|Design:||Larry Hutcherson, Vic Tolomet, Ken Nicholson|
With it being Halloween tomorrow, I couldn't resist bringing my creepy classics series back from the dead. This year, we have Exidy's Chiller, easily arcade gaming's most desperate attempt at being shocking and controversial. Does it succeed?
This super gory light gun game is more famous for its outrageous visuals than anything else. It consists of four levels, each depicting an atypical horror scene. It begins in a Torture Chamber, with people strung up and maimed or shackled in guillotines. Next is the Rack Room (which, arguably, is also a torture chamber), where people are being pulled apart. After that we visit the haunted Hallway, which is full of ghouls and ghosts, and finally a graveyard, complete with zombies and the Grim Reaper. The objective of the game is a little muddled. To move on to the next level, you have to shoot a set number of monsters, which primarily come in the form of barely visible ghosts, before the timer runs out. However, you also score points for shooting everything else in the scene, which in the case of the first two levels includes the torture victims. Thankfully, the graphics are atrocious (even for 1986), because the first two levels are pretty sick. You can literally blast flesh right off the various victims and even trigger things like decapitations by shooting the rope that holds up a guillotine blade. But in the context of the primary objective, I'm not sure why you are rewarded for doing this, especially when the third and fourth levels are more appropriately occupied by ghouls, bats, mummies, Mr Reaper and various other horror staples. It is for this reason I say the game was desperate to be controversial, because the first two levels make no real sense. They are 8-bit torture porn and that's it. Had there been demonic torturers to blast at or if shooting victims had a negative affect on your score, it might have made more sense, but as it is, it's gore for gore's sake.
Exidy were one of the earliest arcade manufacturers and right from the outset they had a habit of making games with deliberately over-the-top violence. Ten years before Chiller they released a racing game called Death Race (not related to the David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone movie), which allowed players to run over pedestrians for points. It was the first video game to cause parents to start panicking about digital violence (as laughable as that seems now); Chiller, on the other hand, was their goriest and most sadistic game ever. It was banned here in the UK, but as is so often the case when something tries to be shocking and controversial, Chiller is instead schlocky and contemptible. As a result, it did not do very well in any territory. This is probably due to the fact this is not a game you could put in public. In a typical arcade, alongside other, more child-friendly titles from 1986, such as Arkanoid, Out Run and Bubble Bobble, Chiller was just plain inappropriate — like wearing a mankini in a public swimming pool.
Despite poor sales and obscurity, Chiller was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990, albeit unofficially. Predictably, the NES port was very tame in comparison to its arcade forebear and also managed to be even worse to play, due in no small part to its terrible hit detection with the light gun.
So why, if this game sucks and nobody likes it, have I included it as a "classic". Well, it isn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It's sick, but not revolting or scary, and it is no fun to play. However, it is an interesting period piece. Had it been more popular back in the day, it would have surely rocked the boat in a big way. We're talking Grand Theft Auto levels of controversy. And thank God it wasn't popular enough to have any "copy cat killings" associated with it, because this game would not have been worth the floor space required to site it. If you want a horror light gun game, there are much better alternatives and any gamer worth their salt could name the best example of the genre.