Forever includes February.
After releasing on PC way back in 2016, Halloween Forever arrives on Switch just in time for the spookiest holiday of the year, Valentines Day. Halloween Forever is a retro-inspired, 2D platformer that seems to take strong influence from the likes of Ghosts n’ Goblins. But it isn’t just the theme that alludes to NES classics, but its difficulty as well.
In Halloween Forever you play as the aptly named Pumpkin Man on a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer. Pumpkin Man can shoot (vomit?) candy corn from his mouth to attack enemies and that’s it. He’ll need to run, jump, and spew his way through five very challenging level and in classic style he’ll do this all in three lives. Movement feels very tight and as a platformer Halloween Forever handles very well. I did notice a few moments of questionable collision with platforms but never in any crucial areas. Boss fights likewise are all unique and challenging. I did find that the difficulty curve on bosses seemed a bit off, with some mid game bosses being incredibly easy compared to those before or after. However all were interesting and fun to fight, not to mention they feature the best sprite work of anything in the game. The area in which Halloween Forever struggles is in its camera placement relative to danger. Thwomp-like enemies constantly drop from off screen and jumps often involve blind leaps to surfaces mostly covered in spikes that instantly kill our pumpkin headed hero. Combined with the harsh checkpoint and limited lives these elements can quickly move from challenging to downright unfair. That being said, there are ways to mitigate the issue thanks to Halloween Forever’s difficulty options.
Halloween Forever’s approach to difficulty is interesting in that it defaults to a very authentic NES style experience. Pumpkin Man has three lives and checkpoints are extremely sparse. However, tucked away in the options menu are toggles for both more lives, 99 to be exact, and more regular checkpoints. While some will certainly see it as cheating, given the aforementioned reliance on trial and error, these options do make the game significantly more player friendly without actually affecting the difficulty of the level design. That being said, trial and error gameplay is entirely accurate to much of the game design being emulated here, so for some that more authentic presentation may be desired. It is also worth noting that Halloween forever doesn’t have a save system. It is only five stages long but those stages are not short.
While Halloween Forever doesn’t have the lavish pixel art of something like Shovel Knight, its simple art accomplishes its goal quite well. I especially appreciated that spots on characters that ought to be black are left blank meaning that in an instance of passing over a non-black section of the background you can see right through the sprite. Its an accurate and often-ignored quirk of the era. The color pallet used is appropriately garish with lots of oranges and bright greens. The color pallet actually brought to mind the strange visuals present in ZX spectrum games and I found it quite endearing. Music struggles a bit more than the visuals. While the compositions themselves are all fine, some of the sounds used are extremely grating. The music in the first level in particular grew quickly to feel like an insult for getting a game over.
Halloween Forever is a fun retro platformer that struggles a bit with some unfair difficulty spikes due to level layout in combination with the in-game camera. That being said multiple options are available for those who aren’t eager to return to the brutality of 80’s gaming. Boss fights are a highlight, and Pumpkin Man handles excellently. Some rough music doesn’t take away too much from the overall presentation which is otherwise very strong. Halloween Forever is a solid retro platformer for those looking for some authentic NES style challenge is running, jumping, and barfing.