Once again, October is upon us, heralding all things eerie and ominous: the wind whistling through barren trees on a rainy night; gourds, both ornamental and eaten; bony, oversized lawn ornamentation from a beloved multinational home improvement/lawn and garden center; a preponderance of frightful films, books, and games; and more.
However, what the preeminent trends almost never account for is that some people (me) are gigantic weenies. Some of us (me) spent a decade terrified of those weird but increasingly lifelike animatronics in Spirit Halloween. Some of us (me) once saw a single still frame of the apes from Planet of the Apes (1968) as a child and harbored a bizarre fear of ape men living in their house for many years. And while I have grown out of my admittedly irrational fears—I would now be impressed if ape men were managing to live secretly in my one-bedroom New Jersey apartment—I am still, in my heart of hearts, an absolute weenie.
Yet I still enjoy the time of year and humbly propose that there is room for scares of all scales during this most haunted season. For this reason, I have recruited the Sidequest crew to tell you about our favorite games that evoke those creepy-but-cozy vibes.
As a fellow giant weenie, I find it impossible to play almost all horror games, opting instead to live vicariously through YouTube playthroughs. However, I have spent hours on each installment in the Rusty Lake series, partly because I adore the vibes and partly (okay, mostly) because I get stuck on at least one puzzle per game. The series is pretty light on horror and, being point-and-click puzzle games, I don’t have to worry about jump scares or fighting off monsters at any point. But there are some mildly gory elements and overall, Rusty Lake features a strange cast of creepy characters, and an unsettling atmosphere. I’ve just bought the newest in-universe title, Underground Blossom, which takes place in a surreal subway system, and I’m very excited to spend some time this Hallowe’en month getting stuck on more puzzles while a terrifying, sickly child watches me from behind a picture frame or something.
— Zainabb Hull
Six Cats Under
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to die alone in your apartment with only your cats for company? Wonder no more! In the free point-and-click puzzle game Six Cats Under, this is exactly what happens, and your ghost is confronted with the challenge of helping your cats escape the apartment before they starve. Despite its grim premise, Six Cats Under is a chill game with cute pixel graphics and an ambient lo-fi soundtrack. Even watching a short playthrough on YouTube is relaxing.
— Kathryn Hemmann
Dredge is a game for everyone who has ever started playing a fishing minigame and promptly ignored every other quest in favor of learning the sea and her secrets. And let me tell you, the sea in Dredge contains many secrets. As the fisherman of Greater Morrow, you’ll literally dredge up secrets and more, including some rather… unusual fish.
While I don’t find Dredge outright scary, the game does an incredible job of creating tension through its management aspects. The most important thing to manage, after the condition of your boat and its equipment, is time. The seas around Greater Morrow are relatively peaceful during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down your sense of panic starts to set in (literally, Panic is one of the game’s mechanics), which both limits and distorts your vision. Worse, the longer you sail, the more you realize your panic is justified—there’s plenty unnatural phenomena out there that will cause you harm. Worse still, your boat can only go so fast, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to be able to make it to a dock to rest by dark. If you haven’t… well, hopefully your hull is sturdy enough to keep the horrors at bay.
— Maddi Butler
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is an atmospheric walking sim in which everyone dies. Everyone! And often in horrible ways. As seventeen-year-old Edith Finch, you return to your family’s isolated house on a heavily forested island off the coast of Washington state. This is the perfect Northwest Gothic setting for a haunted house story, but Edith’s former home is actually quite beautiful and charming. Exploring the Finch house is like walking through the set of a Wes Anderson film. Adding to the game’s coziness is its comfortable two-hour playtime, as well its clearly signposted guidance along the critical path. It’s easy to sit back with a mug of tea and allow yourself to fall under the warm and inviting spell of this horrible house and its cursed family.
— Kathryn Hemmann
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is a 2D story game about a peculiar little town in rural western Pennsylvania. The game takes its Rust Belt setting seriously, and the town is threatened by an oppressive force that saps people’s will to live as it threatens to destroy their homes and livelihood: capitalism! That being said, there is also a literal eldritch demon in an abandoned mineshaft. Although you’ll gradually uncover the town’s secrets during the days leading to and following Halloween, your main goal is to reconnect with old friends in dead malls and empty grocery store parking lots after spending your afternoons strolling through streets filled with gorgeous fall foliage. Night in the Woods raises serious concerns about the people who fell through the gaps of a crumbling social safety net in the 2010s, but its small-town autumn vibes landed it a place in Sidequest’s roundtable on coziness in games.
I am once again recommending Cozy Grove, the cosiest game with just the right amount of horror to suit even the weeniest of weenies. In Cozy Grove, you play a Spirit Scout, tasked with helping a series of ghostly bears let go of their mortal woes and regrets so they can ascend properly to the spirit realm. Along the way, you’ll farm, forage, craft, and decorate to your heart’s content on a gorgeous island where you can collect spectral pets and bake delicious-looking recipes. The thing that sets Cozy Grove apart from similar life sims is the way that it’s unafraid to acknowledge death, trauma, and difficult emotions (you might say, it’s more of a death sim than a life sim… Sorry.) For me, it’s the perfect game for the gothest season of the year. Also, it has cute animals.
Oxenfree is a 2D adventure game following a group of teenagers exploring a mostly abandoned island… with ghosts! Well, sort of. What makes Oxenfree so interesting to me (aside from its “walk and talk” system, which factors time into your conversation choices—silence is an answer in this game!) is that while it contains ghosts, creepy imagery, and a tense atmosphere, at its heart it’s a coming-of-age story with a touch of sci-fi. That’s not to say it’s never scary—there is one point in Oxenfree where I screamed and threw my controller. But it’s only one! And once you’ve played through the game once, it has a different context! But still. It scared me.
But in Oxenfree, all of the elements of horror are a cage that traps the protagonist, Alex, and her friends, forcing them to have the difficult interpersonal conversations they’ve been avoiding. They serve a narrative purpose beyond scaring you, which is why, despite the incident with throwing the controller, I still recommend it—from one weenie to another.
— Melissa Brinks
I want to second Melissa’s recommendation of Oxenfree and give a shout to its OST, which is availble on Bandcamp. An eerie ambience pervades the majority of the tracks, but “Epiphany Fields” is a lovely haunted radio transmission to chill and relax to.
— Kathryn Hemmann
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow has all the markers of an excellent point-and-click mystery: an intriguing premise, tricky puzzles, and captivating scenery that compels you to explore. In the game, you play Thomasina Bateman, an intelligent and level-headed antiquarian researching the barrows of England. The game begins when her research takes her to Bewley, a quiet village whose inhabitants are just as suspicious of Thomasina as she perhaps should be of them. As Thomasina’s investigation into Bewley’s barrows intertwines increasingly with her own past, the story leans into the occult and supernatural elements of folk horror, giving the player the sense that danger is always just around the corner.
— Maddi Butler
Madison Butler is Sidequest’s self-proclaimed jock editor. She co-founded the blog Critsumption and once got really into powerlifting via Fitness Boxing for the Nintendo Switch. She tweets at @_maddilo.