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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari

Today's retro review will be an extra special super vintage Atari double feature dedicated to the two releases by the short lived games division of Wizard Video, Halloween and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


It's a common cliche. "It's so bad it's almost good." Maybe that's not quite what describes Halloween on the Atari 2600. But something makes us keep coming back to it. Perhaps it's the repetitive music, the amusing death scenes, the character designs or maybe just the captivation of seeking an end to one of an entire generation of games not exactly known for having one.

Halloween Atari instruction booklet

Michael Myers is loose in the house. You must run from this pixelated maniac and avoid his "attacks" until you can find the weapon and...well, you don't really stop him, you just...poke him and he...runs away. Then he comes back. Faster. Perhaps you...shouldn't have done that.

The controls are simple. If you're lucky enough to be enjoying this piece of work with a joystick then it's as simple as push up to move up, pull back for down, left goes left, right goes right and you can even move diagonally, Fancy! You can push the button to perform actions like controlling and using the weapon or drag one of the kids along as bait. (If you're on an emulator then it's whatever you set the controls to) Overall, the function doesn't seem to be too bad.

The graphics of the game are Atari graphics. What else can be said. Your character does manage to be clearly female, however, and everything is reasonably distinguishable. You can even tell that your lives are represented by what are supposed to be pumpkins.

The music is...yeah, get used to the music. The classic score from the Halloween series plays every time you see Michael Myers on the screen (And you'll see him on just about every single screen). Although when he's not yet present the lack of music can almost be seen as...eerie?


You start off inside the corridor of a "house" consisting of a random collection of hallways. Right away, Michael will come after you, just stabbing his "knife" over and over. Contain your laughter, (although, really...just look at that) and run to either end of the screen to switch areas. Unless you're at the end of a hallway, Michael will appear in the next area and just about everywhere you go. Some areas will have a "door" you can run through to change areas of the house or you can change floors by going through the doors at the hallway ends. Some uppers rooms flash from light to dark, blinding you to your own whereabouts and the position of Michael, often proving to be problematic for you, if not fatal.

The game can actually manage to "scare" you since Michael doesn't always appear at the same time, or from the same areas. He can appear from the right, from the left, or even from a doorway, and this can cause you to jump a little, especially if you're heading in that direction. It's especially bad in flashing room where it's difficult to tell where your own character is.

Halloween atari screenshot

Ultimately the goal is to lead the children you're babysitting to the safe rooms, the ends of the hall. The truly glorious thing about this is that Michael seems to be more interesting in killing them than you. Sure, perhaps that's not how it works in the actual series, but who's to prove if your character is even Laurie? Frankly I've taken to calling her Connie just for the hell of it. Maybe it says for certain in the booklet who exactly Connie/Laurie/Ms.Feminine pixels is, but I don't have that luxury. Anyway, by pushing the button, you can take children with you or just use them as bait to distract Michael while you haul ass out of there. This becomes especially useful the further you get in the game. When Michael touches them, he decapitates them so you lose a chance to save one but it's better their heads than yours. The hardest part will be trying not to laugh, and leaving the area.

Halloween atari screenshot

Additionally, you're looking for the "weapon" to use against Michael so that you may gain points. What kind of weapon is it? Who knows. Maybe you see a knife. Maybe you see a hammer. Maybe you're something of a cynic and just see a collection of black pixels, but at any rate, when you find this item, you push the button while standing over it to pick it up. Then, once you encounter Michael again, you wait until he's just about on top of you, and push the button to "thrust" your weapon, giving him a real mean poking, and he'll run away change rooms. Do this twice or save enough children and you'll go up a level. Meaning when you see him again, he'll be faster. Eventually, he'll get so fast that he matches your speed and you can no longer outrun him, just avoid touching him.

Halloween atari screenshot

Should you let ol' Stabby get too close, before you know what could have possibly actually happened in your altercation, you'll find yourself headless, with delightful little "blood" pixels erupting from your neck. Not unlike a beheaded chicken, you run away, seemingly in distress, off the screen. You've now lost a life. .You repeat this process until you lose all three. Then the game is over, and there's nothing else to do now but reflect upon this interesting little experience. If there's an end other that to this game, most people, including us, wouldn't know about it.


