“If Jason Manages to Defeat All the Children, the Game Ends.”
The games industry doesn’t have all that great a reputation for licensed releases based on horror films, does it? Sure, there have been some great horror games that have taken cues from cinema — your original Resident Evils and Fatal Frames and whatnot. But when it comes to actually adapting licenses, something always seems to get lost in the translation. Whether it’s failure to fully realize a film’s unique concept in video game form, inability to instill fear in a player, or straight-up bad game design, so many horror movie games have come out feeling so lacking.
For my money, there were three games that managed the feat in the 8-bit era. The first is 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street for DOS / Commodore 64, which actually does a surprisingly decent job of capturing the spirit of the Dream Warriors installment in the film franchise as a top-down action game. The second is probably a somewhat “controversial” pick on my part, as I actually genuinely enjoy 1987’s NES take on Jaws as published by LJN. At the very least, you have to admit that compared to sitting down and watching Jaws: The Revenge, it’s a far better way to spend a couple hours of your life. My final pick is another possibly controversial one, and it’s another one published by LJN: 1989’s Friday the 13th, as developed by Atlus. (Yes, that Atlus)
Friday the 13th has taken on something of a reputation as a hated game, likely thanks in no small part to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s take on it. There’s also the matter of it not necessarily being a wholly faithful translation of the movies’ premise, taking all manner of creative liberties — such as inexplicably tossing in zombies, for some reason. But you know what? I’d argue that despite all that, Friday the 13th on NES absolutely nailed the spirit and ever-present tension of the film franchise in a way that very few horror movie game adaptations have, before or since. It’s definitely not a game without its flaws, but I’m going to make the argument that it gets more flak than it deserves.
Yes, folks: Today, I am going to try and sell you on the game that dressed Jason Voorhees up in a purple hoodie and gave you a handful of rocks with which to stop him. But first, we’re going to have to put things in perspective a bit by taking a quick look at some prior attempts at translating horror films to video games, including an even earlier attempt at cashing in on our favorite hockey mask-clad killer. With those frights fresh in mind, we’ll reveal the evil within the accursed NES cartridge. And finally, we’ll investigate the devastation it left in its wake, and briefly check in on the current state of slasher flick game adaptations.