Halloween for the Atari 2600 – By Danny Runion

The early 80s saw the start of big name horror franchises like Freddy and Jason. However, what horror icons would make good videogames? At that time, very few villains would be popular enough. The Atari 2600 games were for the most part very kid friendly. The concept of adult games could seriously cut into Atari’s profits if the public started a boycott. The game based on 1979’s hit, Alien wasn’t anything more than a glorified Pac-Man clone. Wizard Games created the infamous and reviled Texas Chainsaw Massacre game, but were far more successful with their other game: Halloween.

The impossible and totally futile Texas Chainsaw Massacre game is absolutely nothing like Halloween which is fairly accurate to the movie’s climax. How many people have ever wanted to be chased by a guy in a white-faced William Shatner mask? Well, Halloween for the Atari 2600 will let you live that dream. You are Laurie Strode and must rescue the kids from the house while avoiding the knife-wielding Shape.

“A homicidal maniac has escaped from a mental institution. On Halloween night, the killer returns to his home town to wreak havoc! You are the babysitter for a family in a large, two story house. Somehow the vengeful murderer has gotten inside! Can you protect the children and yourself from the fury of his knife?”

As you run by the kids, hitting the fire button will make the kid follow you. However, the little twerps sometimes don’t follow you and will continue running around to be psycho fodder. The children must be led to one of the safe zones: the corner rooms either on the first or second story. Once the kids are safe, you are given a number of points and have to rescue the next kid. To get to the next level, you must save 5 kids.

Most of the time, there is no offense against the Shape. In some rooms, a knife is left on the floor. Laurie can grab it and use it on Michael Meyers to drive him away temporarily. Like the true unstoppable psycho-killer, Michael Meyers can’t be stopped. The Shape just keeps coming. With as hard as it is to find and use the knife, it is easier not to even bother with it. You’re only hope is to run past him without him cutting your head off. If decapitation isn’t bad enough, Laurie’s body runs away from Michael Meyers and pumps blood from the neck. Our little psychopath will go after any nearby kids after Laurie’s accident.

Halloween doesn’t really have very many recognizable symbols. Although, there is no title screen adorned with pumpkins, the number of lives is indicated by the number of jack-o-lanterns at the top of the screen.

Arguably, Halloween has one of the greatest themes of all. The haunting John Carpenter theme is even used whenever Michael Meyers appears. It is a great addition to the game. Unfortunately, no plump digitized Donald Pleasance mentions “the evil.”

The characters are just the typical pixelized stick figures. The Atari 2600 isn’t known for realistic or detailed graphics. It is surprising that such a game was released in the early 80s. At least, you were trying to defend kids and battling a killer. That had to be the big justification for Atari not trying to prevent Halloween from being released. Unfortunately, it was sold from behind counters and there wasn’t any way to promote it to the few gamers that may have been interested in buying it.

This was one of the first actual R-rated horror movies licensed as a video game. The Nintendo developed a some games based on Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Many horror fans may consider those to be the original horror game franchises. They were just more widely promoted than the nearly mythical games from Wizard games for the Atari 2600. Halloween isn’t a great game, but it is at least playable and not as frustrating as its brother game, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After, losing the last life, you have a little dignity. No one runs on screen and kicks you in the butt. That fact is enough to elevate Halloween several levels above Texas Chainsaw Massacre.