|Publisher(s):||American Game Cartridges|
I got the digital equivalent of a letter slipped under the door after I reviewed Blood, telling me that if I wanted to see the most disturbing game ever made, I needed to check out Exidy’s arcade release Chiller. Now I don’t get a lot of these, so it had a little more credibility, but it still seemed like the start of an urban legend. “Track down Polybius, the CIA-created arcade game that makes people INSANE! Wooooooo!”
But all kidding aside, this note-dropper wasn’t bullshitting. Chiller is in fact the most disturbing game I’ve ever played. Since we don’t do arcade reviews, I initially thought nothing would come of this. However, Exidy released an independent NES port, not licensed by Nintendo, and awfully hard to find. I’m here to tell you to leave this one buried.
This game has nothing to do with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which I mention because a similarly-titled C64/Amiga release does. Both are surely attempting to capitalize off of the popularity of that album. The arcade version is also roughly four times as offensive as the NES version, but this should offer little comfort. Aside from the dive the graphics took, this game is virtually a direct port of the arcade, except that the level order has been reversed. Rather than say too much, I’ll just let this screenshot speak for what this game is about:
That’s right, Chiller is a lightgun game where you shoot naked people held in torture devices. Now, generally, a lightgun game derives its challenge from trying to hit moving targets. Not here, because THESE PEOPLE ARE FUCKING CHAINED DOWN. The goal thus becomes to shoot as many individual body parts as possible, cleverly tracked by an innocuous “monster meter” at the top, before time runs out. This is basically Hostel: The Game. Holy living fuck.
I know why they did it. Exidy only released five games, and the previous ones were for the Atari 2600. One of which, you may know of – Death Race 2000 – a similarly controversial title for the time. So they needed to make a name for themselves again; do something “wild” and “racy” that would make the evening news. So why not a game where you literally torture people? It’s all in good fun, right? It should be noted that this was, probably not by coincidence, the last game Exidy ever produced. I don’t know if jail time was involved, some insane guy played the game and created an identical horror chamber in their basement, or that one of the founders committed a gory suicide – you know, something to really seal this as an underground urban legend kind of title. Probably not enough people know about it to actually make up a good story, which makes an interesting point. This game didn’t need to make a giant ruckus, didn’t need to end up in Congressional hearings, it was terrible and the gaming community got rid of it naturally, like a dog shaking off its fleas.
The NES release does a few things right. First, they’ve removed the scream of agony that comes out of every victim’s mouth in the arcade until you shoot them in the face. No sounds are made by people here, just a garbled, digital scream when the game starts, and if you shoot a particular monster arm reaching out from a grave.
Second, they’ve removed most of the blood, bone, and gore than spills out when you shoot a man in the chest until his rib cage is exposed. Part of this is probably for limits of NES detail, and instead, the body parts you shoot just disappear. I can’t imagine them having a conscience, or worried about getting sued at this point, so there probably just wasn’t enough NES memory to load new, gorier versions per shot, a la the arcade. Although the torture chamber screen does its best to remain fucking hideous. If shooting immobilized, unarmed people doesn’t cream your Twinkie enough, you can shoot the controls for various devices. Then you’ll get points for watching people ripped in half on a rack, guillotined, or fed to a giant reptile.
The NES also attempts to deflect the point of the game away from that whole nasty torture business by giving you a story. According to the box, these aren’t actually people, they’re just ghostly images conjured up by a haunted castle. Whew. That’s good, because I thought for a second there that I was crushing a handcuffed man’s head in a fucking vise. These images are appearing because a great evil has taken over the castle; an evil which can be defeated by finding talismans hidden inside the levels. So in a random tree, or section of wall, or whatever, you might be able to shoot it open and find a talisman inside. A word puzzle is displayed between levels, slowly revealing the phrase “You found all the talismans” while covering the letters up like Wheel of fucking Fortune. Each letter cover is an icon hinting where the talisman could be, like inside a picture, inside a gravestone, or inside a guy’s blasted-open skull.
Exidy did a particularly awful thing by reversing the order of the arcade levels, so that the more inoffensive graveyard and haunted mansion screens come first. You can still shoot out church windows for points and feed a severed arm to a dog, and then shoot the dog, complete with digitized “yipe!” but these sections are nothing compared to the two torture screens. I imagine that someone’s mother could have bought them this game, complete with “dead people are cool” on the box cover, and not think much of it. She watches the first level as Little Johnny shoots some green zombie arms and some monster heads on a gate. No biggie. Then, before she knows it, Johnny’s shooting a lever to drop a man into a river of blood, where he’s eaten by an alligator up to his head, which then floats down the river and can be shot for even more points. Jesus mother Mary at a slumber party
That’s about all there is to the game – shooting defenseless people in multiple segments of their body for points, while cycling through the same four levels until you find all the hidden talismans and beat the game. Can’t think of a reason why you’d ever want to play it again after that point, unless you actually get a pants-ripping rail spike of a stiffy by simulating torture against small, yellow people. I mean, a lot of games get unfairly criticized for being “murder simulators” simply because you have a gun (is an Arnold film a “murder simulator?”). I’m certainly not one to preach any kind of moral high road, or thumb my nose at something just because it isn’t pure, candy coated Jesus. But this game is completely indefensible, completely without merit. You shoot people painfully in all parts of their body until you “kill” them with a shot to the head, then you move on as quickly as possible to the next victim to rack up more points. Come to think of it, I can’t think of a reason why you’d want to play the game at all. It’s not even fun for the shock value.
Sweet baby Moses floating down the river Nile…
I really never thought I’d give another 0% after Waldo, but this game earned it. Not even worth getting for the shock value, which is admittedly lessened by the terrible NES graphics. But still, damn.