Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars
Published as a n unlicensed arcade port in 1990 by publisher American Game Cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Chiller was developed by Exidy, who had released the arcade unit in 1986. Often considered the most violent and graphic title-to-date for its time, Chiller remains a controversial cartridge, and is even banned in the United Kingdom.
Following a loose plot about defending a castle during a time at which the dead have begun to rise from their graves, Chiller is a rare video game that not only allows the player to choose to play using either the Zapper light gun or controller-led crosshairs, but still stands as a remarkable example of gratuitous violence, a truly exceptional sample of a blatant attempt at gore for the NES.
Each level has a Monster Meter/Ectoplasmic Tabulator at the top of the screen, displaying a number that starts around 20 and must be reduced to zero, by way of shooting on-screen elements that each reduce the number by one with a successful shot. These include animated sprites of ghouls and other ghastly horrors, along with still items whether background artifacts or human beings left shackled in place. Yes, in a couple of the four levels, you must shoot people, chained and otherwise bound, to advance. The levels are the graveyard, a hallway, a “rack room”-style torture chamber, and one last truly gruesome torture chamber. Once the four stages are completed, play repeats, in a true arcade-style, high-score-seeking challenge.
The arcade cabinet certainly looked a little more polished, a bit more graphic, and even had nudity. While the NES version is obviously more pixelated and basic, it still manages to startlingly convey the bloody violence as its theme throughout. A first-time player may be horrified in the third level to discover that you must literally shoot chunks off of helpless human beings in order to advance, lest time runs out before you deplete the Meter. In various stages, people are killed, a head explodes, limbs get shot off, a woman’s body (two different examples) is increasingly mutilated, etc. Yes, it is crudely drawn graphics, and it would be laughable, except for it being so starkly intentional in its attempt to show you a real nightmare scene. This is a very difficult game for which to judge its graphics: Are they cutting-edge, technically impressive, and stretch the NES to its limits? No. Are they provocative, effective, and innovative? Yes.
The background track is basic, and the sound effects are interesting. The little “boom” you get for shooting the right items is mildly satisfying, but the best audio moment is the roar/scream you get for shooting certain elements (the dog in the hallway, for instance). It seems to be on a wholly different level from the rest of a game, serving as a stark reminder for the player that this is not something you want to shoot. Otherwise, the noises are unimpressive.
Chiller is an intriguing candidate for consideration of its creativity. It is one of the video games that is truly unique yet perhaps should not necessarily be rewarded for its uniqueness. After all, many gamers in that era or the present would find Chiller deplorable. The gamers that shrug off violence and not find it offensive may question where it is any fun. Then again, there were few Zapper-enabled options for the NES, so Chiller holds its weight there, even if only because the company was seeking to capitalize on the feel of the original, controversial arcade unit.
When the dust (or perhaps blood, in this case) clears, Chiller is a video game that aims for controversy and hits mediocrity instead. Whether you buy into its over-graphic premise or ignore it entirely, it is still only a decent game at best. Whether you penalize its gratuity or fail to even notice it, this will never contend as a classic NES game with massive replay value. For its rough, unfinished quality, its single-minded theme, and shallow, uninspired gameplay, Chiller buries one and a half stars out of five, the half-star awarded merely because it has little Zapper competition, even if the other titles are likely superior.