Halloween Classics

by Joe Santulli

So another Halloween is right around the corner. Around here, Halloween is ALWAYS right around the corner.

In my youth, Halloween was a very special time. It was the only night I could coat my bare body in day-glo paint and run up and down the street yelling "Gollum eat Hobbit! Gollum eat Hobbit!" without anyone really noticing. What a difference a day makes, huh? Same paint, same shouts... a day later Iíd find myself confined behind the county jailís locked gates. It was in those glorious days of my misspent youth that I would also lock myself in a dark room, fire up the 8-bit console of choice and thrash the hell out of a joystick to the tune of the "John Carpenterís Halloween" theme. There were quite a few games dedicated to monsters and this rare night when the Celts believed the portal to the metaphysical world of ghosts and demons was open to all. Well, my bedroom door wasnít usually open, but if you were able to peek inside, you would have found me playing one of these games on that evening.

There are games dedicated to movies, and there are games dedicated to drawing an audience in with shock value. A little company called Wizard Video produced two games designed to do both. In Halloween, your goal is to "protect" some children from the ever-dangerous Michael Myers. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the object is to "kill" passerbys with a somewhat faulty and gas-guzzling chainsaw. Two very different objectives, same penchant for blood. Halloween is actually a pretty good game for the Atari 2600. The graphics are typically simple, but effective. Michael Myers appears suddenly, a stick figure swinging a little knife around. Let him get too close to one of the kids, and itís splatter time - a well-rendered gush of blood streams from the victimís body. Get too close to him yourself, and itís off with the head! Yep, predating Mortal Kombat by nearly ten years, you didnít hear government officials complain about the gore in this one. Well, maybe thatís because only about seven people bought it. But still! The blood, man! Canít you see the blood?! All of this action is accompanied by the familiar "Halloween" movie theme. Lots of fun. The other Wizard Video game, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, isnít nearly as much fun, but for the unusual role youíll find yourself in, itís worth playing just for the experience. In what other game can you see little people get mangled into pixelated piles of bloody dots by a homicidal, chainsaw-wielding maniac? None that I can think of.

No Halloween would be complete without a haunted house, and Atari was able to oblige gamers with a game of the same title. In Haunted House, you play a pair of eyes that wanders through the dark hallways and rooms searching for three pieces of a chalice. Put the pieces together and you can leave the place alive. The trouble is that there are locked doors, wind that blows out your matches, making those halls even darker, and a few pesky ghosts that have the annoying habit of walking straight though walls and right into you, which of course means youíre dead. I like Haunted House mainly because it reminds me of my favorite Atari VCS game of all time, Adventure. The graphics are really crude, but the atmosphere works, and the game is really tough to beat on the harder levels. The slamming doors and rush of the wind provide some of the best sound bites made for this system.

There are more ghosts to be found in Activisionís Ghostbusters, which is also based on the movie. Most gamers whoíve been at their consoles or PCs for a while have seen this game in one incarnation or another, but on systems prior to the Nintendo Entertainment System, it only appeared on the Atari VCS and Sega Master System. The VCS version has terrific graphics, some of the best ever seen on that system. You buy a car and some gear and cruise around Manhattan, ridding the streets and buildings of ghosts. Trap them by getting them pinned between two Ghostbustersí ecto-beams and whammo! Let the trap suck Ďem in! Eventually, the city will be overridden by ghosts, but hopefully by that time, youíve gathered enough energy to tackle the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! Ghostbusters is a fun game for both of these systems, and the Sega version has lots of extra stuff not found on the VCS. It stands as one of the few good movie-to-video game translations. If you think about it, there arenít very many that can claim that.

The Atari systems werenít alone in the characterization of spooky legends. Imagic had the right attitude when they put together Dracula for the Intellivision. It would have been easy to cop out and make this game some generic wander-around-and-find-the-items quest. Instead, they pull off the Bela Lugosi of the year and allow you to sink your fangs into people that you first have to lure out of their homes! Knock, knock. Whoís there? Dracula! Dracula wh - choke! To top it off, youíre pursued by constables who throw stakes at you (they only slow you down, though), a vulture that swoops down and carries you off if you try to flap around (as a bat, did I mention that you can change back and forth?) for too long and the legendary white wolf, who hunts you down and destroys you if you donít get back to the cemetery for some much-needed rest. As cool as that sounds, there isnít anything cooler than playing with two players, where the other guy gets to be a constable-killing zombie. As cool as that sounds, Dracula still isnít my favorite Halloween game.

The DP award for "Best Halloween-Themed Game Ever Made" would be given to an Atari 7800 game called Midnight Mutants, if such an award existed. I mentioned this game in this column once before as a title that you may have never heard of and should check out. Well, here is the reason why you should check it out. It has wonderful graphics for its time, interesting locations and characters, large bosses who shoot eyeballs at you, a nonlinear plot and, best of all, the visage of Grandpa Munster. Yep, for some bizarre reason, Atari felt the need to use this "personality" in order to promote the game. Although it does absolutely nothing for the game play (Grandpa really only turns up to give you advice on non-animated pop-up screens), itís the very thought that some programmer actually had to draw Al Lewisís face at some point, maybe in-between designing the giant skull boss and plotting the correct path to the underground caverns, that really grabs me. About the only thing keeping this game from being perfect is the fact that only one player can tackle it. An additional "good guy" on the screen wouldíve really made this a masterpiece. As it stands, itís still a classic that you shouldnít be without, especially around Halloween.

Iím going to wrap it up here, but remember that although another Halloween may come and go, you can simulate it all year long if you play video games. It really does beat being awakened from a jail cell to have your day-glo body paint hosed off by a malicious county warden. On this matter, you can trust me.

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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:13 PM