Chances are if you’re a product of the ‘70s or ‘80s, one of your earliest home gaming memories was brought to you by the Atari 2600. This monstrous console was the first system a wee Patti owned and was shared, albeit reluctantly, between my little brother and I. I can’t tell you how many times I would get the urge to play Kaboom or Haunted House, and find my 8-bit hogging 4-year-old sibling snotting all over the joystick playing Frogger.
The struggles of a one-console household, my friends.
Although presently the original Atari 2600 is but a dinosaur (and looks like one too), the beast console boasted some graphics that looked like sorcery in our eyes at the time. Regardless of the now outdated sights and sounds of the Atari, the gaming system launched the beginning of household video games 40 years ago and hell, we need to respect that. Not to mention, hosted some pretty off-the-wall cartridges that embodied the glorious horror genre within them. Four decades later, and I still haven’t seen one damn Texas Chainsaw Massacre video game! Unless of course, you look towards the Atari 2600!
As we break out the over the hill birthday wishes for Mr. Atari turning 40 this year, let’s look back at some of the coolest horror-themed video games the breakthrough gamer device had in its library.
First released by Wizard Video in 1983, The Shape was forever immortalized 2600 style with his very own Atari game. You actually don’t play as Michael Myers, but the “babysitter”, whom I can only guess is supposed to be Laurie Strode.
The object of the game is to save the children you’re supposed to be caring for from the Boogeyman. Who, by the way, is running through the house waving a knife all to an Atari-ized version of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme. FANTASTIC. You’re given three lives which are represented by jack-o-lanterns on top of the screen, of which will disappear one by one when you are caught and killed. The highlight of this game, and I’ve been known to purposely do this just for fun, is when you’re caught by Myers. Why? Because he decapitates you (as shown in the video below). Yes, ladies and gentleman, this appears to be the very first video game decapitation in history. You only get a tiny bit of blood spurts from said kill, but nevertheless is extremely amusing…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Another horror treasure from Wizard Video brings the Tobe Hooper classic to the Atari world in 1982. Unlike the Halloween game, gamer roles are reversed and you actually get to play as Leatherface; with a chainsaw attached to his dick.
Playing as Sir Leatherface, you are basically just running across a field of cow skulls and wheelchairs trying to get to your next victim. It’s heavily rumored throughout the gamer community that the high-pitched tones you hear when a victim appears is actually supposed to be a girl’s scream. The chainsaw in the game is run on fuel, and when you press the appropriate button to run it, your fuel starts to deplete. When you run out of fuel, you lose a life. So, just an educated guess here, the point is to kill off as many people as you can before running out of gas.
It’s a fun way to murder ten minutes of your life. But one thing that really irked me about this game other than the inability for game developers to give Leatherface’s body a different color than the chainsaw, is the fact your character gets “stuck” quite easily. The obstacles I mentioned above, as it turns out, you better steer clear of them. If even one pixel of Leatherface breathes too close to these in-game hazards, you’re stuck for a good couple of seconds. It’s a total pain in the ass.
Well, looky at this beauty. Our very first video game based off of Ridley Scott’s beautiful Alien film! Developed by Fox Interactive Games in 1982, Atari Alien has no shame in hiding that it is, in short, a basic rip-off of Pac-Man. However, instead of dodging ghosts through a maze, you’re running from Xenomorphs, which is just way cooler anyway.
The in-game maze is supposed to be designed to look like the inside of a spaceship, and said ship is infested with adult aliens laying these eggs all over the place. Just like Pac-Man, the pellets littering the screen are eggs and can be destroyed by simply running over them. There really isn’t too much else to explain, as it really is just Pac-Man with aliens. Though if you enjoy the classic arcade game, as a horror fan you’ll likely get a kick out of something different from that floating yellow head.
Published by Data Age for Atari in 1983, Frankenstein’s Monster, for me anyway, is one of the more entertaining games to come out of the 2600 era of gaming. The basic object of gameplay is to build a wall surrounding the monster before he comes to life. To do this, you have to climb up and down the screen grabbing bricks one by hellish one. Along the way, you’ll encounter a giant tarantula, bats, ghosts, and a lovely pool of acid. You know, normal creepy castle shit. If you build the wall before the timer runs out, you save the village below from a monster rampage. If you don’t make it in time, Frankie comes to life and destroys every damn thing in its path, which is kind of my favorite part anyway. If you get a chance to play, let yourself lose at least once.
Birthed by Activision in 1985, Ghostbusters for Atari 2600 comes one year after the theatrical release, and is fuckin’ fun as hell.
You immediately begin by trapping ghosts in front of buildings, which in most cases, takes the form of Slimer. All the while, a gorgeous Atari version of the Ghostbusters theme plays in the background. The graphics when ghostbusting aren’t half bad considering the console, and the driving sequences with the Ecto-1 are not as stretched out as other versions.The greatest part, however, is when you finally get to the end and fight Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It’s goddamn hilarious because he just kind of jumps around in front of a building like a little kid.
Oh, the sweet, sweet video games of yesteryear. They just don’t make them like that anymore…