If you're a horror fan, a retro-gaming fan, or like me, both, then honestly, this is a must have for your own Collection of Geekery. However, this game is incredibly rare, and expensive for just a used, boxless copy. So it would be unrealistic for me to tell you to go buy it. However, if you've got a computer (and I have it under decent authority that you do) you just may want to download this oddity. It's certainly one hell of a novelty, and it's hard not to somehow enjoy it.



Even back in 1983 companies were trying to bombard consumers with different incarnations of their franchises by marketing shoddy poorly conceived merchandise. Wizard Video was no different. Being the original home video distributors of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre they thought it would be a great money maker to introduce their film and themselves to the budding video game market. The result was not well received by most consumers but it was innovative. It brought the first horror video game into the home market, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari instructions


In a role reversal from most of the survival horror games of today, you play as Leatherface, the terrifying chainsaw wielding nutjob. Your goal is simple, to kill as many screaming Texan women as possible before you run out of gas.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot

Controls are simple, it is an Atari joystick after all. But, it's still got everything you need to be a killing machine. You move up down left and right with the joystick and run the chainsaw with the button.

Soundwise it's pretty standard for the Atari. There's the sound of Leatherface walking, the sound of firing up your chainsaw, the shrill beep (scream) of a potential victim and the sound of a triumphant kill.

Graphically, once again, it's an Atari game, you can't expect much if you're used to all sorts of newfangled 3d rendered perfectly polished games. But for the time period they were pretty good. Everything is easily recognizable from the girls, to the cow skulls to the truck in the background. There's even enough detail on Leatherface to give him a grimace. My only real complaint here is that Leatherface's chainsaw is the saw color as his body leaving things open to some rather unwholesome conclusions.


The game starts of with you as Leatherface out in the Texas countryside looking for fresh young victims. You can walk either left or right seeking your prey. You'll know you've found one when you hear the extremely shrill beep to signify their screams. You're faster than they are so if you just keep up the chase you'll eventually get close enough to use the chainsaw leaving a bloodied corpse in your wake. Though you'd better enjoy it in the moment because it disappears pretty quickly leaving you to wander off looking for another victim to quench your blood lust.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot

This sounds pretty easy so far, but it wouldn't be much of a game without a few obstacles to overcome. The first of which is gas, your chainsaw uses a bit of gas while you're just standing around letting it idle and it uses considerably more every time you fire it up. Leatherface can only carry enough for three refills so no matter how important it makes you feel, it's best not to leave the chainsaw running when you're not using it on some poor woman.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot

The Second problem is that on your way to the fresh meat you'll have to avoid fences, bushes cow skulls and wheelchairs (one has to wonder if the developers of the silent hill series started off their young lives playing this game). If you run into one of these obstacles you'll have to use your all purpose handy dandy chainsaw to cut it out of the way using some of your precious gas in the process.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot

The final obstacles is your victims themselves. The women will try to dodge you when you get close and will change directions, suddenly appearing on the other side of you This is not only annoying, but a big gas waster. The women in pink seem to be slightly more prone to doing this effectively.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot

Once you've used up all your gas by either slaughtering victims or cow skulls, the screen goes black and Leatherface is left with a useless chainsaw. Meaning Leatherface himself is totally powerless. While a stationary useless Leatherface sits on screen grimacing off into oblivion one of his potential victims comes up behind him and gives him a sift kick ending the game.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari screenshot


While wantonly killing is fun and a great stress reliever for a short period, it gets pretty old pretty quickly unless you've got friends to play and compare scores with. Playing it makes it pretty clear that it wasn't ever supposed to be a great video game, only a great marketing ploy.
However while not the best Atari game you can play, not by a long shot, this game has earned is place in the annals of classic gaming for it's unique "killer perspective" and bringing video game horror into the home.


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