Review A Bad Game Day: Friday the 13th

It’s August 8th! You know what that means… Review A Bad Game Day! Head over to the Review A Bad Game Day’s site for a full list of reviewers participating in the event and see the links to all the bad reviews. The horror!

Speaking of horror, the game I have chosen for my bad game review is Friday the 13th for the Nintendo Entertainment System. A terrible game, but…

Here’s the thing. I really want to love Friday the 13th for Nintendo. I love the movies, I love character, I love the mythos, and I would love to love the game.

Embarrassing reveal time: I actually do like the game. A lot. But dammit I want to love it!

Do not misunderstand me here, I am not saying that Friday the 13th is a hidden gem, or a diamond in the rough, or even that it is misunderstood, because it is most assuredly a bad game. The music is annoying, the graphics are bland and uninspired, and the gameplay is frustrating, repetitive and unfocused.

What I am proposing here, is that with a few tweaks Friday the 13th could be the game I always wanted it to be; a game that lives up to the awesome opening animation of the knife stabbing the eye socket of that iconic hockey mask.

In the off-chance you are in the dark regarding the video game adaptation of Friday the 13th and its, uh, subtleties, I will get you up to speed.

In Friday the 13th you play as one of several camp councillors at Camp Crystal Lake. Jason Voorhees is on the loose, and it’s your job to try and stop him. Once and for all, might I add. You accomplish this by wondering around Camp Crystal Lake, fighting zombies(?) and birds(??), in order to gain health regenerative items and upgrade your weapon. You must also light fireplaces in the cabins scattered around the campground and come to the aid of fellow councillors when Jason starts stalking in for the kill.

In an inspired bit of game design, the councillors each have their own attributes, which amount to differences in character speed, and jumping height and distance. This may seem minor, but hell help you if you get Mark and Chrissy killed and you are stuck with Debbie or George. Keeping the best councillors alive is paramount, and this adds a nice element of strategy to the game. You can also transfer items between councillors, and switch between them at will.

As mentioned earlier, when Jason begins threatening a fellow councillor, their corresponding cabin begins to flash (and beep) and you have a finite amount of time to get to the cabin. If you enter the cabin before the timer runs out, your fellow councillor lives to see another day. Further exploration of the cabin (in a dumb first person mode, but we’ll get to that later) will trigger an encounter with Jason himself, and a battle will ensue, again in first person perspective.

Wasting time in reaching the cabins during a Jason attack also consumes “children”, and when all the children or councillors die, it’s game over. A game over isn’t all bad, mainly because it brings up my favourite game over screen in video game history:

The whole point of the game basically amounts to whittling down Jason over a period of three nights and three days through a series of encounters, repeating the same cycle of powering up and saving councillors. Although some-what limited in scope, Friday the 13th does none-the-less add a few interesting twists that elevate the game above what it could’ve been. For instance, Friday the 13th boasts an early example of an in-game day and night cycle, with different game events (such as certain enemies appearing, or item availability) occurring only on specific days or at specific times of day.

In addition to keeping the campers and your friends alive, you must effectively use time management from one day to the next, and survive an onslaught of common enemies and the periodic Jason attacks (both in the side scrolling over world sections and the first person cabin battles). You can also explore the woods, which is nearly impossible without a map (again, we’ll get too that later) or the cave (ditto for a map). In these two areas you can find the best weapons in the game early, if you are willing to try your hand at navigating through them. In fact, you can even fight Mrs. Voorhees’ severed head, if you make if to the end of the cave (on the third day) without going insane from frustration.

This all sounds like it adds up to pretty descent, maybe even a great video game. Unfortunately for us, laziness and bad game design ultimately tank the whole endeavour.

For one, the over world map is poorly implemented. In the game, Camp Crystal Lake is essentially arranged in a circle, with an inner circle area and pathways connecting it all together. The problem with this is, is that on the actually gameplay screen left and right are absolute, so if you travel from the bottom of the game map to the top. you end up moving toward the opposite direction as your map icon. It is kind of hard to describe without actually experiencing it, but trust me when I say it is borderline game breaking, especially when you absolutely have to rely on the map to locate the cabins Jason is attacking. You can spend half of the countdown timer heading in the wrong direction without realizing it.

Another terribly implemented feature is the first person exploration of the cabins. It is confusing moving through the cabins, because you can easily get lost and have trouble finding the door to get out. All the developers would have had to have done was provide a small map or compass in one corner of the screen to make navigation easier. Granted, the cabins consist of only a few rooms, so this is not a big issue, but it does hint at the underlying sloppiness inherent in the rest of the games design.

Probably the thing that hurts the game the most is the trying to navigate through the forest and the cave. These are side scrolling sections, and there are points where you can either move off the main paths by taking paths going up or down. The problem is that the design of these areas are completely counterintuitive, meaning if you were to go up and then decided that you wanted to go back to the previous screen, you would logically think that going back through the bottom exit would take you back to the previous screen. it does not. Since all the screens look nearly identical with no landmarks, do this once or twice and you become hopelessly lost. Even with a map, the cave and forest are very difficult to navigate. All though they are optional, this really cuts out what could have been a really neat side-quest of sorts. Bad game design basically makes these optional areas too hard to bother with, which hurts the overall experience.

If those three unfortunate design flaws were changed, the game might even be considered halfway decent. But tack onto that the boring music, ugly graphics, predictable enemies, scarce enemy variety, and unclear objectives and the game ends up falling too far short of even mediocrity.

Regardless of it’s shortcoming and gaping flaws, I actually pull this game out a couple times a year and play through it… wistfully wondering what could have been.


2 thoughts on “Review A Bad Game Day: Friday the 13th

  1. I agree! They could have made such an awesome game out of Total Recall, too! Can you imagine what Capcom could have done with it??!

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