Games Media Of The Dead

Of Slasher Flicks and Slasher Games: Halloween on the Atari 2600

Take a look at the Wizard Video Games Atari release of Halloween!

The Game

Just five years after the film Halloween made film history, Wizard Games (who also published the Texas Chainsaw Massacre game for Atari) came up with its own game based on the highly successful 1978 John Carpenter slasher flick. The plot of the game was quite simple: there was a maniac on the loose inside the house and the babysitter (a woman) had to protect her charge (a child) from the killer.

The box featured the theatrical release poster of the 1978 film but never refers to any of the well-known characters like Dr. Sam Loomis (the doctor), Laurie Strode (the protagonist), Michael Myers/The Shape, etc. Despite the lack of formal assignations in the game, we can safely say that the homicidal maniac is indeed Michael Myers, the playable character/main protagonist is Laurie Strode and the child (who must be saved) is Tommy Doyle.

Gameplay and structure

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We can say that one innovative feature of Halloween was the split screen interface that featured either a room or a hallway in a scrolling environment. It wasn’t clear where exactly you were in the house because you could only go left, right and center (to enter a door) but you get an immediate sense of satisfaction from escaping the killer that appears randomly and who always appears from the right side of the screen.

The Shape has the added advantage of speed and being able to effortlessly move from one ‘row’ to another and this sometimes makes evasion a little difficult as the protagonist’s movements are clunky and a tad slower than the pursuer.

The split-level screen does two things: it makes the game more exciting because you have to track two different environments at once and second, it makes the game unpredictable because there will be lots of times when the child you have to save will be in another location and you have to ‘fetch and save’ the child from the Shape.

The Shape carries his trademark (albeit pixellated) kitchen knife and he is relentless in trying to kill both Laurie Strode and Tommy Doyle. Aside from  running from the killer, the game sometimes gives Laurie Strode a strange-looking weapon (a basic drop) that doesn’t kill the killer but instead makes him flee for a short while.

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What I noticed from observing the gameplay is that it’s easy to convince the AI to just leave you alone by ‘escaping’ to the next side (opposite direction) several times and ‘peeking’ again to see if the killer is still there in the succeeding side. This sometimes works and allows Laurie to live with her head intact again.

But let’s not forget: the point of The Shape is that he wants to kill everyone, not just Laurie! If you become too relaxed and forget that you have to save the child, The Shape is going after the child, too.

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What happens when you save the child?

If you do successfully escort the child to the end of the house, you get a whopping 675 points, but nothing more. You get three lives (there are three Jack-o-Lanterns indicating the number of lives left) and whenever Tommy Doyle dies from a crazed maniac attack, you lose one life.

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