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Atari's History of Horror - The Atari Times

Atari's History of Horror

A Primer of Horror Games for your Atari
by Gregory D. George

October 31, 2001

Haunted House. Oooh... Scary...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hack em up with your chainsaw! Bzzzz!!!!

Halloween. At least the squirting blood is good for a laugh.

Gremlins. One of the truly unique games on the 5200.

Midnight Mutants tried to scare you with Grampa. Hmmm...

Dracula The Undead. Jonathan faces off with the bloodsucker!

Alien vs. Predator. The premiere game of horror on any Atari system.

What is it about horror movies that draws people to the theatre? Is it the blood? The violence? The suspense? Or a combination of the three? Whatever the appeal, it's the same sensation that draws gamers to video games of horror.

Early horror games for the Atari 2600 were mostly comical due to the low resolution graphics. Some games, like Alien, made horror promises that were not kept. You may have expected a game battling aliens, instead you got a sub-par Pac-Man clone. Other horror sounding titles such as Crypts of Chaos, Nightmare, or Room of Doom would fool gamers into think they were getting a horror game. Alas, these games are far from being scary.

The true horror games on the 2600 are slim when you take into account the 2600's considerable library of games. The first most obvious choice for a 2600 horror game is Haunted House, an Adventure-type romp through the dark rooms of a large mansion. Your goal in this game is to find the pieces of a candelabra while avoiding ghosts and bats. The only way to see the pieces is to use up the few matches you have brought with you. The suspense is low-key in Haunted House, and it lacks the visual appeal needed to scare the player.

Probably the best two examples of horror games on the 2600 would include movie to video game translations of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. While Massacre will likely make you laugh more often than jump, there is just something gratifying in running around with a chainsaw hacking up poor young ladies. Halloween, on the other hand, is creepy as Michael Myers chases you around the house with a knife. Of course, you can't help but laugh at the 2600's crude graphics of blood squirting out of your character after being attacked by Michael!

Other interesting horror games for the 2600 include Frankenstein's Monster, Ghost Manor, Mountain King, and Wizard of Wor. While the last two games are not truly indented to be scary, they will incite a jump from the player from time to time.

Then we move on to the 5200 where there is not much to speak of in the way of frightening games aside from translations of Wizard of Wor and Mountain King. However, there is one "horror" game on the 5200 that is worth noting. The unique and highly enjoyable Gremlins.

Unlike the Kaboom!-inspired 2600 Gremlins, 5200 Gremlins is one of the more interesting games for the system. In it, you play Billy Peltzer hunting the Gremlins with your sword and rescuing the Mogwai before they eat after midnight and turn into more Gremlins. Should either Mogwai or Gremlin touch water, they duplicate! One of the neat little touches to this game is when you turn on the TV to distract the Gremlins for awhile. That's when you sneak up behind them an lop off their heads!

The next Atari system, the 7800, was also rather lacking in horror games. I wouldn't exaclty consider Dark Chambers a horror game, but it does have the scary title screen. The one standout is Midnight Mutants, which is actually a cross between an RPG and a horror game. Yes, before Resident Evil, Atari created this wacky game starring Grampa from The Munsters. I don't know about you, but I was never truly scared by the Munster family. (Well, Herman was a little spooky.)

In Midnight Mutants, you embark on a rescue mission traveling over the grounds of a haunted mansion searching for Grampa. You will encounter many creepy monsters and freaks in this pseudo-3D looking game. Sometimes you may jump at a ghoul, but mostly you'll be frustrated at the odd controls and the steep difficulty of this game. Ultimately, the game tries to be scary but fails due to it's cutesy nature. Does Grampa really scare anyone? 

The Lynx had a truly unique and suspenseful game in Dracula The Undead. In it, you are Jonathan Harker on a quest to escape Dracula's castle. As you search for escape, you will encounter deadly horses, blood-sucking vixens, a creepy catacomb containing Dracula's coffin, and of course, Dracula himself. The graphics and music are perfectly suited and creates a creepy tone as if you were controlling characters from a B&W movie. This is one of the few Atari games that will keep you on the edge of your seat while playing. 

And finally, there is the Jaguar. Could there be a game more suspenseful and scary than Alien vs. Predator? Regarded as one of the scariest games ever written, Alien vs. Predator will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. What's lurking around the corner? Is it the Predator himself luring you in by whispering sweet nothings in your ear? "Over here" he says just waiting to tear out your guts and place your skull in his trophy case. Perhaps an alien will jump up behind you and send your heart into overdrive with that otherworldly shriek! Or maybe you'll encounter one in the air ducts as they attempt to slash your throat with their deadly claws. I dare say that no one has completed this game without jumping out of their skin.

While there aren't a lot of truly scary games for the Atari systems, we should remember that being scared is simply another form of fun. Whether it's laughing at the crude 2600 graphics or shaking in your boots from AvP, remember that these games entertaining each in their own way. You may laugh or you may jump, but you will definitely be scared! 

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