A while back, I wrote about the various (typically awful) video games over the past 20 years or so that focused on the horror villains we loved so much in the 80s and 90s: Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, etc. It was partially inspired by the announcement of a Chucky game that would have you controlling the murderous doll himself as opposed to some bland hero, a game that never saw the light of day - but perhaps that was for the best, if the other games in the article were any indication. Anyway, one game discussed was the 1988 Friday the 13th game from LJN, but after playing through some of it again last night, I think it's time to give that thing its own article.
Before I get into the game, I should explain WHY I was playing it - I got the urge after picking up the NECA Jason figure at this year's Comic Con, which was based not on his appearance from any of the movies, but his bizarre turquoise/purple look that LJN's team somehow came up with over 25 years ago. It's very rare that I get any sort of Con exclusive, because I'm not a big toy guy and I'm even less of a "wait in line to get a rare toy" guy (thanks to Fangoria and occasional Collins Crypt contributor Sam Zimmerman I didn't have to deal with the latter), but even though I'm not a fan of the game I just had to have it. I had full respect for the fact that they'd make something so random and niche, as to me that's what Con exclusives SHOULD be - things that only the nerdiest of the nerds would fully get, as opposed to yet another bust or statue of an iconic character looking the same way we've always seen him.
But after I took a few seconds to admire the figure itself (I didn't take it out of its box, just removed the plastic so I could open the cover flap), I got to thinking about the actual game, which I a. owned and b. hadn't played in at least 12 years (until recently, the last time I played the NES was in college, and I don't specifically remember playing it there, either). So I removed Ghosts n' Goblins from my NES deck and plugged in the game, wondering if I was any better at it than I was as a kid (which is to say, not very good at all). It only took a few minutes to realize "No, and if anything I'm worse." Luckily, I still have my Game Genie (in fact I always use it when playing even if I don't use any codes - 99% of the time just having the device connected will prevent the game from freezing), so I put in the code for "unlimited health for active counselor" (as well as "jump higher", which didn't really have any use) and started again.
Now, the basic concept behind the game is fine: you control one of six counselors (some have names as characters from the films, but that is probably just a coincidence) who have different starting points around a surprisingly large map of Crystal Lake, one that seemingly tries to explain the increasingly silly geography of the films by using ALL of its locations (and a few new ones) and laying them out around the lake/woods. Some cabins have fireplaces that can be lit in order to (I have no idea what, I just do it), and the woods/cave areas are set up like mazes that can yield new weapons and items if you can find your way through them. Every now and then, Jason will begin attacking in one of the cabins, going after either one of your fellow counselors, or a bunch of anonymous children, at which point you can try to race over there and stop him, or run into any random cabin and switch to a closer counselor (or the one being attacked, if applicable). Being a celebration of the franchise, you have to kill Jason three times in the game, and even then they promise he's not really dead, but it's fitting for the series it's based on so that bit doesn't bother me.
No, it's the EXECUTION of the game that drives me bonkers. Jason is even tougher here than in the movies - usually a good hit from a machete will down him for a moment or two onscreen, but here he just keeps coming - it takes 7 hits just to get him to leave you alone for a bit. Throughout the game you can get better weapons that will wear down his (many) health bar notches quicker - it takes 6 hits with a rock (your starting weapon) to remove just ONE of those bars, but if you can get the pitchfork you can remove one with each successful hit. However, getting that weapon isn't even possible until the 3rd day of the game (there are three day/night cycles, one for each time you kill Jason). and it's likely you'll get sick of fighting him over and over by then anyway. Hell, I only made it to day two before the repetition killed my interest for good (I actually fell asleep playing at one point), and the game's horrible (nothing like the movies') score was no help - it was droning in my ears in a manner not unlike hold music for a very long wait for customer service. It got really difficult remembering which of the cabins had lit fireplaces, and Jason was coming along with seeming increased frequency, constantly resetting my attempts to get my bearings and know for sure that I had gotten them all.
It's also got some pretty terrible (and lazy) "third person" sequences when you're in the cabins. Once inside, you get a HUD that is modeled after the one in Goonies II, it seems:
But where Goonies had a variety of these maps that contained secrets and characters that only needed to be saved once, all of these cabins are exactly the same - the large ones have you go forward a bit before taking a right and turning left to see the fireplace, and the others are just L shapes with nothing in them. Sometimes you'll find a note in one of them telling you something like "Go to the cave", but usually any such attempts will be delayed 3-4x to go fight Jason and save a fellow counselor (or some kids). It's often hard to get your bearings, too - if the lake is in the shot it's pretty simple, but otherwise I could never get a handle on which way I'd be heading if I went left or right when entering a new area (which makes those cave/woods sections nearly impossible). And there are two counselors who are vastly superior to the others, which throws off any idea of balance - basically just make sure Mark and Chrissy are alive, and don't fret too much about losing the others (but keep the kids alive, you monster!).
Not to mention the game's peculiar approach to providing enemies for you to fight during those rare non-Jason scenes. Zombies, crows, and wolves will attack you with frequency, and if you can find her in the cave you can fight the floating, Medusa-like head of Pamela Voorhees, which I can only assume is based on a deleted scene from part 2. Oddly, despite being a villain in several other NES games of the era, there are no snakes to fight, even though that's one of the few non-Jason things that ever caused a problem for the heroes of a Friday movie (in the first film). This is why horror franchises like Alien or Evil Dead always made more sense to adapt into games (whether they were GOOD is another story), because they had a variety of villains to use from, and also could make up their own without it feeling too out of place. Even the Nightmare on Elm Street game had the all-purpose "It's a nightmare!" concept to sort of justify the non-Freddy enemies, but there's something really bizarre about the idea that Jason might wipe you out quick because your health was low from a particularly tough fight with a wolf.
Honestly, the game was actually WORSE than I remembered, and after beating Jason on Day One and realizing that it would be another hour before I finished the game, I opted to give up and just watch my DVD of The Final Chapter for some legit Jason action. It has a certain goofy charm, sure, but that dies out rather quickly - the actual process of going through and completing the game is an endurance test more than anything, as the improved weapons are matched by a tougher Jason, so it doesn't get any easier (or shorter), and any game from 1988 that has more repetition than an early 80s arcade game is not one I care to defend, frankly. Even Ms. Pac-Man at least changed the layout of the mazes for you.
It spawned an awesome collectible though. Thanks, NECA!
P.S. While looking up info on this game I discovered the existence of a 1985 Friday the 13th game that seems even more removed from the movies - has anyone played it?