Written/Created by: Matt
Posted on 9.29.03.

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There's been a number of fairly infamous attempts by companies to capitalize on a more "adult" market with their Atari game releases. Aside from several pornographic (at least in theory) titles, there were a few games said to contain graphic violence, with perhaps the most famous being this spinoff of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by Wizard Games in 1983. Violent nature aside, it's a pretty plain and boring game that couldn't hold a candle to Atari's more family friendly champs. The marked lack of technology was going to be the nail in the coffin of any Atari titles sold only on the merits of their graphics, but this one had way more problems than that.

As the story goes, many retailers refused to stock TCM, believing that a game so inherently amoral would've done more to alienate their customers than spark sales. Video game violence is pretty much a given these days, but certainly, it was a more risque gimmick back then. Of the stores who would carry it, TCM was usually kept off the shelves and in the stockroom on a request-only basis, so even if you were the kinda guy who would've bought the game, you had to know about it long before you landed at the stores. Of course, anyone who griped was doing so in principle only: TCM might've featured a sadistic little story, but nobody was going to be offended by what they saw on the screen. Few copies were sold, and the lucky carts that've survived till now are decisive rarities costing as much as 300 bucks for boxed editions.

From the instruction manual: "Grab your joystick and become "Leatherface," the homicidal, chainsaw wielding maniac of your nightmares! A group of hapless tourists have trespassed on your property. One by one, they've been hunted down and eliminated. Now, only a handful remain! So, oil up your chainsaw and find as many victims as you can before your fuel runs out!"

Well, it sounds cool, doesn't it? While it's unfair to compare TCM to games of more advanced systems than the Atari 2600, it's safe to say that this was an incredible failure. It's frustrating as all Hell, with the very schematics that are supposed to make the thing "fun" so thoroughly flawed and untested that you're going to give up long before you get far. Don't worry about that, though -- from what I see, there really isn't anywhere to go, anyway. Since the game was going to be blacklisted no matter how good it was, I guess the boys at Wizard should be thankful that they only spent six minutes putting it together.

Emulation has made the title easily accessible, but if you don't feel like tracking down the rom just to get annoyed with the gameplay, here's the review. It's going to be pretty short, since there just isn't much to say about it...

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I hope you like the screen shown above, because that's pretty much all there is to it. I'll give you a rundown of the characters and obstacles in just a second, but fans of the movie should recognize the cannibal clan's truck and farmhouse in the background -- those, along with the worst representation of "trees" in video game history, follow you around no matter how far you travel. The whole thing seems to be based on Texas Chainsaw's famous climax, where Leatherface chases Sally around with a chainsaw, chopping up his own leg in the process. Nope, sorry -- you don't get to see anyone get hooked or eaten, and unless there's some bonus screens I'm unaware of, Wizard didn't render a graphic for the wacky family's collection of furniture made from human remains. It's just what you see above -- doesn't seem all that despicable, right?

You play as Leatherface himself, wearing a pastel jumpsuit and carrying around a similarily colored chainsaw. The character looks nothing like the real deal, but they did what they could. To the right, one of the many teenage twins who litter the field, popping up out of nowhere and running like heck from the guy with the big saw. Your goal? Chop them up. In that respect, it's fun. Few games cast you as the villain, and even fewer from the early 80s. Still, that's all there is to TCM. You run around, avoiding obstacles, trying to hit the same teenagers over and over again with something that almost vaguely resembles a chainsaw. You're given nothing for this but bonus points -- there's no "upper levels," no reward scenes, nothing. That's common for old Atari games, but the controls and processes are way too grating to survive without a payoff. You either keep killing teenagers to get more chainsaw fuel, or you fail and lose the game. Oh yeah, forgot to talk about the fuel.

The chainsaw constantly eats it up, whether you're actually using it for something or not. The fuel depletes much faster when active, and unless you've really mastered those controls, you're going to be using it to slice through the trillions of obstacles that fly at you every few seconds. Amazingly, in a game where you're playing this iconic murdering monster, your goal is limited simply to survival. Killing the teens racks up points, and with enough of those, your gas tank is refueled. Leatherface loses one of his three lives anytime the tank hits "empty." That sucks -- you're not even killing these stupid kids out of malice or sheer pleasure, you're doing it so the misguided Atari gods don't equate your chainsaw's gas tank hitting "empty" as a reason to steal your spiritual essence. The teens, for their part, aren't very good at avoiding Leatherface's stalk. They'll sometimes teleport behind him if he uses the chainsaw prematurely, but once you've figured it out, they're easy pickins'. A much more difficult process is found in trying to keep Leatherface away from the legion of nasty and often off-topic obstacles...

Wheelchairs, cow skulls, fences and bushes halt your advances, and once Leatherface hits one of these things, he's stuck there until he chainsaws his way through it. You can't just "turn around," so you're forced to waste fuel too quick to hit a respectable consecutive kill count. Keep in mind, the obstacles are in no way "static." What was to your left a moment ago will be completely changed on the second go-around, so you've got to literally train yourself to use zero memory if you plan to last long. Plus, when chasing the victims at a fast speed, the obstacles will pop up by the scores and leave you a measly second to avert 'em or get stuck. It's about as fun as it sounds. Actually, it's even worse. Even if you just trail underneath the obstacles, you can still nail Leatherface to 'em if a mere single pixel of his hairline comes within their range. There's just no way to avoid them, and hence, no way to do particularly well in the game. And don't even bother trying to use keyboard controls for the emulator version -- it's almost impossible to get anywhere.

That's what happens when Leatherface successfully catches a victim -- they sort of just shake, mildly, before turning different colors and vanishing. That's what people complained about? I think store owners just told Wizard Games that so they wouldn't feel bad knowing the truth -- nobody wanted to play this thing. Still, the game is a reminder that there's definite room for improvement -- couldn't you see Texas Chainsaw released these days with a kind of "Resident Evil" scheme? With the revamp set to hit theaters this October, who knows? Maybe we'll get a second attempt after all. This time, hopefully, the teen victims will look sexier and less like poorly drawn dumbbells. That's the game, in its entirety.

How do you win? You don't. There's no way to win the game; you just keep plodding along trying to remained fueled until the inevitable finally happens. There are no happy endings for Leatherface, and in fact, unless you turn the power off prematurely, there's no way to avoid seeing the following screen upon the game's completion:

Yes, when you run out of fuel, one of the teens smell opportunity, sneaks up behind Leatherface, and wallops him with a kick to the ass. You can play the most brilliant, skilled game of TCM imaginable, and yet, you still can't avoid this dreaded ass-kick. Awful game, and that's coming from someone who really wanted to like it.

Wizard also released another horror title, this time based on "Halloween." It's just as scatterbrained as the game we just reviewed, and you don't even get to play as Michael Myers. However, of the two, Halloween was the more involved and probably the best pick. Poor Leatherface -- for a character who set the template for many a great slasher icon, the guy was handled all wrong. In the film's numerous sequels, he was typically treated with the same reverence as an old sock -- Texas Chainsaw 2, for example, virtually eradicated all of the character's mystique, and even his Atari counterpart couldn't chainsaw the mustard. Falling short of later luminaries like Jason and Freddy in the murderous pop icon department, let's try to remember Leatherface for the one truly creepy movie he brought to the table, and not the slew of soulless spinoffs and tie-ins that came later. It's the least we can do till someone makes us shell out ten bucks to see his new flick. He better do that dance again.



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