We all live under petty delusions. How many people could you take in a fight? Your answer is a lie, and you know it. Are you a good driver? Ha ha, of course you aren’t, and everyone knows it. And I don’t care if you’re an accountant, I’ve seen your home, you are terrible with managing money. How else could you explain that Smash Mouth Discography Box Set? Of course it was on sale! No one on Earth would actually buy such a thing otherwise!
But one delusion we all seem to share is the fantasy “if I had it to do it all over again”. And I’m not just talking about past loves or lost jobs or whatnot in this situation; no, I know one misbelief we all share: “If I went back to high school with what I know now, I would totally rule.” Look, I’m not saying that some manner of time travel hijinks wouldn’t guarantee a re-teenaged you becoming the ruler of Stupid Regional High School, but there is a bit of a caveat to that thinking. It might be easy to use future knowledge to inform the star quarterback that he’s going to work in a convenience store for the rest of his life before he finally gets fired for stealing gum, or reveal to that cheerleader that she is actually going to marry the smelly kid, but, even beyond that, we all think we’ve gotten cool in our old age, right? We now know that members of our desired sex are just as confused and stupid as we ever were, so it would take zero effort to be a “stud”. We know that getting in trouble is a fake idea, so maybe missing one homework assignment wouldn’t sink the “your whole future is ahead of you” ship. And, possibly the most important truth of all, we all know that high school isn’t the beginning and end of the world, so maybe it’s okay that Suzie Steinberger doesn’t hang out with you anymore. In short, we all believe we could be the sovereign, but only with the power of wisdom that has come with age.
And it’s all bullshit, because of course “do-over you” would just find new and exciting ways to screw up in ways you could never imagine. High school sucks, man, and I don’t care if you’re 15 or 50, you’re going to get sucked into the suck-o-sphere.
Today’s game is Friday the 13th for the NES. This game was an inextricable part of my childhood, as it was one of the few NES games I owned back in the day. I also distinctly remember hating the game. I never beat Friday the 13th. I never got past the first “level”. I played with my neighbor/best friend, and we, combined, never got anywhere. I played with my neighbor’s older brother (who was really good at videogames! He beat Simon’s Quest without codes!), and he was able to score a machete, one time, and we couldn’t figure out how he did it. And he couldn’t figure it out, either. So he never got anywhere. And, all the while, we were playing a game that constantly punished us for even trying. Grand Theft Auto might be afraid to have kids in its murder-based universe, but there are children all over Friday the 13th, and Jason is murdering them constantly. I was barely out of primary school, and I was watching my peers die! And I couldn’t do a thing to save them! God, I hate this game!
I suppose I should describe this adventure for anyone that hasn’t had the pleasure. What we have here is a fairly basic action/platforming game twisted into a proto-survival experience. You may choose to play as one of six camp counselors, and it’s your job to venture around Camp Crystal Lake and stop Jason, the unstoppable (hey!) axe-wielding maniac in a hockey mask. While you’re exploring the campgrounds, Jason may attack any of the five defenseless counselors you’re not currently controlling, or a cabin full of a limited number of children. Jason is a literal murder machine when you’re not keeping an eye on him, so this isn’t a “losing health” situation, it’s a “get there right now, and save the children, or they’re all going to die” dilemma. When the HUD starts teasing that Jason is after someone, you better book it over to their location, or you’re going to have a body on your hands in about a minute.
Now, the trick here is that, while you’re supposed to permanently stop Jason, there’s no clear indicator on how to do that. You’re welcome to explore the campgrounds to your heart’s content, and you’re going to find some useless tips, medicine, and maybe a dagger, but there’s no obvious sign of “this is going to work”. When you encounter Jason, he will lose health if you fight back, but, at a certain point, that just stops. Then what are you supposed to do? Search the area? Defeat the random zombies that are wandering around? Maybe sneak past a wolf and explore one of those cabins in the woods? It’s not crystal clear at Crystal Lake, and, while you’re trying to figure everything out, Jason is slaughtering your comrades. That is not a situation that is very conducive to deductive thinking.
But it turns out there’s an answer. In fact, the game outright tells you what to do right from the start: go to each of the large cabins, and light the fireplaces. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be given a flashlight. Use that flashlight in the cave (basically the only “dark” area in Camp Crystal Lake), notice that there are now secret passages all over the place, and use ‘em to almost immediately find Jason’s Mom(‘s head). Murder the flying head (because how else are you supposed to interact with a giant, floating cranium), be rewarded with a machete, and then machete kill Jason until he don’t move no more. Repeat as necessary, and the kids are going to be all right.
