Real Talk By: The Ax
There’s something about 80’s horror movies that stays with us, at least in a pop-culture manner of speaking. The current gaming trend of taking something that was once very good and bringing out yearly renditions that fail to stand up to the original few (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed) is a pattern that mirrors that of the famous horror franchises of the 80’s-90’s: Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and of course, Friday the 13th. The iconic machete wielding undead serial killer donning a goalie mask just won’t die, in more ways than one. With 12 films (including the reboot and awfully funny Freddy vs Jason), Jason is one of the most prolific fictional baddies that endures across decades. His inclusion in the recent Mortal Kombat X has piqued PlayLegit’s interest in going back to Mr. Voorhees’ gaming roots: the infamously difficult and rather pointless Friday the 13th NES game. How does it hold up after 26 years?
Let’s just say that some games will endure forever, and others are a by-product of the era in which they were crafted. No one can argue that some NES games are timeless, like Metroid, Contra, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros, and the Legend of Zelda. On the other hand, the movie tie-in games of any generation seem to get lost in the mix due to their overwhelming mediocrity. Friday the 13th is no exception. The “story” places you as one of 6 camp counselors at the ever-enduring Camp Crystal Lake, plagued by the zombie momma’s boy Jason. The objective is to survive 3 nights without losing all of your counselors or all of your 15 campers. As a generation of gamers used to exposition and tutorials, this is all but lost on us. How long can one survive an attack by a 6 ½ ft tall masked demon, armed with only the rocks on the ground and the clothes on your back? That depends on how courageous you are, and how many of your cohorts you are willing to sacrifice to get a leg up on Jason.
Starting with only rocks is extremely irritating, especially when they are thrown in an arc pattern. This makes it somewhat difficult to measure how to hit the various baddies on the map, such as zombies, birds, wolves, and bats. Other weapons are available, but they are not easy to come across as there are certain requirements that must be met to access them. For example, killing a zombie will yield a lighter, which is used only to light fireplaces in the larger cabins. Once the fireplaces (all of them) are lit, you have a chance to get a torch and a flashlight. The flashlight is then used in the cave to find the entrance to Mama Voorhees room. Defeating the disembodied medusa-looking head will reward you with a machete on day 1, and better weapons on days 2 and 3. This may have been helpful to know, but without the manual or the internet, one can spend a considerable amount of time wandering around the map just waiting for Jason to appear.
The meat of the game takes place on a side-scrolling overworld, with the Start button serving as both the pause button and access to the map. Jason travels in the same area you do, but he tends to be much sneakier than your character. After a bit of slaying menial enemies, a timer appears next to either the camper icon or the counselor icon. Pausing the game will show you where Jason plans to strike next, and not reaching that destination in time will result in the death of 1 counselor or up to 5 campers.
Upon finding Jason, a battle sequence that is oddly reminiscent of Punch-Out begins. Your counselor must dodge Jason’s attacks while also throwing whatever item is in your character’s inventory. In true NES fashion, Jason’s blows are incredibly powerful compared to the counselors’, so the fights can last a while if the counselors’ throwables don’t seem to connect. Also, these fights will end once a certain number of hits on Jason are landed, drastically drawing out the time it takes to kill him. It took me roughly 2 hours to defeat Jason the first time as I was also learning the controls. My victory cries were short-lived, when it was communicated that he needs to be defeated an additional 2 times. At least the cabin fights are significantly easier than encountering Jason in the overworld. Sidescrolling Jason has a serious case of Come-At-Me-Bro-itis.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the game was the item system. I have already touched a bit on the weapons, but the health drops and keys were very confusing. Every now and then, a red potion will drop. A gamer’s first instinct is “Sweet! Health!” Friday the 13th pulls a fast one on the player though, and only lets you use the health potions on other camp counselors. Not only can you only use these relatively hard to find potions on characters other than yourself, but they don’t replenish very much health when used. I still have no idea what the keys do. I’m convinced they are there just to make me excited to find an item drop.
The overall presentation of the game is not bad, but given that the majority of the game takes place in one place, it is easily believable that the game may have been rushed to either capitalize on the success of the 7th film (my favorite, aside from Jason X. Obviously), or to prepare audiences for Jason Takes Manhattan. The game has only 5 settings, which is not much given it’s 1989 release date, a whole 4 years after the system’s launch. The music is also fairly forgettable, but in its defense, only a handful of NES games have music that is recognizable to this day.
All in all, Friday the 13th is not the worst game ever made. Compared to my time playing Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis, Friday the 13th is a work of art. That being said, not every game is an award winner, and certainly not all games strive to be. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Camp Crystal Lake, although controllers may or may not have been thrown. With summer just around the bend, perhaps you should consider the open air and breathtaking scenery that is “Camp Blood.”
Friday The 13th Gets
Out of Five
+Sense of accomplishment after beating Jason
+The irony of killing Jason with a machete
+Inclusion of Jason’s mom
+The fact that a Friday the 13th game even exists
-Learning curve. What am I doing, and where the hell am I going?
-Why is there even a forest? It has a death curse
-Bats, Birds. Anything that flies or jumps for that matter
-Can’t use campers as bait