Thursday, October 22, 2020

Friday the 13th on the NES: Just As Horrific As They Say

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Loryn Stone
Loryn Stone has dedicated her life to the written Word of the Nerd. Her writing has also been published on other pop culture websites such as Cracked, LoadScreen, PopLurker, and Temple of Geek. Her debut young-adult novel "My Starlight" (a contemporary love letter to fandom, friendship, anime, cosplaying, love, and loss) is out now by Affinity Rainbow Publications. When she's not writing, Loryn's other interests include collecting robots (Megazords, specifically), playing bass, and blasting metal.

This is a “Nerd Voices” contributing piece from Nerdbot reader Chris McAuley. You can find him on his video game and comic book blog or Facebook!

So, we continue our run up to the spookiest time of the year with a horror movie tie-in from the NES.  The premise behind LJN’s 1989 adaptation of this famous slasher movie doesn’t really make much sense.  It must have been incredibly difficult to craft a decent game and narrative around the wordless killer Jason Voorhees. All he really did in the films was walk around and carve up teenagers.  It comes as no surprise then that this game follows the adventures of a group of camp counselors trying to survive Jason’s wrath.  This game is notorious for being one of the worst games ever produced on the NES; but is this reputation really justified?
There’s no denying that this game has a lot of problems, the major issue that many reviewers consistently mention is the difficulty level. As we all know, games from that era were generally far tougher than the offerings most gamers enjoy today.  Harder difficulty isn’t a bad thing for games as long as the game design still crafts a compelling experience along with it.  The ‘just one more go’ moments which permeate super tough games like Ninja Gaiden made it a legendary classic amongst gamers.  The difficulty levels in Friday the 13th just made this title incredibly frustrating and seemingly pointless.


Friday the 13th is not a fair game, the player chooses between one of six counselors of varying agility.  The only two I recommend you playing as are Mark or Chrissy.  The object of the game is to protect fifteen children and the other counselors at Camp Crystal Lake from the evil killer Jason.  His attacks come regularly, so you spend most of your time running towards his location and attempting to beat the clock. This means there’s generally little time to explore the game environment, which is necessary in order to find the items to tackle Jason and bring him down for good.

If tackling Jason wasn’t challenging enough, Camp Crystal Lake is also overrun by hordes of zombies, wolves and crows.  Playing through this title, one of the most frustrating elements is that the objectives just aren’t that clear. The essential tools you require for survival appear at random and if you die, the important objects you have collected transfer to a different counselor.  Game lives are measured in the different counselors, similarly to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the NES.  Essentially, if you lose the good characters, you pretty much lost the game. The one on one fights with Jason are a chore and the sheer hordes of monsters make this horror themed title almost impossible to complete.


There are some positives to this game however.  The tone which is set immediately from the start is an appropriate one of hopelessness. Racing against time and fighting a horrendously overpowered foe makes Jason a fairly frightening character in the game.  He is scary (for an 8 bit character), there’s a fairly well crafted feeling of rising tension and surprise.  Jason can appear in one of two places, the trails around the camp or one of the cabins themselves. If he appears on the trail, there’s no warning, there’s a sudden shift of music and he appears. Jason hurls axes and when defeated, disappears as quickly as he has arrived.  In the cabin, you have to search each room systematically, never quite knowing what turn will bring you face to face with the killing machine.

The game also tries to do it’s best with the films rather limited mythology.  We have Jason in the hockey mask, which is one of the series most defining visual elements. We also have the Summer Camp which played host to most of his carnage. If player’s dig a little deeper they can have a boss fight with the disembodied head of Jason’s mother.  If you win the fight, you can wear her sweater, which minimises the damage you take.

As a game it’s not a complete waste of time or licence.  It’s frustration factors limit what could have been a good game and something memorable for all the correct reasons.

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