It’s impossible these days to ignore the role that video games have played when it comes to horror. While most people think of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone In The Dark as their first video game related horror experiences, my start began much earlier than that.
While Haunted House for the Atari 2600 was my first horror game, the one game that I really sunk my teeth into (pun intended) was Imagic’s Dracula for the Intellivision. Dracula released in 1982, and was unique in that the game allowed players to take on the role of Dracula himself.
The premise is simple: As the sun sets, Dracula rises from his coffin (appropriately set to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach) and stalks the locals to meet his nightly blood quota. Dracula achieves this by knocking on the doors of townspeople’s homes, and seeing if you can lure them out for feeding time. You can tell if someone is home by their eyes peeking out of the upper floor’s window. If they do answer the door, Dracula gives chase, biting them for blood/points. As the townspeople are generally faster than Dracula, players can transform into a bat to hunt them more quickly. Once you meet your quota, Dracula must retire before the sun rises again.
That’s not to say that Dracula has it easy. The local Constable won’t have any of these vampiric bitings happening on his turf, so he hunts Dracula down and throws stakes at him. While they don’t kill Dracula outright, they will slow him down, and nothing is more embarrassing than taking a stake full in the crotch.
Once your nightly bloodlust has been sated, Dracula can return to the grave. However, wolves will now hunt down Dracula as he flees, and while he can turn into a bat to escape them, a vulture will appear to drag him offscreen and insta-kill him.
While the Constable is annoying, Dracula has an option to either bite his victim for instant food, or bite his victim to turn into a zombie. A second player can actually control the zombie to hunt down and eat the Constable.
What makes Dracula so unique is that for such a small game, there’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot of great details. If players make the mistake of biting someone in full view or turning into a bat on a victim’s doorstep before knocking, the townsperson refuses to come out. There’s also a lot of atmosphere in the game with lightning flashing across the sky as Dracula hunts for food. The Midnight-6:00 A.M. timer also adds a sense of urgency to gameplay.
There are even humorous elements, such as the pun laden game description, the smiley faces on the sun and moon, and the death music (Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ minor, Op. 35 – aka: “The Funeral March”) playing before it adding a comedic twist to its end.
Dracula has always been one of my favorite classic horror video games, and it has been somewhat lost time time outside of retro gaming fans. While somewhat tricky to find in a complete state these days, it’s detailed graphics, spooky sounds, and deep arcade style play makes it a late-night classic no matter how many times you play. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy being the bad guy once in a while?