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BC Gaming’s Five Weeks of Horror: Horror in the Time of Atari

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Alien

I’ll cut the BS and jump straight to the point on this one. Alien on the Atari 2600 is nothing more then a bad Pac-Man port. Game play is an exact carbon copy, aside from being able to briefly scare the aliens with a flamethrower. Every maze is exactly the same as the one before it only with slightly faster enemies. Enemies that seem to get lost. When you complete a level, you’re given a special mission where you must walk between pairs of moving aliens to get to the top of the screen. You might think that this would be a nice change of pace, but it serves as little more then a three second distraction.

AlienAfter one play session, I was so frustrated that I had to go try the Atari port of Pac-Man and let me tell you this, it felt like a good game. That’s right; Alien is so bad it makes the game that caused the Great Crash of ’83 seem good.

 

Frankenstein’s Monster

Frankenstein's MonsterWhat would you do if Frankenstein’s Monster was on the loose? Well if you worked for Data Age, the solution was to brick him up. It may seem a bit silly, but it works well as an objective. Players start off at the top of the screen next to the monster. Normally, this would be a scary place to be, but fortunately the creature is dormant. Unfortunately, it’s also hooked up to a lightning rod and if it gets struck enough the creature will live. So off you go, down the map and over some jumps to get bricks to seal the creature in.

For the most part the game feels like Pitfall, as you’ll spend a great deal of time avoiding pits and dodging monsters. If you manage to make it back to the top with a brick, you’ll be treated to a new stage where you must dodge a torrent of vampire bats to make it to the monster’s side and place the brick. It’s a nice change from the slower pace of the platforming sections. Once the brick is in place, the process repeats itself with the map slightly altering its configuration to be more challenging.

Graphically, the game is quite impressive. By using gradients instead of the usual solids, they’ve created a sense of depth and shadow, not often seen on the system. The ending, if you lose, is also quite impressive and features an excellent use of sprite scaling and stomping sounds as the monster storms forward towards you, the player.

If there’s one major complaint with this game, it’s the harsh collision detection system. For some jumps, you have to be dead on or you’ll miss, fall and die. It’s agonizing, but it’s where the game gets much of it’s difficulty from.

With out a doubt, this is one of the best games Data Age released for the 2600 and definitely worth tracking down a copy.


Ghost Manor

Ghost ManorPunished by Xonox in 1983, Ghost Manor is your typical haunted house game consisting of 5 levels and some varied game play. The first level has you chasing down a rainbow ghost to collect spears. The next has you chucking those spears at monsters as you fight your way inside the manor. Once inside, you’ll have to avoid a moving wall as you make it to the roof and fight off the boss.

The game is a fairly short and can be beaten in under 2 minutes, but on higher difficulties it can be quite challenging. Thankfully, controls are tight and collision detection is solid, so you’ll only be dying when you screw up.

Artistically, the game is nothing special, with the 3rd and 4th levels being visually bland and devoid of all but one solid colour. The second level is quite nice with its higher number of sprites and more detailed backgrounds, but that’s about the best of it. Interestingly ,the game gives you the option of playing as either a man or a woman, just by flicking the B/W-Colour switch.

Ghost Manor is fun for a one off play, but once you’re through, you’ll probably not pick it up again.


Halloween

HalloweenAh Halloween, an Atari classic and a fairly fun licensed title. Again, liberties were taken as it’d be impossible to truly emulate the film, but all in all, they’ve done good with what they have. Taking control of a babysitter who we can only assume is Laurie Strode, you must try to save as many children as possible while avoiding the psychotic Michael Myers. If Michael does manage to catch you, you’ll be treated to one of gaming’s first decapitations. Laurie’s corpse even sprays blood as it runs around like a headless chicken. The experience is made all the more delectable by an incredible rendition of the film’s theme music.

At the time it was released, Halloween drew a lot of controversy. Many felt the violence, especially against children, was and excessive and a lot of retailers refused to stock it. Those that did often kept it behind the counter and on request only. Due to these restrictions, the game was a commercial failure and is now fairly hard to come by, but if you are lucky enough to find a copy, you’re sure to enjoy it.


Haunted House

Haunted HouseLike adventure, only in the dark, Haunted House is one of the earliest entries in the survival horror genre. Featuring scrolling maps and a multi-level play field, it was quite advanced for its time. Unfortunately, it’s also quite confusing, as you’ll spend most your time wandering around in the dark, frantically lighting matches as you attempt to find 3 pieces of an urn. Eventually, things get so dark that the walls aren’t even illuminated and you can only guess your way through the maze.

A bat, tarantula and the ghost of the house’s owner provide the only resistance to your quest. When you encounter one, your match will go out and if they touch you 9 times, you’ll lose the game. Oh, and presumably die. Honestly, though, they’re incredibly easy to avoid and don’t offer more of an annoyance than a challenge.

Perhaps a little ambitious for 1982, but it’s an important part of horror gaming’s history. Worth a look, but like Ghost Manor you’ll probably not play it more than once


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw MassacreEverything that Halloween did right, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, does wrong. Sure, taking control of Leatherface and slaughtering girls sounds fun, but once to realize how bland and frustrating the map design is, the only thing you’ll be taking a chainsaw to, is the cartridge.

While other games will give you either a scrolling map or static map, TCM give you a scrolling foreground and a static background. It’s incredibly disorienting because you actually move the map around Leatherface rather than move him around the map. On top of the weird design, the map is also cluttered with dozen of objects that Leatherface will get hung up on if even a single pixel touches them. Once you’re stuck, you can’t move, all you can do is saw through and that wastes precious fuel that serves as your life. Run out of fuel and the game ends.

Eventually, you’ll encounter a lost girl, your prey. Normally this would be a cause for celebration, but the developers manged to make it a miserable experience by making the girls scream an incredibly loud, high pitched tone. Killing her isn’t easy either. Even if you run at here while gunning the chainsaw, she may mysteriously jump to the other side of you, or end up at the very top of the map where you can’t reach her unless she moves one pixel lower.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a miserable experience, but due to the controversy it enjoyed at its release, it’s become a rare title. If you’re a collector you’ll want to grab it, but if you just want to play, go grab Halloween instead.


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