It’s true that video gaming is a relatively young industry. Even still, there have been – literally – many tens of thousands of games (not even counting indie titles!) released through the years. It’s understandable that not every game gets recognized or remembered. Which, of course, leads to whispers of creepy “underground” games – somewhat like the snuff films of our industry – that range from the quirkily offensive to outright urban legend.
It’s easier to find something demented from an independent programmer on their own corner of the Internet, but every so often, something disturbing gets a semi-legitimate release. Such was Exidy’s Chiller; a lightgun shooting game for the arcades. When Nintendo passed on approving the home port for reasons you’re about to clearly see, Exidy decided to partner with American Game Cartridges to release an independent, unauthorized NES port.
This is Chiller:
That’s right, Chiller is an interactive lightgun game where players shoot naked people held in torture devices. Everyone you see in the above screen (arcade on the left, NES on the right) starts out undamaged and then mulilates differently depending on what area of their body you shoot. Now, generally, a lightgun game derives its challenge from trying to hit moving targets. Not here, because, as you can see, THESE PEOPLE ARE 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.
So this is basically Hostel: The Game.
I can guess why they did it. Exidy was a big name in arcade development in the 70s, but never really cracked the home consoles or computers. They only released a handful of unspectacular Atari 2600 games, and seemed to be fading away. Then someone likely remembered one of their other arcade releases – Death Race – a similarly controversial title for the puritans of 1976. So they needed to make a name for themselves again; to do something “wild” and “racy” that would make the evening news. So why not a game where you literally torture people? It’s all for laughs, right?
It should be noted that this was (probably not by coincidence) the last game Exidy ever devloped. Partly because of its independent, unlicensed release, and likely because of its dull, offensive gameplay, not many people ever heard of it. This actually makes an interesting point. The game didn’t need to make a giant ruckus, didn’t need to end up in Congressional hearings, didn’t need parent’s groups to scream their warnings from the belltower; it was crap and the gaming community got rid of it naturally, like a dog shaking off its fleas.
The NES release does a few things better than the arcade. First, they’ve removed the shrill scream of agony that plays every time you shoot a victim until you blast them in the face. No sounds are made by people here, just a garbled, digital scream when the game starts. Second, they’ve removed most of the blood, bone, and gore than spills out when you shoot your fleshy targets. Part of this is probably for limits of NES detail; so some shot body parts becoming bloody stumps, and some just simply disappear. I can’t imagine them being worried about getting sued or burned at the stake at this point, so there probably just wasn’t enough NES memory to load new, gorier versions per shot as in the arcade.
Despite the significant loss of detail, the torture chamber screens do their best to remain hideous. If shooting immobilized, unarmed people doesn’t excite enough, you can also shoot the controls for various devices. These grant extra points for watching people slowly 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 really people, they’re just ghostly images conjured up by a haunted castle. Whew. That’s a relief, because it looked for a second there that I was crushing a handcuffed man’s head in a fucking vise.
Instead, these images are appearing because a great evil has taken over a 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 Fortune. Each letter cover is an icon hinting where the talisman could be, like inside a picture, inside a gravestone, or found by blasting open a living victim’s skull. I mean, have you ever shot someone in the head? How do you know there’s NOT treasure in there?
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. The rest of the game should be fine.
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. Skill isn’t often involved since comparatively few targets actually move, and the graphics and sound are poor by NES standards. Can’t think of a reason why you’d ever want to play it again.
Now I’m sure there’s someone out there saying that it’s just a game and all in good fun. I agree with that sense in that it’s not a threat to the children or a moral crisis to society. 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, straight up, a torture simulator. There’s no way around that. You shoot people painfully in all parts of their body until you “kill” them with a shot to the head, then continue to dismember their corpse to earn the maximum amount of points. Repeat with the next victim until time runs out.
Again, it’s not going to corrupt anyone, and it was just Exidy trying to drum up attention, but it’s still a poorly-made title that’s not even fun for the shock value and probably wouldn’t even have been popular on Newgrounds. Mark the checkbox that somebody actually did it, they went and made a torture game, and move on.
It has Zapper support?
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.