I knew very little about Jason Voorhees before I received this game as a Christmas present from my Uncle Pat and Aunt Linda back in 1989. Jason was always the “other guy,” you know, not Freddy. Still, was excited about playing this game, I popped it in and rocked it out.
So I’m a counselor in a summer camp. Nevermind wasting time figuring out who to pick, just pick Mark. Mark makes being anyone else useless. He runs the fastest and jumps the highest.
So you explore the camp grounds. For some reason, this camp is over-run with zombies, evil birds, and wolves. You start off with an amazingly useless weapon, rocks. After killing enough enemies, you get a knife. Eventually, you find yourself exploring caves, which leads you to finding bats and Jason’s mother’s head (AKA Pamela Voorhees). If you beat her while possessing the knife, you will win the machete. If you already have a machete, you will get an ax. Along the way, you get keys, lighters, serum, and occasionally other items, like a flashlight and a torch. You also have to explore cabins which sometimes have notes in them. At the beginning of the game, you’re told to use the lighter to light fireplaces in the cabins. When I first began playing this game, I used to do this. Eventually, a torch would appear, which was a powerful weapon, but I seem to have lost my touch over the years.
The serum is to use on yourself or camp counselors who are not doing so well. The key, if I recall, is to get into the special room in the cave which Jason’s mother’s head is in, or the cabin in the forest. I don’t remember ever needing it to open a regular cabin. The flashlight allows you to see doors against the backdrop of the caves, however, usually the repeating stone pattern in the background (which is always visible) indicates doors just as well. There are also forests (which is where you encounter wolves). Occasionally you find a cabin in the woods, but the mystique is ruined when you realize it’s just a regular cabin where you find no cool objects and nothing really happens.
A Jason alarm goes off randomly and you have to find the cabin Jason is terrorizing. Occasionally he will just attack you along the road, but most of the encounters are in the cabins. Sometimes, you go into a cabin to discover Jason by surprise (however, somewhat ruined by his energy meter which appears right away). When in the cabins, you can switch to different counselors (all located in their own cabins). The strategy you don’t pick up on right away is that you can equip each counselor during the game, so that getting to and fighting against Jason is easier.
The cabins are 3D(ish). Jason only appears when you’re facing a specific direction, which gives the game some element of suspense and surprise. An ominous synthesized fanfare plays when Jason appears on screen, which I think adds a cool effect. Each time you encounter Jason, his arsenal increases, he starts bare-fisted, then gains the use of a machete, then the ax (which in the 3D setting looks like a toothbrush). Sometimes when you defeat him in a battle, you will receive a machete or ax. After going in an out of cabins a few times, night begins to fall and we are now in a much darker setting.
There are also cabins at a dock in the middle of the lake, which you can only get to by boat. The Jason alarm will go off indicating that these cabins are in distress. What makes these cabins special is that this is where the children are. For some reason, in this game, Jason kills children, which is something he specifically abstains from in the movies. While boating your way to the cabins, zombies comically pop out of the water and elevate almost to the top of the screen, then fall back into the water again in a hilarious attempt to slow you down from getting to the cabins on the lake. Jason also will occasionally zip past the screen, as if treading water in a upright position and doing so extremely fast.
So after you kill Jason, you receive a message that you have defeated Jason, but now he’s back and stronger. This happens two times before your third and final kill, which ends the game. The second time around, you return to the caves and fight Jason’s mother’s head once again. This time, you receive her sweater, which if you recall, was used in the second movie to gain a slight advantage over him. In the game, this allows you to take less damage. The third time around, you receive the pitchfork. The pitchforks a devastatingly good weapon, which also remains on the screen after it kills something and can kill multiple enemies.
The catch to all these weapons is that when you acquire one, you lose the previous weapon you had. What makes this even worse is that after you have acquired an ax, torch, pitchfork, etc., knifes still appear. So if you’re inclined to move around the game while jumping, there’s a good chance a knife will appear right in your path, you will pick it up by accident and presto, your pitchfork is gone forever. Sloppy programming.
Anyway, I enjoyed this game a lot as a child. Incorporating elements from iconic horror movies is never easy, especially with several sequels following it which fans will be familiar with. Also, making an NES game suspenseful cannot be an easy feat. If you haven’t ever played this game before, it’s one I would suggest playing and actually trying to win.