The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Hacks Up the Atari 2600! – By Danny Runion

Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a name recognition that’s hard to imagine. A micro-budget movie made in Texas in the mid 70s isn’t thought to have a much of a shelf life, but somehow, TCM shattered boundaries. It has become synonymous with graphic violence and gore. The past couple of years have pushed it back into the limelight with the Michael Bay remake. With the marketing machine today, a movie needs a CD soundtrack, multiple DVD editions, and video games. Many video game systems are littered with the corpses of numerous games inspired by movies, TV series, comic books, and other fields of entertainment. The most famous and reviled game would be the infamous E.T. the Extra-terrestrial. However, Atari had numerous other games based on television series and movies that weren’t quite as universally reviled but are almost completely forgotten today.

The main question is how could such a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” game ever be made? Atari didn’t have control of third party software. A lack of control like that made a few companies decide to make adult games that contained sex, like “Custer’s Revenge” and “Bachelor Party.” Other companies went in another direction by trying to make extremely violent games. Graphically violent Atari 2600 games was not a very good concept. The public rallied against all such games without realizing how truly bad the graphics were. The instruction manuals were the only way to really explain how risqué the games truly were.

“Recreate the chilling climax of the most horrifying movie ever made! WIZARD VIDEO GAMES presents THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE VIDEO GAME, on your ATARI 2600 or SEARS Tele-Game Video Arcade.”

“Grab your joystick and become “Leatherface,” the homicidal, chainsaw wielding maniac of your nightmares! A group of hapless tourists have trespassed on your property. One by one, they’ve been hunted down and eliminated. Now, only a handful remain! So, oil up your chainsaw and find as many victims as you can before your fuel runs out!”

If Wizard Games doesn’t sound familiar, there is a very good reason. Wizard Games made games based on “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” These two games were the only ones made before Wizard Games went out of business. The game cartridges were sold from behind the counter of the few stores that actually carried them, and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” didn’t receive any publicity for those that may have wanted to buy it. Today, these games are expensive collectors’ items and are selling for top dollar.

There is supposed to be an alternate version of the game consisting of Leatherface hunting a victim with a gun across a screen of brightly colored blocks. Leatherface still has his chainsaw but gained the mutant ability to produce colored blocks to trap the victim. Whoever has the most points for killing their opponent before the timer expires is the winner! This version of the game had absolutely nothing to do with the movie so Wizard Games went with another version that sticks a little more to the film’s plot.

Does a crazy, chainsaw-wielding, cannibalistic serial killer sound like a good idea to base a video game on in 1983, the year that led into the “great video game crash” that nearly killed the industry? Regardless, Leatherface appeared in all the glory the Atari 2600 could deliver. After playing it a few times, I couldn’t believe that any one company would actually sell this game as it seems to have not been tested by any gamers at all. This is one of the first games where the player was the “bad guy.” It is hard to imagine using a chainsaw to hack up teenagers entitles you to be the hero.

The purpose is for Leatherface to cut up all the teenagers with his chainsaw while avoiding the numerous obstacles of fences, cow skulls, and wheelchairs. This game has almost has as many obstacles as “Journey Escape,” the world’s first and only game where you can play Steve Perry running from groupies. Like in touch football, as soon as an obstacle hits Leatherface, our determined villain is trapped and must fire up his trusty old chainsaw to cut himself free. Each obstacle is just as difficult to escape as the others.

The biggest problem concerns the chainsaw is always using gas. In fact, Leatherface dies when the chainsaw runs out of gas. You can gain more gas for every 5,000 points (or 5 victims) you hack. Although having 3 lives, Leatherface is kicked in the pants by one of the-would-be victims after his final death. How is that for a great motivation to play again? “I was kicked in the pants so all teens must suffer for it…”

Defenseless teenagers should be easy pickings for Leatherface. In fact, he has to hit the victims just right, or they get away without a scratch. These victims are able to teleport from side to side to avoid the deadly wrath of your mighty chainsaw. The teens also love to teleport from side to side making you waste even more of your precious gas in the attempt.

If there are any gore fans craving mutilated corpses, I have a surprise for you: this is as explicitly violent as the game gets. And did I mention that the chainsaw looks more like Leatherface is related to a pixilated Ron Jeremy and forgot to zip his fly? And why are the victims are on standing on their heads? That will be another mystery for the ages.

Most Atari 2600 games are known for lacking a good ending (and that’s if the game does have an ending). Most games just keep going until you lose your last life. Is the thought of continually hacking up teenagers enough to keep you coming back to it? Personally, I don’t think “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has a high playability factor. It has more of a high, “I can’t believe they made this game” factor.