Atari Horror – 37 Years of Pixelated Scares

Horror games have come along way since they first came out, the question is though, when did they come about? And what were they like? Well today I’ll be looking over just a few of the ‘horror’ games for the Atari 2600, which arguably is the first home console to ever include horror games in it’s extensive library of games.



Bats - Horror Now horror in all forms is subjective and this includes video games. What one may consider to be ‘horror’ may not be to someone else. Despite this, we tend to follow certain conventions of the  horror genre and therefore look at certain media and think to ourselves ‘yes, this is horror’. Perhaps you’ve been on Steam recently and looked for games with the ‘Horror’ tag, you might look at a few games and more times than not you will agree that the game is worthy of that tag. Maybe because you looked a games trailer and screenshots or maybe you look at the reviews and seen that the reviewers have had the living day lights scared out of them by the game. Nevertheless, most have similar thoughts on what we associate with the horror genre and I’m here to talk about games for the Atari 2600 which fall into the horror genre, even if it is just a strange orange blob with eyes walking around a dark room.


Haunted House (1982) (Atari Inc.)

Atari 2600 Haunted House Cart - Horror‘What is he going on about in that last sentence?’ You may have asked yourself, well let me explain. In the game ‘Haunted House’ you play as someone exploring the haunted mansion of the late Zachary Graves to recover the three pieces of an ern for some unknown reason. Haunted house is arguably the first ‘survival horror’ game ever. You must navigate through 9 levels avoiding ghosts, a bat and a tarantula whilst picking up pieces of the ern and unlocking doors with the keys you pick up. You can also obtain a sceptre to ward off evil spirits, but this is as far as it goes in terms of weapons. The player appears as a pair of eyes and you can see the room layout (unless you are playing on higher difficulty levels in which case you need to light a match in order to see the walls of each level) and the enemies are visible but items are not without the use of a match which adds a fair bit of challenge to the game. Upon illuminating a match you will see a large orange circle appear around the eyes which just makes you look like an orange blob with eyes really as I mentioned before but I think it’s quite quirky in all honesty and you have to appreciate that due to the 2600’s graphical limitations, you really have to be using your imagination when playing almost any game on the system. That’s basically all there is to Haunted House, you collect the 3 pieces of the ern and escape the mansion or be attacked 9 times and it’s game over. It’s a short game but it’s not bad for passing a little time. In 1983 Electronic Games stated that the graphics for Haunted House were ‘on the simple side, but the effect of creeping through the darkened rooms is very well done‘ and I have to agree. I’m sure the game won’t scare you at all, but it’s got the classic horror cliches in it such as ghosts and dark rooms which I can appreciate and I’m sure you will to should you play it.

Check out Highretrogamelord’s playthrough of Haunted House for the Atari 2600:


Halloween (1983) (Wizard Video Games)

Atari 2600 Halloween box - HorrorThis game is a video game adaptation of the cult classic film ‘Halloween’ but does it stay true to the films concept? Well for the most part, yes I suppose, I mean it’s unlikely for any movie based video games on the 2600 to be able to represent exact scenes from the movies they are based off of but ‘Halloween’ does include characters from the film Halloween. You play as the babysitter Laurie Strode and your objective is to take all the kids in the house to either side of the house whilst avoiding the killer (Michael Myers). When you take a child to one of the safe areas in the house you gain 675 points and this is what you are going to be striving for the entire game, those 675 points over and over again. You can pick up a knife which will scare the killer out of the room but you are not given a chance to kill him as he runs away to quick. Should the killer catch you he will cut your head off and you wilAtari 2600 Halloween Screenshot - Horrorl lose a life (represented by the pumpkins at the top of the screen). The killer can kill the kids and not you instead which is… dark to say the least and it will rid the chance of you obtaining those much wanted 675 points. There’s really not much more to comment on about this game apart from the fact this game does actually contain gore, something not common in games around the time of it’s release. If the killer decapitates you pixelated blood will spurt out of the top of your head while you run back and forth for a few seconds and if the killer kills a child then the child will be laying in a pool of blood on the floor… Great. I find the game is even more repetitive than haunted house but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a shot, I wouldn’t mind hearing the Michael Myers theme music in all it’s Atari glory a few more times.

Take a look at NML32’s Playthrough of Halloween for the Atari 2600:


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1983) (Wizard Video Games)

Atari 2600 Texas Chainsaw Massacre Box - HorrorThis is by far the most controversial game I am going to comment on in this article. It is well known for being one of those games hidden behind the counter you would have to ask for which gives you a hint of how explicit it was thought to be. The game isn’t really much more that walking around a field avoiding animal skulls, haybales, fences and wheelchairs (whatever thats about?) and slaughtering what appear to be young girls with your odd blue chainsaw. You continue to do this until you have used up all the power in your chainsaw 3 times, should you bumb into an obstacle on the field you will be stuck for a second and use some of the chainsaws Atari 2600 Texas Chainsaw Massacre Screenshot - Horrorpower to destroy and move past it. When you try to slaughter someone sometimes they will warp in front of you a few times before you kill them and turn them into… um… I have absolutely no idea and 1000 points. Anyhow that’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the Atari 2600 for you and it’s quite a strange little game indeed. Personally I don’t like this one, It has little to no entertainment value but it does have an interesting story behind it’s release

Take a look at TriOptimum7’s playthrough of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the Atari 2600:


So there’s just some of the horror titles for the Atari 2600 and they certainly arn’t enough to scare you now and even probably back then they didn’t scare, just caused a bit of controversy here and there but oh well. It is interesting to see how far horror games have come however and where horror gaming all began. Give some of these old horror titles a shot, you never know you might just enjoy them or continue playing some more modern horror games. Whatever the case, happy gaming!