[GAME REVIEW] Super Pitfall

Introduction

David Crane’s Pitfall! ended up being one of the most popular games on the Atari 2600, selling over four-million copies when it debuted in 1982. Players assumed the role of an adventurer named Pitfall Harry, who sought to collect all of the treasures in a jungle. It broke the mold for gaming as a whole, codifying many conventions of the side-scrolling platformer genre. Pitfall! was also notable for having been one of the most successful products conceived by a third-party company: Activision. During the first and second console generations, companies didn’t think to credit developers for their work. Some crafty developers would circumvent this by placing Easter eggs in their games, but the behavior was discouraged. This is what caused a collection of developers, including Mr. Crane, to form Activision in the first place. Such was the game’s popularity that despite its sequel, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, having been released in the wake of the North American industry’s crash, it still managed to become one of the Atari 2600’s most lauded titles.

One year later, the North American gaming industry would regain its footing with a little help from a Japanese company named Nintendo. Following a long, arduous campaign to convince retailers to stock their own gaming console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it proceeded to sell millions of units. Included with the purchase of these systems was a copy of Super Mario Bros. This game could be said to have perfected the side-scrolling platformer formula using the blueprints Pitfall! drafted. While Pitfall! itself was a beloved classic, Super Mario Bros. ascended to a level of fame that left a definable impact on pop culture after it became the greatest-selling game in history at the time.

With many famous games predating the crash such as Pac-Man and Galaga having well-received ports on the NES, it seemed only natural that the Pitfall! series would be represented on the console as well. For this installment, dubbed Super Pitfall, Activision outsourced the job to a Japanese developer named Mirconics. This company was primarily in charge of porting arcade games to the NES, including Elevator Action, Ikari Warriors, and 1942, so Super Pitfall would be their chance to make a good impression with an original work. Were they able to do so?

Continue reading

[GAME REVIEW] Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

Introduction

In 1954, a Japanese film production company named Toho planned to co-produce a film with Indonesia called In the Shadow of Glory. It was to be about the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. The project came to an end when anti-Japanese sentiment in Indonesia forced the government to deny visas for the filmmakers. A producer by the name of Tomoyuki Tanaka attempted to negotiate with the Indonesian government in Jakarta, but to no avail. On the return flight, Mr. Tanaka conceived an idea for a giant monster film, having been inspired by Eugène Lourié’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Another inspiration was the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon) Incident. It was a fishing boat transporting twenty-three men contaminated by nuclear fallout following the United States’ Castle Bravo thermonuclear weapon test at the Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954.

Mr. Tanaka drafted an outline for the film under the tentative title The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and pitched it to executive producer Iwao Mori. Mr. Mori approved the project one month later after determining the financial feasibility of the project. Once the project was greenlit, Mr. Tanaka wasted no time choosing a director: one Ishirō Honda. Early in development, Mr. Tanaka intended for the monster to be designed after a gorilla or a whale. It was through this contemplation that the creature got its name: Gojira. It combines the Japanese words for gorilla and whale – “gorira” and “kujira” respectively. Another possible origin is that the large stature of one Toho employee caused him to be nicknamed Gojira. Despite the initial plans, Akira Watanabe, the special effects art director, wished to base the monster’s design off of dinosaurs. Much like the title monster of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong, Gojira was intended to be rendered using stop motion animation. However, Mr. Tanaka pointed out that such an undertaking would take seven years to complete. To circumvent this limitation, a large, rubber suit representing the monster was constructed.

The film was released in Nagoya in October of 1954 before receiving a wide, domestic release the following week. In its original form, Gojira received fairly negative reviews. Critics at the time accused the film of being exploitative. As the narrative delivered a clear allegory for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that occurred just nine years prior, the film opened up fresh wounds. Mr. Honda was particularly distraught, for his crew had worked hard to produce the film. Luckily, his work wasn’t for naught. Gojira was recut and subsequently distributed to the United States under the name Godzilla: King of the Monsters! Once the film made its international debut, Mr. Honda’s film gained a new lease on life. It was a box office success, and ensured the title creature’s place in pop culture worldwide. With a hit on their hands, Toho ended up producing several sequels to Godzilla. Every decade for the remainder of the century would see the debut of multiple Godzilla films, eventually making it the longest-running film franchise in history.

Around two decades after the debut of Godzilla, the world would see the rise of a new artistic medium. This one stood out from any of its predecessors by virtue of letting the audience control the characters within the work. These creations came to be known as video games. With Godzilla being one of the most recognizable film monsters of all time, it didn’t take long for developers to try to secure the license and create their own interpretation. The first such attempt was a 1983 Commodore 64 game, though it quickly fell into obscurity. After the launch of Nintendo’s internationally successful home console, the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System in the West), one developer by the name of Compile saw fit to create a Godzilla game of their own. The fruit of their labors was released domestically in December of 1988 before debuting in North America in 1989 and Europe in 1991. In its native homeland, the game was simply dubbed Godzilla, but fans overseas would know it by the name Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. Was Monster of Monsters able to give one of Japan’s most iconic creations a triumphant debut in a new medium?

