Hack and Slash Double Feature – Atari 2600 – Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – 1983

Atari Double Feature

Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Atari 2600
Wizard Video Games
Genre: Action Horror
1983

Happy October, everyone!

Folks, there are so many reasons why October is my favorite month of the year: the leaves start to change, there’s a chill in the air- and Halloween is right around the corner.  Having grown up on video games and horror movies, this means that I get to revel in plenty of mayhem in so many different kinds of media.  Since we focus on video games here, why don’t we veer toward the spooky titles that litter the digital landscape?

We can even start with an iconic format that brought plenty of terror to the silver screen- a double feature!

Now showing at the 3PStart Atari Drive-In: Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Will you you persevere in the face of digital danger- or will you be too scared to finish this review…?

Okay.  It’s Atari.  I think I can assume you’ll make it through to the end.  How do these progenitors of the horror video game genre stack up now, though?

First, I feel like it goes without saying why this is a ‘double feature’, but there really isn’t a ton to talk about with these games.  There’s a slight bit of history: Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were the only two games produced by Wizard Video Games.  This company was created by Charles Band, a B-Horror movie director and producer whose most notable work is the Puppet Master series.  His goal was to produce video games based on smaller independent horror films and market them to adults.  Ultimately, this went poorly- video games were strictly a children’s market at the time- and the company didn’t go ahead with any other games.  Since these games were banned from certain stores and sold under high supervision in others, they’ve become somewhat rare and honestly didn’t seem to help with sales of their respective movies.

Halloween (1983) (Wizard Video Games) [a]_3

Michael will come out of doorways, too, so no escape route is safe.

We begin with Halloween.  Based on John Carpenter’s original slasher, the game puts you in the position of being a babysitter- supposedly Laurie Strode from the film.  Running from room to room, you must rescue the children in the house by grabbing them and bringing them to safety at either far end of the building.  Meanwhile, to the surprise of no one, you are constantly running from the knife-wielding Michael Myers.  If you get caught, you lose your head (literally) and one of your lives, signified by jack-o-lanterns at the top of the screen.  Lose all three?  Halloween night comes to a bloody end.

 

Speaking of ends- Halloween doesn’t seem to have one.  Your score racks up whenever you drop off a child in the safe parts of the house or, if you’re fortunate enough to find a weapon, you stab Michael, causing him to run off for a bit.  The aim of the game, by that measure, isn’t to survive the night.  You just want to aim for the highest score you can.

Halloween (1983) (Wizard Video Games) [a]_1

Oop- not that way…

The game does have some interesting ideas.  When you rescue a child, they will stay at the bottom of the screen, following Laurie so long as the player doesn’t try to ‘rescue’ them again.  When Michael enters a screen, rather than go for Laurie, he will deviate to the child.  In a strange twist of video game logic, he will also kill the child if he reaches them, but this can be used to escape Michael, if used strategically.  Preferably, this would also entail the child still being alive, but as your score rises, the madman does start to get faster so do what you can to survive.
Traversing the house involves using an upper and a lower level. You can switch levels in the safe areas of the house, but other than that, your only method of travel is by walking through rooms and avoiding Myers or running into doorways that will bring you to anot

her doorway in the house for a quick but somewhat disorienting escape. One neat effect to mention is that just outside of each safe area, one of the rooms flickers, as if the lights are going out in there. Michael can still attack you here, so keeping a careful eye out is key.

Halloween (1983) (Wizard Video Games) [a]_5

My final score after a few tries: Not too shabby!

Visually, the game is pretty classic Atari. Everything resembles what it should, and honestly, the sprite work is pretty good on all of the moving parts. The backgrounds tend to be some mash of two random color palettes, though, and aside from the black boxes that signify doors and windows, they can range from acceptable and boring to distracting and garish.
The soundscape is almost barren until Michael Myers shows up. You’ll hear little ‘bleeps’ for Laurie’s footsteps, but the real winner of this game is the Halloween score. It’s pretty neat the first few times. The next few are a little grating. When it happens every time the killer enters the room, it does tend to wear on the nerves. Once Laurie dies, however, you do get the ‘full’ sounding score with bass included, which sounds pretty good and works well with the hardware.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1983) (Wizard Video)_2

Someone really should clean up this yard.

Then we have The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where rather than playing as a potential victim running from the infamous Leatherface, you are actually playing as Leatherface. This was a first in video games, so if nothing else, Massacre has some distinction in video game history.

Playing as Leatherface, you run in one direction or another, chasing women (it’s seriously only women) around the yard of your house, trying to cut them up with your chainsaw. It’s not so simple, though, as various obstacles will start to scroll your way, such as cow skulls and empty wheelchairs. If you hit them, you’ll be stunned for a bit before you can continue on your rampage.
Much like Halloween, this game doesn’t seem to have an official end. You have a ‘Fuel’ bar that will tick down as you continue on. Use your chainsaw and it drains a little faster. When this gauge runs down three times, you will be waylaid by one of your potential victims and killed, ending the game. On average, this maybe takes about ten minutes so this game isn’t exactly an impressive length, even for the time.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1983) (Wizard Video)_7

Did she become… a roast?  A… nope- I got nothin’.

Oddly, this game also just feels less well-done than Halloween. When you approach one of your victims, you may start up your chainsaw to finish them only for them to pop out of existence and appear behind you, running away. This can happen once and then you might effectively get your points for getting them, or it may happen ten times. It’s tough to predict, and while there are ways to observe and figure out when to click that power tool on, it isn’t terribly intuitive. Not to mention that when you reach 10,000 points, your speed increases drastically, as does the speed of the obstacles that come on screen. While those items are static (if you stop moving left to right, so do that), what once could be avoided with strategy can suddenly cheap shot you into a quick end.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1983) (Wizard Video)_8

My final score: either the scores on these are skewed much differently, or I’m a better serial killer than I am a babysitter.

This game is strictly sound effects- and they aren’t great. The chainsaw goes off in a pretty effective and muted hum, as would be expected, but the victims’ “screams” are just high pitched beeps. All in all, playing this with the sound off might be an improvement.
The game isn’t hard to look at. The background is just slightly more tolerable than Halloween’s can be, and the scrolling is enhanced by the house and truck on the horizon moving along appropriately. Leatherface looks fine, even if his chainsaw looks like some malformed extension. His victims are another story. Some of their sprites are tough to see, and when you do manage to catch one- well, I’m honestly not sure what they became as a result.

Overall, I’m glad I got the chance to try these games. Given the current gaming landscape, I can’t imagine going back to them anytime soon. Halloween sucked me in enough to really try reaching for a higher score, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even with its novelties, did little for me aside from expand my video gaming experience. At the very least, their history is interesting and, if you want to experience some darker and more intense chases with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, or Leatherface, your best bet would be to check out the asymmetrical horror game, Dead by Daylight, where all three are now DLC additions.

Given that they don’t show up much more in the video game history books, it may be the only second chance they get anytime soon.

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