Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spend Saturday the 14th with LJN’s Friday the 13th

Back before Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even Sweet Home were around to give us restless dreams; before Alone in the Dark kept PC gamers up at night; and before terrifying gamers was a good business model; there was Friday the 13th on the NES. It’s not too surprising that this game is actually scarier than the cheesy movies – after all, they were less about genuine scares and more about watching a mentally challenged zombie in a hockey mask off camp counselors in creative and sometimes decorative ways. But this frightful NES game actually puts you in the shoes of an unfortunate group of would-be victims out to destroy Jason – if they can. The other reason it’s so scary is that it’s one of the worst games ever made. It’s frustrating, ugly and boring. And yet, I adore it. Go figure.

Lovingly thrown together in a single afternoon by LJN, the one-time leader in crappy movie-based video games, Friday the 13th is often berated for its repetitive gameplay, unclear objectives and face-melting difficulty. These are all valid criticisms; but what most half-hearted, bash-fest reviewers don’t care to admit is that once you get the hang of things, Friday the 13th for Nintendo becomes a horrifying search-and-destroy mission that’s likely to leave players cowering under their beds in broad daylight.

The story is simple: Jason’s angry and murdering children again, because that’s what he does best, and it’s up to six similarly-dressed camp counselors to rescue the camp’s 54 children and annihilate the man behind the mask. Friday the 13th was the first true survivor horror game: The only goal, aside from trashing Jason, is to make it out alive. Encounters with Jason leave you paranoid because you’re always terrified that he’ll jump out at you in the woods and kill your character. It’s a game of cat and mouse, only the player is never really sure whether they’re the cat or the mouse.

The nine-second tunes that play over and over again in the field, in the cabins and at the character select screen are unnecessarily repetitive even for NES standards. But there’s more than meets the ear going on here: LJN must have spent millions researching how to convert tension into musical form, and the seconds-long riffs that populate the F13 world are the malicious fruit of that labor of hundreds of mad scientists and psychotic dentists. The music is one of the key factors in making Friday the 13th as scary as it is. For those of us who played it as children, this game still provides the soundtrack for our deepest nightmares to this day.

Take on Friday the 13th if you think you can handle it (and its crappy gameplay). Look at it this way, either you’ll defeat Jason, or, to quote the game:

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