The horror genre, so rarely well executed... what a sad little beast! Just when everybody’s got it all figured out, someone goes and makes… well… umm… something that should technically be horrific.
And sure, yeah, usually it is horrific in some way. But how? And when?
A big problem with horror (not only in games but in all artistic mediums) is that the things we find shocking, grotesque, or even downright spooky can change rapidly with the times. Individuals and society in general get hard with experience. That’s right. Check yourself, bro. We be desensitize’n. Yesterday’s horror becomes today’s comedy, and everybody is laughing.
But fear not! Horror will never die. You cannot kill the beast! It may crap out a few satanic steamers from time to time, but if enduring that stench is the price we must pay before getting to experience something as terrifying as Amnesia or as uniquely haunting as Limbo, then so be it!
As ridiculous as it may seem, videogame horror did not begin in the 3rd dimension. Nay, it began in darker times. Times so dark, I couldn’t even tell you, because I wasn’t even there. Some high nerd chancellor, older and somehow even nerdier than all of us, would probably have you believe it began on the Magnavox Odyssey or the Atari 2600 or some ancient PC made from rune stones and sheep’s blood… and he would probably be right! But personally, for me… everything began on the NES.
Once upon a time, this was the face of fear...
I know, I know. It sounds stupid. And maybe it is, but I didn’t know a single kid who wasn’t freaked out by Friday the 13th. Believe it or not, there were actually some decent games based on movies for the NES. Forget the fact that I was like 5 when the game came out and about 7 years old or so when I finally played it for the first time. Forget the haters. If you gave it a proper chance, this thing was creepy. Despite its flaws, it was still creepier than the movies, which were already pretty damn hilarious by 89, even amongst children.
It’s true that it’s a bit too colorful and might not be anything like watching one of the films, but conceptually its genius. You have 6 camp counselors to control. They are always split up and can only interact by passing items back and forth. Either you kill Jason or Jason kills all of you. For shits and giggles, you can also lose if you fail to protect the hoard of children camping at Crystal Lake from random Jason Vorhees murder attacks. Aside from item/weapon collecting, lesser enemies, and some other NES razzmatazz… that’s it!
This game puts you under constant pressure. By today’s standards, I can’t imagine many new players would actually be scared, but play alone at night with the lights off and tell me you don’t feel that suspense. As a kid, I always felt the most tension when crossing the lake, going into the cave (for whatever reason, Jason’s mom lived there), or traveling through the wolf infested forest. The forest is much more difficult to traverse than the normal trail. It has an insanely secret maze-like structure, and contains fewer cabins. You definitely want to search cabins when possible, but as a child I would have swore all those forest cabins to be haunted anyway. I certainly didn’t mess with them much. Too dangerous!
The best part about everything is that it happens in real time and nobody is ever safe from a Jason attack. Strolling down the pathway? MURDERED BY JASON! Cowering in a cabin? MURDERED BY JASON! Having unprotected sex with another camp counselor down by the lake while Jason murders all of the innocent children? YOU ARE SOMEHOW SIMULTANEOUSLY MURDERED BY JASON! The dude is an asshole.
HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!
Everybody knows that he is going to attack sometime soon, but they never know when or where. He’s kinda like Nemesis from Resident Evil, but way more purple and much harder to deal with. On top of that, all counselors are not created equal. This means that, technically, the best way to survive is to treat your counselors like inventory. Keep the better ones safe from danger and sacrifice the weak ones if you need to. Harsh! Who’s the monster now!?
Now, scary or not, this is arguably a unique survival horror experience. An absolutely brutal one too! If you know what you are doing, it doesn’t take long, but almost every NES game is like that. There may be plenty of action, but exploration, counselor prioritizing, trying new things, and good item management are the most reliable strategies for victory. I would liken it to the terror that is Dark Souls in that way. You can beat the game using nothing but pure action prowess, but unless you are trying to prove something, it really isn’t worth the trouble.
In my younger days, the only moments that would genuinely shock me were the Jason encounters. He appeared so suddenly and with such authority that it sent me straight into panic mode. And with due reason! If anything was spot-on from the movie franchise it was Jason’s ability to run through campers and counselors like a freight train.
Typically an encounter is pretty brief. The only exception should be when you get his health down really low. Only then will he become so completely filled with murder rage that he fights endlessly until one of you is dead. At least, that’s how it should be….
Are you ready for a ghost story?
George is a piece of shit.
It’s not his fault. I think he means well. But seriously… what the hell, George? I don’t know what he did all day at Crystal Lake before Jason’s resurrection, but I can tell you what he does after it. He gets reamed by Jason. His physicality is piss-poor and don’t even get me started on his attitude. Plus, I’m pretty sure he is cursed.
A few years ago, my friends and I were attempting to defeat this most heinous game. Gathered around the TV, we took our beatings one at a time. On one particular run, something unusual happened.
In the first few minutes of the game, Jason attacked one of our squad. The counselor was hanging out in a lonely cabin at the edge of camp. Nobody else was there, so he was probably touching himself or something. And you know how Vorhees rolls, that big weirdo. Anyway, Jason was there, the counselor was being victimized, and nobody else was around. Nobody…
So, George, he started huffing and puffing his way towards that cabin with his trusty sidearm. Of course, by “sidearm” I really mean “a handful of rocks” (the weakest weapon in the game). The sun still setting in the sky as he begrudgingly leapt over zombies to save precious seconds. I think if we turned the TV up loud enough, we would have heard George grunting like an orc with an acute sinus infection as he flung open the door, just in time for the rescue.
Jason was ready. Oh man, was he ready! We had barely fought him yet, so that Vorhees health bar was nearly at full capacity. My good friend Phil had the controller. Inside a cabin, Jason can really move, but Phil… Phil was getting pretty damn good at figuring out his attack patterns. Even though throwing small rocks at Jason Vorhees is just as useless as it sounds, it does do a speck of damage, and Jason should run off after getting hit a few times anyway, regardless of the weapon. But not this time. This time he wanted George’s head. Jason wasn’t going anywhere.
I don’t know what caused it. We had never seen it before. Some sort of glitch? A Nintendo poltergeist!? I don’t know, but George was on fire! He was ducking and dodging and throwing rocks like the champ of camp. My friends and I were going bananas. It was the fight of the century. Well over 10 minutes later, George was still hanging in there and Jason’s health was almost gone. We couldn’t believe it, George was about to wreck Jason’s shit!
Despite all the negative criticisms out there, we were playing Friday the 13th and we were having an incredible time. I’m willing to bet there are other Destructoid regulars that have enjoyed it too. What I gotta know is, did anybody else here play it when it was new? How old were you? Did it spook ya!?
Oh yeah, and George, what he did next truly redefined him as a Crystal Lake counselor. He died like a loser. Never trust George.