Format: Atari 2600
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 1983 (USA)
Y'know the old adage: have you played Atari today? Well, if you haven't and you're reading this on the day of the reviews intended publication, the most fitting VCS/2600 game possible is about to get smacked upside your face with the Olly023 treatment.
Now, let's pretence this. I'm a well known film fanatic and if there's a director I absolutely love unconditionally, then it's John Carpenter (Paul Verhoeven and Lloyd Kaufman aside). I am pretty sure you are all well aware of John Carpenter's Halloween. What started as a little indie flick, became a slasher franchise and made a star of its central antagonist who has since gone on to become an icon of horror.
Also well documented is my love of the Atari VCS (or 2600, if you will). Atari's jugganaught console that for all intents and purposes kick started a revolution that we should all be thankful for. Quite frankly (and crassly), it was the tits!
Then, in 1983, the unthinkable happened. Wizard Video (the VHS distributor that threw out a bunch of awesome (what would be termed here in the UK) video nasties) only went and bloody released an Atari game based off the movie! I may not have been born at the time, but I can guarantee you if I was? So many happy dances would have been danced, just out of principle. Could a pairing of things I love be any sweeter? But it does beg the question, in the early 21st Century...Is it any good!?
Halloween is one of the rarest, most sought after releases for the system. Fleabay and the like always pump out ridiculous prices, that short of a lottery win, means it'll be unlikely to enter your collection. Unless you are mental. While being a dirty resellers wet dream, the game can also be found out and about as a repro cart. If you want to go the physical reproduction route, that's fine; but just remember: if you're buying an unofficial and unauthorised repro, someone is getting paid for something they don't own the rights to. What I am essentially encouraging right off the bat is that you fire up Stella, or bust out a ROM cart and emulate the holy hell out of this. Stating all this unofficially of course, because officially RGG doesn't support piracy. You all know the score, though. After all, Halloween hasn't at all been re-released in any sort of official compacity, be that some sort of “Virtual Console” dealio or whatever. Would be dope to see it added to the list of titles on the Atari Flashback, though. Double it up with the equally rare Texas Chainsaw Massacre (also from Wizard) to go alongside the likes of Haunted House and suddenly everything becomes that little bit more awesome. In my opinion. Anyway…
As soon as people see Halloween on Atari, terror probably strikes with immediate effect. Oh, no! A licensed game on Atari! Like ET! The end is nigh!!! That sort of reaction would be somewhat deserved and there are plenty of horrible cash-ins on the console that you rightly should run a mile. I would however tell you just to kick back, soak in the review and make up your own mind; as I would happily argue this isn't a game to be scared of for the wrong reasons.
Despite the fact that come 1983 every man, woman and child knew who the Shape/Michael Myers was, when this game was released the manual and box decided against actually highlighting that fact. There's three main characters listed as the “babysitter”, the “homicidal maniac” and the “child”, presumably; Laurie Strode, Michael Myers and Tommy Doyle and co, respectively (going by knowledge of the film itself). There's no official plot/story here, yet it works in the tropes of the slasher genre that were so brilliantly displayed in Carpenter's masterpiece. Of course, you need a little bit of imagination to go with it, but that's half the joy of Atari!
It's all about the gameplay here, an obviously common trait on a system not particularly known for Xbox One level presentation. Hell, even some of the carts themselves of this game were just freakin' hand-written! Alas, gameplay. You take control of the babysitter/Laurie (protagonist of Halloween, II and H20) and the mission is to find the child and take them to either end of the house for safety. There's a gang of kids littered throughout the level, flailing their arms about in fear. The whole time, what cranks up the intensity is what feels like any moment the homicidal maniac/Michael Myers can strike, appearing on screen and wanting to decapitate poor ol' Tommy. Yes, attempted child murder on the 2600. Good times. Oh, he wants to murder you, too. Natch.
The core level design stays the same throughout, a two storey suburban home. You can trek to either side of the house (left of right) until you get to the end and pop up and down stairs, depending on where Tommy is chilling. The design itself has both storeys shown on screen at once, how you go up or down is by entering door, to which then Laurie will pop out above or below, as you'd expect. Some floors have a cool strobe lighting effect as well, which works to add a layer of fear and dread (scary boo!).
