People complain Friday the 13th for the Nintendo NES was too difficult, confusing, and repetitive, however these qualities actually make the game not only brilliant, but years ahead of its time.
RECREATING THE HORROR!
Friday the 13th is a video game intended to replicate the feel of the movie franchise that inspired it. Every Friday the 13th movie inevitably ends more or less the same way: with a handful of teenage camp counselors blindly fleeing from a virtually indestructible masked maniac. The game duplicates this atmosphere masterfully through a series of brilliant game play decisions.
This game isn't Contra. You are not playing as a super-soldier, ready to take on armies of combatants. You’re a weak, terrified kid, desperately trying to survive the wrath of an unkillable psychopath. If the controls feel stiff, or your starting weapon (a rock) seems underwhelming, then you’re missing the point. You’re supposed to feel weak, because in this game you are a helpless victim. Your goal is to overcome those odds.
NEVER STOP RUNNING!
Friday the 13th also requires that you constantly be on the move. Jason is out to kill all of the campers, so you’ll regularly be prompted to bolt across the map to a specific cabin and interrupt the attack before Jason has a chance to claim any victims. However, navigating Camp Crystal Lake is a confusing and profoundly disorienting experience. Paths are not clearly marked, and you’ll have to consult your map constantly to even know where you are. And even once you manage to enter the imperiled cabin, the game’s wonky third-person view will make navigating a few rooms feel dizzying. In short, it perfectly replicates the movies.
It'd be easy to chalk this up to bad game design if this wasn't a horror game. You’re never supposed to feel like you’re in control. As a counselor, it’s your job to protect the kids under your care and if Jason wipes them all out it's game over. So, you will always be running blind and scared across unfamiliar terrain. The fact that travel is so difficult is only meant to further hammer that point home.
DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES!
Can you name me one Friday the 13th movie where everyone makes it out alive? Yeah, I didn’t think so. There’s always a few scrappy teens who survive the madness, but everyone else is going to end up on the business end of Jason’s machete.
The game begins with this formula in mind. Although none of the playable counselors are real power houses, there are a couple that are decidedly better than the rest. They can jump higher, move faster, and seem like the obvious choice for who you want to play. That is until someone has to make a stand against Jason. Suddenly, the very real danger of losing your best character in a suicide run to rescue a few campers makes swapping out for a weaker character a much more compelling prospect. These characters exist only as cannon fodder against Jason’s relentless assaults, their sacrifices buying more time for your chosen protagonist to figure out a way to end Vorhee’s latest rampage. The fact that the game lets you choose who literally gets the axe, enables a macabre sort of resource management that is not only brilliant, but feels perfectly in keeping with the films.
Anyone who’s played Friday the 13th, probably remembers that you need to kill Jason multiple times to get the game’s true ending. However, in classic fashion, death is only a temporary setback for Jason. And every time you take him down, he returns tougher, faster, and stronger than before. By the end of the game, you will need to have almost inhumanly-fast reflexes to dodge the attacks that Jason lobs at you.
The fight is unfair and virtually unwinnable. And that's exactly how this battle should feel if you’re playing a kid armed with some rocks. However, that's why the game offers another way…
YOU MUST USE EVERYTHING AT YOUR DISPOSAL!
If you scour every corner of Crystal Lake, you’ll discover a fair-share of secrets. Unlocking a flashlight can help you discover a hidden room inside a cave, which contains the decapitated (and apparently possessed) head of Jason’s Mother. Mrs Vorhees is an entirely optional boss fight that will only further task your limited health and resources. However, beating her will reward players with multiple items that can greatly aid them in their quest to destroy Jason.
There are other goodies scattered across the camp grounds, but they all help you prepare for your inevitable showdown with Jason. I think it's a stroke of genius that there aren’t any power-ups to make saving campers easier, as it compliments the sense that there can only be a handful of survivors in this story. And again, this perfectly reflects the movies where one or two kids gradually figure out the mystery behind Jason, while all of their friends get picked off one by one.
THE CURSE OF CRYSTAL LAKE
Friday the 13th may not be the most polished game in the NES library, but it does a pitch-perfect job of representing all the major themes present in classic slasher flicks. But more importantly, it helped set a precedent for countless survival horror games that followed in it's bloody footsteps.
Long before Resident Evil made cumbersome controls and awkward camera angles an integral part of its scares, Friday the 13th had you fumbling through cabins. When Silent Hill was being praised for presenting players with enemies that were easier to flee than fight, LJN’s Jason had already been stalking NES consoles for years. If you look at the mechanics at play, this was a game years ahead of its time.
Buy Friday the 13th for the NES Today!
There’s a reason why gamers keep revisiting Friday the 13th even after nearly 25 years of critical scorn. And that’s because regardless of how well they were presented, the ideas behind its scares were not only effective, but genuinely revolutionary. If you want to experience the greatest 8-bit survival horror game ever made, Camp Crystal Lake is well worth revisiting.
But maybe this chiller just left you feeling cold. If you think that I'm giving the LJN game way too much credit, by all means tell me in the comments. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this one. And if your still looking for other horror games, be sure to hit up our online store for more fright fests.