Horror Zombies from the Crypt – ah, if that title doesn’t spell exquisite home entertainment of the highest order. You know you got a real gem at your disposal when the manual introduces the protagonist as “Count Frederick Valdemar, the typically-handsome, stock character hero, pitted against the most evil and hideous beasts ever to grace a horror story.” And doesn’t it come from Millennium, the makers of such unforgettable classics as James Pond, Moonshine Racer and Super Troll Islands?
Like Castlevania, Horror Zombies from the Crypt pays homage to the classical horror films by Universal and Hammer, but Mr. Valdemar’s quest doesn’t make nearly as much sense as the Belmonts’ vocation; he simply has to go inside a huge haunted mansion and collect all the skulls he can find in each of six levels. Or at least it would have been a simple task, if the typically-handsome, stock character hero didn’t walk like he was wearing a peg leg. Seems to double function as a pogo stick, though, as he can jump like a frog. Also looks like a frog while doing it.
In a way, Horror Zombies was a glimpse at asshole platformer mentality more than one-and-a-half decade before Kaizo Mario came along. Background elements randomly turn out lethal, enemies spawn right into you, and getting hit just once kills you instantly. No wait, you’re not just getting killed. You get your little toe even somewhere close to a hazard or a monster, and your frickin’ head! Explodes! Get bitten by a werewolf? Your frickin’ head explodes! Rat runs past you? Your frickin’ head explodes! Just be at the wrong spot at the wrong time? Your frickin’ head explodes! Press Esc to get out of this mess? Your frickin’ head explodes!
For each level you get only five lives. It may sound like much, but dying also resets everything you did in the current room, and rooms are getting big very soon. At the beginning of each stage, Valdemar is completely helpless until he finds a set of throwing knives. In the first two levels they’re right next to the starting point, but the unarmed stretch gets longer and longer with each episode. Many stupid engine glitches help to make the task a Herculean one. Throwing the knives while standing in front of platforms does nothing. You can’t just climb up ladders straight, cause Valdemar immediately falls back down through the platform unless you steer sharply to the left or right as soon as you get on top. Worst of all, there’s only a limited number of keys to open the various doors and treasure chests (which usually contain floating cloud platforms, cause that’s what you keep in treasure chests), but once you track back a bit, the chests are locked again. You better pray you didn’t miss any of the skulls the first time around.
At least you can restore previously made progress by using passwords. Only they don’t save the special powers, and since you already get in stage 2 the the power you need in stage 3 to survive, the stage 3 password (‘hammer’) is pretty damn useless. A shame, too, cause the powers are the one really cool thing in Horror Zombies from the Crypt: The first one lets Valdemar sneak in front of the deadly statues with a hilarious animation, in stage two you get the ability to transform into a zombie for a limited time to get past some invincible revenants (who look completely identical to the other zombies, btw.) Since Valdemar’s pogo peg leg deprives him of a natural crouching ability, another “special power” grants him exactly that.
The final power, the crucifix… who knows what the hell the crucifix does, cause we never got far enough to see the bloody piece of copper up close. Horror Zombies from the Crypt is by no means the hardest game ever made, but it is so excruciatingly unfair, and only hard for all the wrong reasons, so that it’s simply no fun anymore to keep trying beyond a certain point.