I don’t play a lot of NES-era video games. If my action figure collection is any indication, I can’t really afford to start collecting retro video games. But I do have a small collection of NES/SNES games as well as a very worn and dusty Nintendo seated comfortably next to a PS4 Pro.
As I was looking for an old game to play, my daughter actually saw my copy of Friday the 13th. Yes, the legendarily infamous game developed by Atlus and published by LJN was one of my favorite video games as a kid, and if I’m being honest, this game freaked me out more than a little bit when I was much younger. I was probably six or seven years old when I first played the NES Friday the 13th and right out of the gate, as I saw a knife pierce Jason’s iconic hockey mask as the title burst onscreen, I knew I was in for something vastly different than Mario Bros. or the latest TMNT game. I didn’t care that I was throwing rocks at zombies, I knew that somewhere within Camp Crystal Lake, Jason Voorhees was out there somewhere, stalking the woods in search of me. I didn’t notice that the music was the same nine notes and I didn’t feel the need to question whether or not Jason would actually kill off an entire cabin full of children, I just knew that he was there and he was hunting me and my friends, and I was completely unprepared to deal with him.
Long after I played the game I wondered how I could possibly stop Jason as every time I was confronted by him, I died, almost instantly. Sure, I got a chuckle that it looked like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, but as soon as Jason punched me in the head and my health bar drain by a full twenty five percent, I knew that this game was something I had never dealt with before. This was survival horror.
I may sound like I am looking back on this simplistic game with incredibly shiny rose-tinted glasses, but over the last two nights, I have played this game with my kids (ranging in ages of four to fifteen) and they all reacted how I remember myself reacting as a six year old. They laughed, they got frustrated, the wondered if they were doing something wrong and then they were almost overjoyed when it looked like they might beat Jason…until he brought down an axe and all of our friends were dead. We had a good laugh about it and before my kids went to school they asked if we could play again tonight. That to me is the only litmus test that matters when you are asked if a game is good.
But is it good?
So I’m going to be honest with you, I have never beaten this game. I certainly am better at it nowadays than I was thirty years ago, but I have no real delusions about beating this game or even any aspirations to beat this game. There are many, many guides, walkthroughs and let’s plays out there that can show you how to beat this game in minutes, and while I would certainly like being able to beat this game, I don’t really think I ever will.
With that being said, this game seems to suffer from being what many retro gamers affectionately refer to as “NES Hard”. This game is tough because it literally tells you nothing about what the hell you’re supposed to do with this game outside of lighting a few fires, fires that ultimately do nothing to affect you progress in the game. Friday the 13th doesn’t tell you that you’re supposed to pick up specific weapons and items, it doesn’t tell you to search the caves and woods, it doesn’t tell you that you have to fight Jason over the course of three friggin’ days!And I think that it is this lack of context that has alienated many retro game fans…that and many seemingly hate this game because the internet told them to.
I absolutely adore this game. While it’s not as good as Sunsoft’s Batman or Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 or…insert your favorite Nintendo game here. But what it has is charm, intent, charm and a sense of fun that rivals that of the horror franchise that inspired it. Just like the slasher movies that came both before and after this game was released, it knows what it is and it makes no apologies about it. While the NES version of Friday the 13th may not be the best survival horror game out there, it has a lot of the same tropes and qualities that are still found within survival horror games today. Limited inventory? Check. Limited resources? Got it. Disorienting setting? Got ya covered. An overpowered villain? You’ve heard of Jason, right? I know that most people won’t or can’t give this game a chance, but if you go at it with an open mind, and maybe a walkthrough on YouTube, you’re going to find a game that was survival horror before survival horror was even a thing.