Just like anyone from that era, I love to think about and revisit some of the games of my childhood, and Friday The 13th for the NES is one of those that really made it’s mark.
I know, I know, this is way overdue for halloween, but here goes!
At about 7 or 8 years old, I was forbidden from consuming any kind of horror since it was primarily marketed and created for people considerably older than I, but I had heard some of my older kids in my neighborhood talking about Friday the 13th movies and had listened intently as they described the brutal and gruesome murders. I asked for more stories about the movies with a sort of morbid fascination. The lure of knowing more about this decidedly grown-up movie that I knew I would never be allowed to watch was irresistible. The nightmarish and mysterious mask-wearing killer was a bogeyman beyond my wildest imagination at the time.
Some time later, at home, my sister and I were watching telly and as usual, my mom came in and shooed us to bed. She would usually play NES for a bit after we went to bed. We were not allowed to play during the week. While I was brushing my teeth and going through those motions, I had a peek down the passage to see on the TV screen Jason’s iconic hockey mask.
The curiousity crept in- I had never seen the movies but as soon as I saw that hockey mask, I recalled all the stories I had heard and instantly knew what I was looking at. I began asking my mother if I could watch her play for a bit. Naturally, the answer was no - not only was it a school night, this was not a game for children!
One day, when my mom was out, I checked some of her usual hiding spots where she would hide the candy and occasionally the game controllers if we were being punished. I found the game. There was that distinct feeling one gets when they are doing something they know they aren’t supposed to be doing, a sense of mischief and adventure, as I stuck the cartridge into the game console and started it up. I had not forgotten the stories I was told, and now was my chance to experience Friday The 13th first hand.
The title screen with the ominous hockey mask appears... creepy music starts playing in the background.. I press start.
I will never forget the first moments of the game, moments after I had chosen one of the characters Jason appeared! I started frantically mashing buttons, having no idea what I was doing, and thankfully I threw enough rocks at him that he ran away. It was terrifying. This was the first time I had ever been scared to play a videogame.
Gingerly, I continued trying to work out the controls and what exactly I was supposed to do. The gameplay seemed pretty simple - a sidescroller where you could lob rocks (or other weapons) at or jump over the zombie-like enemies that appeared out of the ground. You could move between the pathways by pressing up or down, enter and explore the cabins where it change to a sort of over the shoulder view.
I still had no idea what the hell I was doing - my mom bought the game second-hand without the instruction booklet, And at the time one could not simply Google the instructions. Not that we had a PC. Google did not exist either, for that matter.
All I knew was, as I progressed, lighting fires, Jason was out there... somewhere.
This was my first taste of survival horror. I don’t know if it was a defined genre at the time, but it may or may not have something to do with my love for the genre continuing into my adulthood with various Resident Evils, Silent Hills and the like.
There was a bar at the top showing how many children were still alive, that began flashing when Jason began attacking them. I was on the other side of the map, and had not figured out that one could enter one of the small cabins and switch to the other characters who were in closer proximity to the children’s cabins, accessible only by boat. It took me a while to figure that one out.
The scariest part about this game, was that Jason could appear anywhere and at any time - in the woods, in the cabin you’re exploring, he would also swim in the lake to attack you. It was terrifying, and made each moment one of tense uncertainty. He could also attack the other characters, and if you hadn’t figured out that you could switch in the small cabins, they would die. Probably not knowing I could do that, or give the others better weapons as I was passing, added to the feeling of helplessness I had.
One time, I actually managed to kill Jason! Or, so I thought.. I had depleted his health bar, but then a screen popped up saying he was still alive.. and stronger than ever!
I think at the time, most of the characters had died so I didn’t last very long into the second of three days. I never managed to complete the game, which was shelved once my grandmother gifted us a PlayStation a few years later (no, we didn’t have SNES) Eventually my mom donated the lot to charity, and I’ve never had the chance to finally beat Jason and save everyone.
I whimsically hope that some day Nintendo will add Friday the 13th to the NES online service, but I imagine it’s very unlikely due to a bevy of licensing issues.
I believe the game got a bad rap back in the day, but among the games of the time, it was one of my favorite and most memorable to boot.
Did you play Friday the 13th on NES? If so, what did you think? Were you also scared?
As usual, thank you for reading! Feel free to comment or share your memories below!