Video games of the horror genre are by no means a rarity these days. This year alone has seen the release of games like the psychological horror Layers of Fear 2, as well as survival horror titles like the Resident Evil 2 remake and Days Gone. In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d take a look at some of the earliest games in the horror genre. More specifically, those based on iconic slasher movies, just to see how well the feel of the movies translated to video game consoles.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre- Atari 2600
Released by Wizard Video Games in March 1983, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was sadly not a well received product. Due to the graphic nature of the movie ,the game was seen as equally controversial with many stores refusing to carry the product, whilst others opted to keep it behind the counter and sold on a request only basis.
From a modern day perspective, it’s a little bit laughable that ANYONE could find this game offensive, although it is the only game in this list where you actually play as the murderous slasher villain. Perhaps the idea that you’d be playing as a chainsaw wielding, cannibalistic mass-murderer gave some folk cause for concern.
As Bubba Sawyer, otherwise known as Leatherface, you must chase down and murder teenage girls with a chainsaw. Easier said than done when there are obstacles littered around the landscape like skulls, wheelchairs and fences, which will completely halt you if you happen to bump into them, requiring them to be chainsawed before you can carry on. Chainsaw fuel is also finite, and will run down as the saw is used, but successfully murdering five girls will refill the tank of fuel. Running out of all fuel tanks will cause the game to end, and a girl will run onscreen and boot Leatherface up the arse.
For a basic Atari 2600 game, I actually had a lot of fun playing this title. Like most Atari games, you can’t really invest hours into this game, but it’s a bit of fun for five minutes. Graphically, it’s basic and it looks like the chainsaw is protruding from Leatherface’s chest instead of being held in his hands, but I think you have to forgive the graphical limitations. For just a few pixels, I think his mask looks enough like Leatherface, so it isn’t all bad. I also like the chugging sound of the chainsaw during gameplay, but the high pitched beep that’s meant to be the ‘scream’ of girls as they try to flee is awful.
Finally, how accurate to the movie is this game? Not too far off. This game does feel similar to the scene in the original movie where Sally Hardesty escapes from the Sawyer house and Leatherface gives chase, struggling with branches as he runs through the trees after her.
Overall, a simple but fun game!
Halloween- Atari 2600
Released in October 1983 by Wizard Video Games, a few months after their Texas Chainsaw Massacre game, this title was also seen as controversial due to its violent content, and didn’t do very well because of this. This lack of success along with poor sales of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ended up driving Wizard Video Games into bankruptcy. These two Hollywood slashers may not have slayed many customers, but together they certainly managed to end a company within a year.
In Halloween, you play as the babysitter, who must evade the killer and try to save as many children as possible. None of the characters are given names, but the babysitter certainly resembles Laurie Strode, protagonist of first couple of Halloween movies. And with that classic kitchen knife wielding pose and blue boiler-suit, the killer could be no-one else but Michael Myers!
In this game, you must avoid Michael Myers and obtain points by either rescuing kids and bringing them to safe rooms located at the end of each floor inside the house, or by stabbing the Michael with a knife if you manage to find it located on one of the floors, causing him to temporarily scurry away.
After rescuing five kids or by stabbing M.M twice, the level difficulty increases and M.M gets faster. When all three lives are lost, the game is over.
One interesting thing about this game is that it’s actually more graphic in gore than the 1978 movie in which it’s based! When the babysitter gets hit by Michael, she ends up losing her head, and runs around exaggeratedly with blood squirting from her neck stump.
One of the more impressive things about this game is the Halloween theme that plays whenever Michael Myers appears onscreen, rendered perfectly in 8-bit form, just like how the theme plays when Michael is onscreen in the movie.
Overall, this isn’t a bad game, although I do find it less enjoyable than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both are now extremely sought after collectors items, and can go for a couple of hundred when sold on eBay, although both are easily available to play online so unless you’re a die-hard collector of video games or horror memorabilia, you’d be better of saving your money.
Spooky white faced blue boiler suit bastard
A Nightmare on Elm Street- Nintendo Entertainment System
A Nightmare on Elm Street for the NES is a strange one in my opinion. It feels a lot like a Castlevania game, having to avoid pits and enemy monsters, but doesn’t quite have the same level of quality that the Castlevania series is known for.
In this game you play as a teenager who must collect and destroy the bones of Freddy Krueger, the evil dream haunting murderer. Released by Rare in 1989, five years after the first movie in the series, this game isn’t based on any particular movie up to that point, but instead takes bits from the series as a whole.
Something a little bit different about this game is that it really utilizes the whole ‘dream world’ thing that is so prevalent in the movies. The teenager has a sleep bar which depletes slowly over time. When it becomes empty, the teenager falls asleep and ends up in the dream world where enemies change to much tougher supernatural versions. Rats become a spider-like Freddy head, bats become ghosts etc.
After collecting all of the bones in a level, the player will have to fight an aspect of Freddy to get the key to the next area. During each level the player can also find power-ups to transform them into a Dream Warrior, either an acrobat, a ninja or a sorcerer. Finding stereos will wake you up from the dream world, and coffee replenishes the sleep meter. So overall, there are enough little mechanics in the game to make the experience interesting, with plenty of nods to the movies.
This isn’t my favourite title in this list of 8-bit slashers, but this game can be a lot of fun, and the colourful graphics really are vibrant and easy to enjoy. The NES wasn’t known for its great selection of games based on movies, but this is a title that really isn’t terrible, which is somewhat remarkable as NES movie tie-ins go. Despite this, there are plenty of similar NES games out there that are better than this, but if you’re all about playing NES movie tie-ins, there are many worse than this.
Friday the 13th- Nintendo Entertainment System
Released by LGN in 1989 exclusively to the NTSC region, Friday the 13th is a title that has often been cited as one of the worst games of all time. Although I’m not sure I agree with that, this is far from being one of the NES greats.
In Friday the 13th you play as six camp counselors who are tasked with watching over the kids staying at Camp Crystal Lake. In typical Friday the 13th fashion, Jason Voorhees is opposed to any camp counseling, and begins a murderous rampage, so the player must defeat him three times to be properly rid of him. Switching between the six counselors, the player must fight through forests and caves and kill or avoid wolves, crows, bats and zombies, as well as find a variety of items to help better their chance of defeating Jason Voorhees.
In all, Friday the 13th is a confusing and convoluted title with an overwhelming difficulty level, but with the focus being on collecting and swapping items to best improve the chances of defeating an overpowered undead creature, I can’t help but feel that it might have just been a bit ahead of its time, as these are all celebrated traits of early titles in the Resident Evil series, with the first entry in the series being released seven years after this game on the Sony Playstation.
I haven’t even come close to beating this game, and I probably never will. But despite this game never giving me the satisfaction of being able to say I managed to save the Camp Crystal Lake inhabitants, it has given me the absolute privilege of being able to gaze upon a neon-purple Jason Voorhees, who looks absurd, deadly and brilliant all in one go. So for that reason, I just can’t condemn this game.
I’m pleased to say that I managed to survive my encounter with the slasher games of the 8-bit console era, and none of them were terrible. We have certainly come a long way since these early entries in the horror game genre, and for what they lack in their ability to terrify, they more than make up for in charm.
The slasher movie genre has definitely fell by the wayside in more recent years, but the legacy of these movies can still be felt in modern video games like the aforementioned Resident Evil 2 remake. The slow yet unrelenting Mr X is every bit as seemingly indestructible as Michael Myers, or as strong as Jason Voorhees, so even if these original games were too limited by the technology of the time to be genuinely frightening, at least the “slasher” genre lives on to terrify gamers in some form today!