The Scariest moments in 8-bit Microcomputer games

Resident Evil was supposed to be scary. My heart skipped a beat when zombie dogs crashed through a window. Likewise, when playing the original Tomb Raider, that T-Rex scared the absolute crap out of me. But I’d had games scare me senseless for a lot longer than that… We present, in chronological order – my scariest moments in 8-bit Micro gaming!

“Everything spins around and suddenly I’m elsewhere”​

Pirates Cove, 1978 – Adventure International

You’re in a flat in London, you’ve said ‘Yoho’, you’ve been to an island, you’ve given some rum to a pirate who has now scarpered. Where to? Who knows!

Welcome to the second text adventure by Scott and Alexis Adams. Originally launched on the TRS-80 in 1978, and later converted to various platforms including the VIC-20, which is where I played this game.

After the Pirate has disappeared, you go back to the attic in the London flat. The game gives you the description of the room:

I'm in a musty attic.
Empty bottle. Unlit torch. Sleeping Pirate.

The simple two words, Sleeping Pirate, scared the life out of me as a child. What if he woke up? What would he do? Will he kill me?

Turns out that you have to wake him up to get anywhere in the game, but I tried everything else available to me before I succumbed to the scariest option.

“Rex Lies in Wait”​

3D Monster Maze, 1981 – J. K. Greye Software / New Generation

3D Monster Maze – as you may guess – sees you wandering round a 3D Maze, which has a monster in it. Due to being on the ZX81, the game has no sound (which adds to the scare factor), no colour, and the blockiest of graphics.

Starting the game, the scene is set by a jolly looking man telling you about the monster, which has been perfectly preserved in silicon since prehistoric times. After accepting the ZX81 version of terms and conditions, you enter the maze.

What makes the game scary is the suspense. There’s a monster in that maze but you don’t know where. The only clue is the text at the bottom which changes depending on the proximity of Rex.

When you enter the maze, you are told “Rex Lies in Wait”. Wander around for a bit, and you are advised, “He is Hunting For You”. Then, the horrifying “Rex has seen you”.

You’d better run.

“Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear”​

Granny’s Garden, 1984 – 4Mation

There are two games I remember playing on the BBC Micro at school.

One where you had to put in temperatures and you could make a man freeze. (Some light googling suggests it may have been something called Temperature Control Simulation)

The other was Granny’s Garden.

It’s a game where a bunch of kids have been kidnapped by a witch and you have to find them with the help of a magical bird. You do this by being forced into solving a bunch of educational style puzzles, or guessing whether you need to type Yes or No at various points.

If you choose the wrong answer, a scary looking witch gets you. Look, it was scary at the time, honest.

Slow Motion Sea Dog​

Treasure island, 1985 – Mr. Micro

If you had a Plus/4 then you would have played Treasure Island – the second game on this list based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale.

The aim of the game is to dispense with a bunch of pirates, locate the treasure, and head off back to your ship. Sounds straight forward enough right?

But when you have found the treasure, you have to head back to the ship with Long John Silver chasing you all the way.

Never mind the fact that he looks more like a little granny in a coat rather than a pirate, you need to make sure you know the way back to the ship off by heart, otherwise a dead-end will scupper your plans.

The scariest thing for me was that the action slowed down when he turned up on the screen. Of course, this was probably due a limitation of the Plus/4’s computing power, but for me that slow motion chase just made the whole thing feel creepier.

skeleton sword-fight​

Prince Persia, 1989 – Broderbund

Jordan Mechner’s classic platformer first appeared on the Apple II. There’s a part on the first level where you need to backtrack on yourself to get to a door, which you have just opened with a switch.

On you way to press the switch you walk past a pile of bones, and think little of it. However when you come back, the bones COME TO LIFE AND START FIGHTING YOU!

The skeleton is already dead, so you can’t kill it – you need to force it off a ledge. After a bit of sword poking, you manage it. Phew, you think. I’m safe now.


When you go to the next screen to get to the door, he’s still there! Eek!

So these were my scariest 8-bit micro moments. What were yours?

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