And it’s just that easy! Looking back on the game now, and realizing that, if you know what to do, you can beat the game in under an hour, it seems almost absurd that Wee Goggle Bob couldn’t defeat the undead menace. After all, I was able to beat Contra (with 30 lives), every stage in Super Mario Bros 3 (except that one in Ice World), and end the Chaos menace (with a strategy guide) all before I hit puberty, so what was the big deal with this game? You can describe everything you need to do in a paragraph. I could have totally done that!
And that’s when you realize applying modern reasoning to your own past is not reasonable at all.
Let’s revisit those “simple steps” with the technology (and actual game) of 1989. You’re supposed to light those fireplaces? Well, that’s great, but there is absolutely nothing that logs your lit fireplaces, so if you miss one cabin, you’re going to be searching the entire world over and over again. And not all of the cabins “count”, either, as there are hidden cabins in the woods that don’t impact anything. Want to waste all your time wandering the forest for no reason? That’s always fun! And the cave? Sure, Jason’s Mom is easy to find if you know where to look, but that’s another maze that could potentially be explored for hours without finding the exactly one room that actually provides a reason to be there. And Jason! Sure, the machete (and the later pitchfork) will actually eat chunks of Jason’s health, but it’s kind of hard to focus on that bar when a knife wielding maniac is hurling hot death directly at your face. And all the while, a constant stream of zombies are popping up everywhere, so you’re very likely to lose your councilor’s life not to the imminent threat of a mobile hockey mask, but just the mundane attrition of zombie bites. In other words, this entire game actively wants you to fail, and does absolutely nothing to guide the player.
So let’s be honest with ourselves. High school? Childhood? It was always going to be rough. Sure, we’ve got a manual in our heads now, but no such thing existed when it would have actually helped (“What about all that advice you got from your parents?” “Ha ha, who would listen to them?”). In the same way that the campers of Crystal Lake were always going to be doomed, you were always fated to screw up, date crazy, and maybe drive your car through your geometry teacher’s living room. It was inevitable! Some things may look easier in hindsight, but there, in that moment, there was never anything you could do. Imagining playing the game as an adult is a different experience from actually being there.
And, while we’re at it, stop thinking a machete is going to solve everything .
FGC #397 Friday the 13th (NES)
- System: Just for its reputation as one of the worst games of all time, it’s kind of amazing that Friday the 13th for the NES hasn’t seen any systems other than the NES. Maybe the curse demands it has to be properly contained?
- Number of players: Just one. Back in the day, when practically everything was 2-player, whether it made sense or not, this was another major check in the minus column.
- Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea where this game came from. I mean, in my own collection, not its existence at all. It was a game I’ve owned (and hated) since childhood… but who bought it? My parents were savvy enough to not ever risk a horror movie based game, and my grandparents usually only took recommendations from those previously mentioned parents. I don’t have any weird uncles… Huh… Maybe it just… appeared one day…
- Say something nice: This might be the first game I ever played that involved choices for characters of varying gender, skin color, and body shape. It only really meant that my friends and I got to continue being childish assholes (“You play as the fat kid, because you’re fat, fatty!”), but, looking back on it now, it might be one of the few NES games where you could actually choose to be a woman or a person of color over “generic white guy”.
- Other Good Things: None.
- Favorite Weapon: I remember there being a fire weapon somewhere in the game… but damned if I can find it now. There are hints scattered around the campground alluding to such a thing, too, but… Dammit, I am not looking at a FAQ for this stupid game again.
- An end: This game is artificially inflated by requiring three separate Jason kills. This is fairly appropriate, given the source material, but it’s also inordinately anticlimactic when you finally beat Jason, and the narration just says, “Yeah, he’s dead this time.” At least you win! (?)
- Did you know? This title is considered a canon “sidequel” to Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood. I never really enjoyed the Friday the 13th films (that weren’t based in space), so I have no way of verifying this bit of trivia. I was always more into the television series that no one ever remembers.
- Would I play again: Never! I might know what to do, but I don’t want to do it ever again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jr. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Running from Ghosts: The Next Generation. Please look forward to it!