Gun Media recently announced this week that their upcoming horror title Summer Camp Vol:1 was now officially being released as a full fledged Friday the 13th video game. This was great news for fans of the franchise. I also happened to mention that I was a fan of the original LJN release of Friday the 13th on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I know it’s far from a perfect game but if you can stifle your laughter long enough I would like to elaborate on its inherent charm and why I enjoyed this game growing up.
So before I start a little history is in order. To begin with I’m a huge fan of the films, specifically Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. So when I found out there was a video game based on the films I was instantly sold. I was disappointed to find out that you couldn’t play as the hockey masked antagonist but was eager to take a crack at killing him. That being said, I bought this game around the summer of 1990 after saving all the money I made walking our neighbors two beagles.
For a full month of walking their dogs I made a whopping $80! So naturally the first thing I wanted to buy was a video game. Of course to be fair at 37 that’s usually still my first instinct. So my parents took me to the local Venture department store (anyone else remember them) and whist browsing in their video games section I found Friday the 13th for only a mere $15.
I got the game home, took it out of it’s package and popped it in the good ol’ NES. And within the third cabin I explored I encountered Jason Vorhees himself. My brother and I jumped with a mixture of both fright and excitement at his abrupt appearance. I also found the game at least in some of the initial playthroughs both creepy and a little scary. Seriously you have to give it to game that was not only 8-bit but also one of the first examples of survival horror. To evoke that kind of response is no easy task.
In the game you can control one of six camp counselors each of whom have their own varying levels of speed, strength, jumping, and rowing ability. Platforming is solid and each counselor brings something different to the table. Slower counselors are good for fighting Jason and the faster counselors work better as scouts to scavenge for weapons and items. Most players will probably end up sticking with Mark though as he is the best character all around. Each counselor also starts with what is perhaps the worst weapon in video games, a fucking rock. What’s worse is that when you throw it has a weird arc that almost always misses its target. Not to fret however as you can also find additional weapons such as the knife, machete, and axe to fight off your enemies .
The goal of the game is to find Jason and defeat him not once, not twice but a total of three times before you can declare victory. In your travels across Crystal Lake you will explore cabins, the lake, caves and several wooded areas. In the bigger cabins you have to light the fireplaces because apparently a well lit cabin keeps Jason away. The main portions of the game are played as a side-scrolling platformer while the cabin segments are played in a pseudo 3D perspective.
What kinds of will I fight aside from Jason you ask? Well aside from having Jason to contend with you will also have to fight enemies such as zombies (past victims as per the game’s instruction manual), giant crows, vampire bats and wolves. If you’re lucky enough (or unlucky) you will also get to battle Jason’s mother who is in a hidden locked room in the cave section. She literally looks like the Medusa head from Castlevania, but finding her is essential as she also gives you some of the most powerful items in the game. Of course that’s only if you defeat her. From time to time an alarm will sound off, requiring you to find Jason before he kills any children (hint: the kids are always at the lake) or another counselor.
This is where using the map to help your allies makes it frustratingly hard to navigate the camp grounds. The confusing map structure is perhaps my biggest gripe with the game. An easy fix for this is to pause the game and switch to the counselor being attacked or the nearest counselor that can help. If he’s attacking the children you not only have to get to the lake entrance but then you have to row to the cabin where the kids are located. And that’s only if you’re actually travelling in the right direction. When fighting Jason in the cabins the game goes into “Punch-out” mode and this is my absolute favorite part of the game. Lastly, death in this game is permanent. If you and the rest of the counselors die or all the children are killed the game is over.
Let’s briefly talk about graphics. In my humble opinion graphics aren’t what makes a game great, it’s gameplay. Like many of you I’ve played my fair share of great looking games that played like absolute horse shit. Jason is purple, zombies are yellow and the campers and counselors have no facial features. Everything present in the game looks like what its supposed to represent more or less. All in all the developers did a decent job in this department but a little more development time wouldn’t have hurt. Keep in mind that this is an 8-bit title so try not to judge too harshly in this area.
Let’s talk about the music. The music in this game is both mind numbing and repetitive. There aren’t really any memorable or worthwhile tunes here. The only exception to this are in the cabin segments of the game where the music is very reminiscent of the films. Sound effects in general get the job done more or less but nothing that really stands out. It does sound cool though when Jason just bursts out of nowhere to try and kill you.
I acknowledge that Friday the 13th will never be considered a classic or even a cult classic for that matter. Reviewers in the past such as James Rolfe (AVGN) have skewered this game mercilessly because of its graphics, music and repetitive gameplay. I’m not saying that they’re necessarily wrong I just think the game has been judged far too harshly. Despite this however I still feel the game is a much better than most gamers and critics have given it credit for. Believe me there are far worse titles in LJN’s library of licensed video games such as the horrendous Back to the Future. Among all of their licensed titles Friday the 13th is definitely the standout of the bunch and that’s saying a lot given their track record.
If you’re curious give it a try for yourself and see what I mean about the inherent charm this game has. As it is I highly recommend it to fans of the franchise who may have never played it before. Think you have what it takes to stop Jason’s murderous rampage? There’s only one way to find out.
Synopsis from the game manual:
It's a pretty typical summer at Crystal Lake. There's a group of happy children staying in the Camp. You and your six Camp Counselor friends are watching over the kids while enjoying the lake and the wilderness. The days are bright and sunny. The nights are cool and clear. And Jason is on a rampage.
It's up to you to stop him, but it's not going to be easy. You must first fight your way through forests filled with man-eating wolves, caves covered with blood sucking bats and hordes of mindless zombies everywhere you turn. You must also help any friend who is in danger, or else you can just kiss them goodbye. And hiding in a cabin or staying adrift in a canoe won't keep you safe - Jason will find you anywhere. The only way to survive this summer is to challenge Jason face to face, and destroy him.
Nintendo Entertainment System
-Based on Friday the 13th film franchise (Obviously)
-Music in the cabin sections sets a tone similar to the films
-"Punch-out" style fights with Jason
-Music overall is dull and repetitive
-Unable to play as Jason
-Confusing map and overworld