansion: Thomas Rogan aka G, or mad scientist/geneticist Dr. Roy Curien, who had become increasingly obsessed with solving the mysteries of life and death and slowly went insane. In the opening intro, Thomas and G arrive just in time to see the undead attacking several scientists as well as witness Agent Rogan’s fiancé, Sophie Richards, being taken by a flying boss known as The Hanged Man.

The Hanged Man

The world in this game is a large, gothic mansion with an underground lab. As if taking its cue from Area 51, The House Of The Dead features some truly beautiful 3D back grounds for the time, as well as all of the enemies represented by 3D sprites. Then, depending on the actions you take, you could end up with several different scenarios playing out. It’s speculated that, thanks to the popularity of Resident Evil and House of the Dead, zombie-themed media saw a resurgence in popularity, which paved the way for filmmakers to release big budget zombie films back into mainstream media. Now for the technical/nerd stuff. The cabinet for this game had two screens, with a short barrier between the two players where the pistols were holstered.

The light guns for House of the Dead were fairly unique for the time, with the plastic slide on the pistol to recoiling after every shot you take. For most arcades, these pistols might have been hard to replace. The gameplay ran on the Sega Graphic Library operating system, the same one that Sega’s other major shooter series, Virtua Cop, ran on. This system allowed for most sprites to react to any area they were shot, adding a layer of pseudo-realism.

His cameo was probably the most entertaining part of the second movie. RIP, Sid

Despite being a shooter, House of the Dead has a truly expansive legacy with several sequels as well as two movies. The first movie, which is considered legendarily bad, was directed by Uwe Boll. The second, which more closely followed the plot of the games but was still panned, was directed by Michael Hurst. To the credit of the second film, though, Sid Haig had a cameo as Dr. Curien, who was a catalyst for the events of the second movie. A third film was planned, but it eventually evolved into Dead and Deader.

Also of note, a rather bizarre shoutout was in the movie Wreck It Ralph. Cyril, the axe wielding zombie, makes a cameo at the villains’ anonymous meeting. Aside from receiving a Fatality from Kano, Cyril says some kind words to Ralph to reassure him of his place.

Now, it’s time for our last stop at the Scarecade and easily my all time favorite game on this list. Carnevil hit the scene 1998 and was originally published by Midway. On the cabinet, nestled between two plastic pump shotguns, was placed a sinister poem:

“Welcome to Carnevil

we’re visiting your town.

No, that’s not the walking dead

it’s just a silly clown!

We open every midnight

and close before dawn.

Your mommy may come look for you

but by then, we will be gone!”

Enticing, right? The story follows two unnamed teenagers who break away from a midnight tour in Greely Valley, Iowa. Being the naturally curious types, the two of you, as well as a random civilian named Betty, come across the mysterious, jester-mounted gravestone of Ludwig von Tokkentakker, the mysterious ringmaster of Carnevil as well as the local Boogeyman of Greely Valley. After finding the grave, you find a golden token and place it into the mouth of the Jester, which causes the head to come to life and summon Carnevil. The surrounding woods and graveyard are magically transformed into Carnevil, with all of the attractions out for blood, forcing you to take a shotgun from the shooting range to defend yourself.

Think I know where my next vacation will be.

The game gives you a choice of one of three levels to start: either a Haunted House, a Freakshow, or Rickety Town, along with a fourth Big Top story becoming playable upon beating the other three. Each level is unique, with little to no crossover between the enemies that you face in the game. Instead of the standard plastic pistol, your light gun is a colored pump shotgun that you can either shoot off screen or pump to reload. The shotguns are considered somewhat iconic, being eventually implemented in House of the Dead 3 and another arcade shooter, Evil Night. Like with House of the Dead, most arcades would opt for cheap replacements with generic light guns instead of the actual shotguns.


Before I continue on, I want to address a rumor. I’m not sure how widespread it is, but it was pretty prominent in my school. Rumor has it that the legendary rap group Insane Clown Posse had a hand in this game’s creation, but so far, every article I’ve read has stated otherwise. Carnevil was the brain child of Jack E. Haeger who dreamed of a circus-themed shooter way back in 1988. Haeger has said that he was inspired by classic horror movies where teenagers would dare their friends to enter a graveyard or haunted house at midnight. A vision like this required patience, but the dream was never forgotten. Haeger got his chance to develop Carnevil shortly after the success he had working on the T2 arcade game. Blur Studios were contracted to help with the cut scenes, with Tim Miller of Deadpool and Terminator: Dark Fate supervising.

Yep, that Tim Miller!

Carnevil would eventually go on to out sell Mortal Kombat 4, Midway’s most popular cabinet at the time. Sadly, with Midway studios being bought out by Warner Brothers Studios, the legal rights to who owns the game are somewhat in the air. Jack Haeger has expressed in interviews an interest in a sequel, but he’s currently unaware of who the current rights holder is. The spirit of Carnevil is kept alive by the website Greely Valley Cemetery and is ran by CarnEvilCrazy, who has been able to unearth a gold mine of tidbits such as rare music, artwork, and unused sprites. With all of this being said, I know I’m not the only one wanting a sequel.

We hope you had fun on our trip to the Scarecade! What horror arcade games did we miss? Keep it tuned to PopHorror for all of your horror and gaming news, reviews and interviews!

About Zachary Howard

Just a dude stuck in small town in Washington State. Grew up on bad movies, loud music, violent video games, and I thing I turned out normal!

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