The developers were kind enough to litter the occasional weapon power-up to use against Michael when he decides he wants to get stabby, which just like the film; will repel him for a time being. You cannot hold the knife at the same time as you are leading a child away to safety though, so keep that in mind. You can also mistime, which ends up with you losing a life.
Being an old school pre-survival horror, it's all about points here, so it's arcade-like highscore chasing. You get 200-odd points for stabbing Michael and a whole bunch more for leading the kid to the safe zone. Pretty simplistic, all standard VCS stuff, really. It controls just fine, fairly tight and responsive. As Atari only has one button you should quickly figure out as and when you need to whack down on it. One of the biggest criticisms of the gameplay is how slow Michael moves when he rocks up, which in fairness; is a valid criticism. It makes the whole thing that bit more easier. Also, if Michael gets to Tommy before you, the game doesn't take away points, either. But that doesn't mean there is a huge lack of intensity, as I found out replaying for review. You can be there, on a roll, feeling awesome – then BAM – you're dead. So, you are still kept on your toes. It is also very, very fun. In my opinion, at least. An opinion not every player will agree with, but it's well worth a chance in a sea of Space Invaders/Pac-Man clones and the like.
While I didn't exactly wax lyrical earlier in terms of the presentation, has to be said the game is appealing graphically (in retrospect of the hardware). Sprites are recognisable (to a degree), your lives are represented by pumpkins/Jack-o-lanterns at the top of the screen and everything is bold and defined in terms of colours used. There also seems to be criticism floating around in regards to the palette choices, but to be honest; I cannot agree. There's nowt wrong here, as far as I'm concerned. Nitpickers gonna nitpick. Sonically speaking, it's the usual blips and bloops for sound effects, but also a mighty cool 8-bit rendition of the Halloween theme actually plays when Michael appears. Think of it as the 2600 equivalent of when Scissorman appears in Clock Tower. Awesome.
One of the things that got this into some hot water back in the day, was how Wizard, much like with TCM (where you actually play the killer, different from this); GORE! 8-bit gore! Is there any better kind? Barring some Tom Savini movie magic, probably not. When Michael catches Laurie? STRAIGHT UP DECAPITATION! Even when he gets to the kid before you, said kid is left bloodied on the floor. It's straight up brutal and unexpectedly brilliant. There's actually more gore in the game than there is the film and it sucks way less than Rob Zombies disgusting excuse for a remake.
It would be fair to question why the heck Halloween has avoided having a big new version released as a game. You'd think in the late 90's when everyone went survival horror crazy with the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc. that this sort of licensed title would be an easy sell. Whatever the case though, as it stands? This version exists and while not the greatest thing to exist in terms of the films multimedia franchise, it's a darn fine little game in its own respects. Those said respects, don't always get respect, either. So, yeah…
Halloween! It's the game of the film, on Atari! Go get it and play Atari today!
Verdict:- The RGG Scores above are obviously favoribly rated and I have tried to be as objective as possible, but Halloween is just straight up a game I enjoy immensely.
As with many old VCS/2600 gems, there's a rudimentary charm from the simple game play and basic graphics. It just works so well if you give it your time, effort and imagination. It's far from the systems best, nor is it the most lengthy; it's just a perfectly good game with an appeal for those like me seeking out such a treat.
I try to trick you not, keep an open mind and give it ago. Just don't lose your head, like Laurie does in the game.
Second Opinion:- Transbot is in two CPU's over this...
One side of the debate sits one of many cash-in Atari games vying for attention with the gimmick of 8-bit gore. The other side is the argument for which this fleshbot review firmly camps, one where this is an absolutely acceptable game with its own form of fanservice.
Bzt. Transbot accepts that this is a decent, albeit flawed outing. It's one you wont be rushing back to, necessarily; but it does a job and does it well, keeping you entertained enough before you start switching carts.
Transbot thus gives Halloween a pass!
Transbot Scores:- 6.5 out of 10