A Look Back At The 'Friday The 13th' Video Game For The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

By Carlo Carrasco
Way back in 1980, Friday the 13th made its cinematic debut around the nation and literally scared some moviegoers out of the theater. Made for less than $1,000,000, it went on to gross almost $40,000,000 and the success eventually led to the buildup of what is now lengthy slasher film franchise. Along the way, the franchise made its way into literature and more intriguingly video games. This led to the creation of a 1988 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game simply titled Friday the 13th. For starters, it is still shocking to even think that someone would make a video game adaptation (for a console that was popular with kids) of a film genre that has been defined by gruesome killings, stalking, psychopathic killers, shock moments and the usual “promiscuous people are doomed while virgins have one small chance to survive” concept. Aside from that, Jason Vorhees has already been established as a major cinematic villain and as a killer that nobody wants to see exist. Publisher LJN proved to be both daring and shocking to deliver a game for the NES. About the game itself, players get to play a summer camp counselor who is burdened to do the following: go around summer camp, collect items, avoid creatures, save the life of a fellow counselor or a child, and fight Jason all within a 3-day and 3-night period. The game is a side-scroller with branching paths and the location has places that can be entered such as cabins, the forest and caves. By going around, players are required to check the map to find a specific place to go and this can be quite tricky to do since side-scrolling while taking note of the map’s indicator can be confusing sometimes – for example: moving the map indicator is east involves side-scrolling leftward. While moving around, an alarm happens and that means someone is in danger of losing his or her life to Jason. Getting to the place with a limited amount of time can be hard sometimes as there will be encounters with wolves, crows and, unbelievably, zombies (there were no zombies in the Friday the 13th movies). I guess the game designers inserted those monsters to emphasize the bad luck that comes with the general perception of Friday the 13th.

Entering a cabin brings out a 3D-like exploration effect and players can look around by changing directions and moving closer to places until they find the person to save. And then all of sudden, a shocking moment happens when Jason himself is encountered. Immediately, a fight with him happens (which resembles Punch-Out!!! somewhat) and if the player manages to beat him, things will calm down but it is clear that Jason would be back. In fact, encounters with Jason become more frequent (even during the side-scrolling). After beating Jason in a cabin, lighting the fireplaces will serve as a weird form of preventing Jason from coming back and this means more protection for the kid or counselor saved. Once done, the exploration and search for items resumes. Eventually, the players will go through many other places like the forest and the caves and sadly the experience of this game becomes even more frustrating. The controls are not that responsive, the map changes direction, changing characters is always disadvantages (note: you lose your items), the monsters are plenty and are tough to beat, and throwing rocks has that arching effect that cause overshooting (note: get the in-game knife). By the time players get to fight Jason’s mother (not a good idea for a console popular with kids) or have that final encounter with Jason, tons of frustration would have taken their toll.

Friday the 13th is ultimately a terrible and frustrating game to play. It clearly is a big waste of time for most players and I would not recommend it event to the most diehard (or most nostalgic) Jason/Friday the 13th fan. With the exception of the first encounter with Jason, the game is not really scary. This brings me to my next point. Considering the technology and talented game designers available today, it is possible to make a good, respectful and relevant video game about Friday the 13th. In my view, a 3rd-person shooter-type (over-the-shoulder angle) video game done much in the style of 2010's Alan Wake (developed by Remedy Games) is the way to go. It can be a shooter-type of game that's not too heavy on shooting yet laced with a good amount of horror and suspense. Of course, Jason should be the villain not the protagonist.

Until such a game gets made, we Friday fans can enjoy watching the old movies on DVD.
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