Saturday, September 10, 2016

One of My Favorite Friday the 13th Installments is a Goofy Ninento Game

Most people who know anything about me know that I'm a big fan of the Friday the 13th franchise.  In addition to the classic entries, I'll also back some of the lesser regarded efforts.  For example, the last time a Friday the 13th popped up on the calendar, I was on Twitter engaging in an impromptu, day-long defense of Part 7.  Yes, guys, it's a dumpster fire.  But it's an entertaining dumpster fire.

I can find something to love about anything that comes from Camp Crystal Lake, but one of my favorite installments isn't even one of the films.  I absolutely adore the 1989 video game adaptation created for the original Nintendo 8-bit platform.  While I know of a small pocket of folks who share my affinity for this game, I'm sure many of you are thinking "What?  You mean that game where Jason is fucking purple and aqua?"  Yes, I mean the game where Jason is fucking purple and aqua.

For those unfamiliar with the game, the Nintendo version of Friday the 13th focuses on a group of camp counselors who are controlled by the player to protect campers and each other from Crystal Lake's big bald bad.  The goal is to find weapons that will kill Jason before either all of the counselors or all of the campers are dead.  While this seems a simple premise, the actual game play is overly complex and generally hated by the gaming community.

I, however, don't give a shit about game play.  Even when I was a kid I was always more into seeing how the game played out instead of getting any satisfaction from actually beating it.  Have you ever seen those retro game playthroughs on YouTube where someone shows the screen while they play an old game from beginning to end?  Have you ever thought, "Who the hell is watching this crap?"  That would be me.

And for a spectator, the Friday the 13th offers a much creepier experience than one would expect from an 8-bit video game.  Let's start with the game's premise.  Most Friday the 13th movies don't involve actual campers, with the exception of Part 6.  In the game, however, not only are campers present, they're also fair game for Jason if you can't get your shit together and save them in time.  While you don't actually see them die, you will see one of the little children icons on your screen go away, and to me that's far worse.  Their death is treated so casually while you're left to imagine the details of their horrible fate.  And I defy you to name me one other game in the 8-bit era with a "Game Over" screen as bleak as this one.

Apart from the premise, the standout element is the score composed by Hirohiko Takayama.  Video game music was still a fairly rudimentary exercise in the 80s, with systems only capable of synthesizing but so many sounds.  In the case of Friday the 13th, there are only a handful of music cues in the game, but they are all used to eerie effect, particularly during the cabin sequence.  It's got an ethereal, nightmarish quality that still gives me chills.

Now, back to purple and aqua Jason.  Yes, on one hand it's quite ridiculous.  On the other hand, though, the bright, popping colors kind of give it a giallo feel.  Think Friday the 13th as directed by Dario Argento.  The pleasant colors also emphasize how demented this game is.  It's as if they took something harmless like Barney the dinosaur, stuck a machete in his hands, and had him try to hack up you and all of your friends.  Between that and being confronted by the floating, weaponized head of Pamela Voorhees, the whole thing is kinda terrifying.

Admittedly, I don't find myself going back to play the game very often, perhaps because I haven't owned the original Nintendo system for like 15 years.  I do, however, find myself drawn to any and all media that calls back to the game.  There's a metal version of the theme song that I listen to more often than is healthy.  The shadowbox wall hanging you see to the left has a permanent spot in my office.  I even came dangerously close to buying a Nintendo-Jason action figure (I still might).  I just get a kick out of this game, and I suppose the abundance of memorabilia being created for it indicates that I'm not alone.  

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