After reviewing A Nightmare On Elm Street for the NES, I had to look into the game its paired up next to: Friday The 13th! Unlike A Nightmare On Elm Street, I had the chance to play this game a few years after its release at my neighbour Joey L’s house. I caught up with him to talk about it and he’ll provide some commentary throughout this article. So pack your bags, say bye to mom and dad, and board the bus because we’re going to Camp Crystal Lake – 8-Bit style!
Nintendo Power #2 of Fall 1988 listed a teaser for Friday The 13th in their Pak Watch section, mentioning the player being a camper awakening to discover that Jason has struck again. LJN acquired the license and Japanese developers Pack-In-Video designed the game, which was to be released under the LJN Power Play series. Early the next year, Nintendo Power #4 showcased a larger profile of the game with images in their Video Shorts section. It displayed the different types of gameplay along with some of its mechanics such as searching cabins and using different counselor attributes to your advantage. The game was released in February of 1989 in North America only and was met to negative reactions.
While there is no proof of any alternate/beta versions of Friday The 13th, there was a rumour floating around F13 forums: like A Nightmare On Elm Street, the player was supposed to control Jason Voorhees with the goal of knocking off counselors. The entire design was to be the same, with the difference being the role reversal. While there’s no definitive proof that this version exists or was even planned, many see a possible hint at it within the weapons available: they are all tools used by Jason. A Sega Genesis version was considered in 1990 but canceled before any production started.
JL: Growing up, my parents made me watch a ton of horror movies, and my mom and I always favored Jason over the rest. A few months before the SNES launched, I was totally pumped and slowly began neglecting my NES while fawning over my Nintendo Power magazine for all the 16-bit hype. At a garage sale, my sister and father came across the F13 cartridge and when they brought it back home, five-year old me couldn’t believe it: the cover-art alone was so badass. Admittedly at first, I had no clue how to play this game (didn’t come with the manual) but I was determined to try and figure it out. Soon enough, the SNES was released and I stopped playing the game but every so often it would make an appearance whenever I had friends over.
Eddie: Yes, I remember playing it for the first time at your house and it scared the crap out of me; partially thanks to you having the lights out.
JL: Everytime a new friend would come over and see it, I’d always want them to experience the shocking moments like I did. It probably wasn’t the same for them, especially since I may have gave it away when I’d be in the back hiding behind my shirt while they played, but it was fun nonetheless.
An early sandbox-platformer with mild RPG segments, Friday The 13th boasts various gameplay styles that helps the experience stay fresh. Side-scrolling action takes place on the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake until you enter cabins which enable a first-person mode. While fighting off bats, wolves, and several zombies (who are listed in the manual as Jason’s past victims), Jason Voorhees will randomly attack either one of six counselors or a group of 15 children; the game will end if all members of either group die. You control all six counselors: three boys and three girls who each have different skills (some are fast walkers, high jumpers, or strong rowers). Plotting them in key areas can act to your advantage, such as having the rowers near the children’s cabin so they can be reached faster if in peril.
JL: I will never forget the first time you run into Jason outside. Incredibly scary: this loud noise comes out of nowhere contrasting the boring and monotonous background music and then this giant blue/purple blur flies past the screen and knocks you the fuck out. I was never prepared to face this guy or even knew what to do. It genuinely gave me a scare, so much so that after that point whenever on the trails, I’d always be on edge because who knows when he will strike next?! In that sense, I guess they really captured the essence of the movies (which says a lot for a game from the 80s based on a franchise).
Counselors take shelter in small cabins throughout the map and the children hide in a lake-side house which can be only reached via boat. Cabins range from small to large, the difference being the small are used to swap counselors and the large contain items/hints and fireplaces. Once all fires are lit, the powerful torch weapon is unlocked somewhere within the camp. You can also traverse the woods for medical items and a large cave for weapons.
JL: Just like the trails, Jason can attack within any cabin. Even if you’re pretty sure you already went in that room, you’d look again and BOOM: there’s Jason! The first time this happened I straight up dropped the controller and did my five-year old equivalent of “fuck this” and walked away.
The cave contains Pam Voorhee’s shrine where her decapitated head will attack you; if you beat her, you receive an item or stronger weapon. Jason has to be killed off three times, so there are essentially three levels in total. Each level increases enemy speed/stamina and provides new items to win from Pam’s head should you defeat her (one happens to be her prized aqua sweater that acts as body armor).
I like the challenge involved with this game; you really have to hone your skills at it in order to continue. Each time you manage to defeat Jason, the difficulty goes up and it becomes harder to avoid enemy attacks in general. While there isn’t very much to say about the graphics (they’re sub-par I suppose), the music is good for what little there is. Out of the three tunes in the game, its the creepy cabin music that really stands out and doesn’t get repetitive.
Several references to the franchise are within the game, here’s a list of the ones I was able to find:
- Title Screen of a knife in Jason’s mask (Part 4 poster)
- Camp Crystal Lake setting (various)
- Pamela Voorhees’ severed head (Part 2/3)
- Using Pam’s sweater as a shield from Jason (Part 2)
- Weapons, including the hidden Pitchfork (various, Part 3 specifically)
Here’s an awesome remix of the Cabin Theme done Genesis style: http://youtu.be/BuuXWMSDC5M
LJNs Friday The 13th has a reputation of being a poor game and I don’t think it deserves that whatsoever: for an early title in the NES library its quite playable, provides a challenge, and stays true to the franchise it represents. It has more replay value than A Nightmare On Elm Street due to the variety of modes and situations that can occur at random: you knew when Freddy was going to attack but with Jason, there’s no telling.
JL: I’d come back to this game almost yearly and it became tradition to play it with my friend Adam before we went to my summer cottage. This was when we had all the 16-bit systems and the new Playstation; even later when I got newer and better consoles I still wanted to play F13 now and then. Horror games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Amnesia are something that I love but I can honestly say that the biggest scare in a game, one that has stuck to me so profoundly, came from this shitty little NES game that my sister found at a garage sale. I think its the reason why I enjoy a good scare in my games and for as much flack as it gets, its still pretty special to me.
A big thanks to Joey L for his reflections on this Nes classic and The Best In The World from Nightmare On Elm Street Forums for info on the game’s history!