Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Atari 2600

Atari 2600 with joystick

joho345/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Basics

  • Original Release Date: 1983
  • Publisher: Wizard Games
  • System: Atari 2600
  • Format: Cartridge
  • Genre: Horror Action


In the early 80s, B movie king Charles Band, producer of such schlock-fest classics as Puppet Master, Subspecies and most recently Gingerdead Man, owned an independent home video distribution company, Wizard Video. At the time the home video market was booming as VCRs reached an affordable price and video rental shops were starting to gain steam. The industry was desperate for content and Band was eager to deliver. Instead of spending boatloads of money trying to secure major Hollywood movies, Band invested in the rights to smaller, independent horror, sci-fi and action flicks. As he was the only one at the time offering up these obscurities, his business took off like a rocket.

Not being one for letting a potential market (or revenue) going untapped, Band started looking towards the video game market. Recently Atari had lost their lawsuit trying to prevent third-party publishers from making unlicensed and unofficial games for the Atari 2600, so the door was open for anyone looking to get into the video game biz. While most publishers were releasing family-friendly entertainment, Band sought to make his video games as unique as his home video line. Instead of games for kids he made games specifically for adult audiences, not via pornography (although he made plans for an ill-fated Deep Throat game) but by taking two of the most popular flicks in Wizard Video's library, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, and made the first console slasher video games ever made. Wizard Games was born.

Upon the Texas Chainsaw Massacre's release, the controversy that would normally be good business in the movie and home video market, ruined TCM before it ever got a shot. As the world still considered video games for kids the idea of an adults-only horror game, especially with such gruesome themes, was out of the question. Most retailers refused to carry it while those that did hid it behind the counter.

On top of this, the game was released in 1983, a time where the market was flooded with bad, unlicensed games convincing consumers that video games were no longer a form of quality entertainment. The market quickly crashed, causing most of its players to go out of business, including Wizard Games. While the companies that released games based on original IPs were able to sell off their titles to bigger corporations, Wizard's games were too closely tied to the movies they were based on. When Wizard Video finally closed its doors in 1987, the rights to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween films went off to other home video companies. Even if someone wanted to re-release these forgotten classics, they couldn't as the rights are all tied up for both the game and the properties.

The Game

One of the unique aspects of TCM is that it may very well be the first game where you play the murderer; in this case Leatherface, a brain-damaged psychotic serial killer that wears a mask made of human flesh and enjoys grinding teenagers into a bloody pile of goo with a chainsaw.

As the 2600 could only feature the most limited of graphics, Leatherface here is a tanned face blob-like creature with a T-shaped chainsaw that sticks out of his chest and is the same green color as his clothes. The victims are interlopers who have unknowingly wandered on your property. Looking like innocent little girls, you must chase the youngsters around your obstacle ladened homestead. When you catch up to them it's time to press the fire button and let your chainsaw do its business. The victims then look like they became inverted and quickly disappear without even a spot of blood.

Although chasing children around and grinding them into hamburger sounds easy, the game does pose a few challenges. The chainsaw runs on fuel, so you only have a limited amount of time before you run out of gas and then it's game over. Not only does the fuel constantly diminish, but your yard is covered in snags such as cow skulls, barbed wire, fences and wheelchairs (a tribute to the movie victim Franklin). If you get stuck on any of these items you have to chainsaw your way through, which waists fuel and shortens your life.

TCM is a game without an end or at least ends at your inevitable defeat via an empty gas tank. When this happens, unlike the films where Leatherface is an unstoppable killing-machine even with his hands, here he is helpless without his trusty saw. The screen goes black and one of those innocent little girls you were chasing sneaks up behind you and gives you a swift kick in the butt. A gruesome end to one of cinema and gaming's most grisly killers.