Licensed games are always an iffy discussion over here at FEARnet. For every game that does justice to its cinematic source material (Chronicles of Riddick, The Walking Dead: The Video Game), there is a seemingly endless supply of dubious cash-ins that use their cross-media inspiration to help push mediocre products (The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct). Sadly, this practice is nothing new, as horror movies’ inherently taboo nature made them prime for adaptation to the video game market even in the industry’s infancy. Let’s take a glaring look back at some of the earliest adaptations of movies to microchips…the Lost Licenses!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Atari 2600)
Home video game consoles were still in their very first generation when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hit the Atari 2600. Tobe Hooper’s grimy classic offered plenty of gruesome scares and unsettling images that stuck with the viewer long after the last reel had finished, but something was definitely lost in translation on Atari’s woodgrained box. Players take up the bloodstained Stihl of Leatherface as he tromps back and forth across a field, looking to rend his victims for points. Sadly, the limited audiovisual capabilities of the Atari 2600 meant that we were controlling a very sad and dumpy Peanuts character that stabbed at his prey with a pulsing blue penis. Don’t believe me? Just check it out below.
Bonus points for trying to emulate that old “flash recharge” sound in the system’s sound chip, but the rest of it? Not even scraps worthy of sausage.
Halloween (Atari 2600)
John Carpenter’s iconic telling of the night he came home was adapted to the 2600 by a small company called Wizard Video in 1983. Wizard had fallen on hard financial times, and as a result sold many copies of their game without a printed label, opting instead for a hand-written title on a bit of masking tape.
The game seems to hold true to its source material: you play as Laurie Strode trying to get as many children out of the house before Michael Myers can reduce them to mangled minors. Every time the Shape comes on screen, Carpenter’s inimitable theme is played…ad nauseum. However, the game deserves some notoriety as Myers would gleefully decapitate Strode, leaving her headless body to run around spurting red pixels from its stump almost 10 years before Mortal Kombat had your parents and politicians alike losing their minds.
Friday the 13th (Nintendo Entertainment System)
The glory days of the NES are certainly viewed through rose-colored glasses. While that console generation gave us classic franchises that persist to this day (primarily first-party Nintendo franchises like Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid), there were still scads of terrible licensed titles to wade through. One company in particular, LJN, was especially notorious for putting out miserable adaptations of everything from Alien 3 to X-Men, using their sales-friendly licenses to overcome terrible gameplay.
Friday the 13th certainly fit this miserable mold, taking the simple tale of a monstrous man-child in a hockey mask and making it…weird. You, as one of six camp counselors, had to try and rescue children from Jason Voorhees while fighting off enemies like wolves and zombies (no wonder they keep shutting down Camp Crystal Lake) and navigating the most incomprehensible map imaginable. When you finally faced your hockey-masked protagonist, he was a rather dapper purple-and-blue combination and absolutely huge (soon to be available action figure from NECA). It was a striking image and oddly exhilarating (this author may have a painting on his office wall of the game’s sprite), but it didn’t make up for the miserable game surrounding it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Another 80’s horror franchise bastardized by LJN, A Nightmare on Elm Street took the plot device of the best film in the series (Dream Warriors, duh) and had players racing through environments trying to collect Freddy’s bones (which, strangely, all appeared to be tibias) and face off against the child-killer in his various forms.
While on initial glance the game is another cheap cash-in (I don’t remember all of those giant spiders and houseflies harassing poor Neil in the movie), some genuine care and thought was put into making the game more of a true NOES experience. You have an alertness meter, which can be refilled with coffee, which teleports you to the dream world when it is depleted, and your character becomes a superpowered Dream Warrior during many of the boss battles. It still wasn’t very good, but the effort was certainly far greater than LJN’s usual output.