Continue reading

[GAME REVIEW] Kirby’s Adventure

Introduction

Kirby’s Dream Land was one of HAL Laboratory’s greatest successes when it launched on the Game Boy in 1992. It proceeded to sell over one-million copies over the next few years. Despite this, the game drew a fair bit of criticism. Veteran gamers in particular were critical of its short length and lack of difficulty. Even gamers of a middling skill level could blaze through the experience in the course of an afternoon. Nonetheless, its stellar commercial performance all but ensured a sequel would be made. Series creator Masahiro Sakurai found himself in the director’s chair once more, and his team was determined to expand upon the gameplay established by his inaugural title.

In order to successfully implement the myriad ideas they had for this new game, HAL Laboratory turned their attention to Nintendo’s home console. However, despite the Super Famicom, or Super NES as it was known internationally, having been released two years prior to the debut of Kirby’s Dream Land, the team decided the next game would debut on its predecessor – the Famicom. The game was named Kirby of the Stars: The Story of the Fountain of Dreams and saw its domestic release in March of 1993. It then debuted internationally in North America and Europe later in the same year retitled Kirby’s Adventure. By 1993, the fourth console generation was in full swing. It was a period of console gaming defined by the fierce rivalry between Nintendo and Sega. This did not prevent Kirby’s Adventure from becoming a bestseller. Unlike Kirby’s Dream Land, the game was a hit with critics as well. Retrospectives have since deemed it the NES’s swansong. In the midst of a battle that placed a great emphasis on presentation and technical prowess, how, exactly, did Kirby’s Adventure win over its predecessor’s detractors?

Continue reading

Widget

Introduction

In 1984, American television producer Peter Keefe launched a show known as Voltron. The show was about five pilots who commanded a robotic lion. When combined, they would form the titular robot. They would use their technology to protect Planet Arus from an evil warlord by the name of King Zarkon. During its three-year run, Voltron became the highest-ranked syndicated children’s show. Creating the show involved cutting pieces of Japanese animated shows such as Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. As a result, Voltron ended up being an unconventional gateway series for Japanese animation – or anime, as it is more commonly known. After the success of Voltron, Mr. Keefe would go on to create other animated series such as Denver the Last Dinosaur and Twinkle the Dream Being.

The year 1990 marked the debut of another one of his animated shows: Widget. The protagonist and title character of this show was a purple extraterrestrial being from a planet within the Horsehead Nebula. Making use of his curious shapeshifting abilities, Widget would team up with a group of young human friends to protect the environment from those who sought to harm it. Because of its themes, the show was often compared to Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle’s Captain Planet and the Planeteers. As a result of its environmentalist themes, Mr. Keefe’s show was recognized by the National Education Association, who recommended it for children. Sometime into the show’s run, a developer in Japan named Graphic Research was commissioned to create a video game tie-in. The fruit of their labor was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1992 – two years after the domestic launch of its successor. Did Widget provide one last classic experience for the aging NES?

Continue reading

Zombie Nation

Introduction

In February of 1987, a company named KAZe was founded. Headquartered in Aoyama, Tokyo, the company sought to enter the rapidly growing video game market. They quickly turned their attention to the Famicom. Nintendo’s home console had revitalized the North American gaming scene after its devastating crash in 1983. Owing to the console’s success, one could expect any game released on the platform to sell reasonably well. There was only one major obstacle standing in the average developer’s way: Nintendo themselves. The company had researched what led to the North American gaming industry’s crash, or the Atari shock as it was called in Japan, and imposed strict limitations on how much help they could receive from third-party developers. If a game didn’t receive Nintendo’s Seal of Quality, it had no chance of seeing the light of day on their platform. On top of that, when considering international releases, only five of a given third-party developer’s output could be released abroad.

Even with these strict limitations in place, KAZe managed to launch their inaugural title, Hooligan Tengu, in December of 1990. The game saw its international debut the following month in January of 1991 under the name Zombie Nation. Despite being released on a popular platform, Zombie Nation was left to fall into obscurity. Only when a certain internet personality highlighted it in 2007 did Zombie Nation achieve any kind of notoriety. With thousands of titles passing through its ranks, did KAZe’s first game get the company off to a strong start?

Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. 3

Introduction

With Super Mario Bros., Nintendo had achieved a level of success that made their impressive arcade presence seem quaint by comparison. When it took on a life of its own, a sequel was inevitable. Both domestically and internationally, a game named Super Mario Bros. 2 surfaced in 1986 and 1988 respectively. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, which would eventually be dubbed Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the West, was rejected by Nintendo of America both for being overly similar to the original and unreasonably difficult. This prompted Nintendo to create an easier Mario game for audiences abroad, which would also be repurposed mid-development as a promotional title for Fuji Television dubbed Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic. Western enthusiasts at the time had little way of knowing that what they got was a different game reworked to include Mario characters. This in no way, shape, or form stopped the game released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West to become a success, eventually moving over ten million units.

Meanwhile, shortly after the release of The Lost Levels in 1986, a ten-person team helmed by Takashi Tezuka known as Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development began work on a follow-up. Unlike The Lost Levels, which was considered by reviewers at the time to be frustratingly difficult, this new installment would welcome players of varying skill levels. Mr. Tezuka also wanted to overhaul everything from the characters’ sprites to their movesets. To this end, the programmers had what they called a “Map Room”. True to its name, it was a long, narrow meeting room in which they spent the entire day looking at sheet papers, programming map data. By the end of development, anywhere from twenty to thirty people worked on the game compared to the seven or eight who worked on the original.

The game was slated for a domestic release in the Spring of 1988, but because the developers wanted to add many new features, Nintendo delayed it to the following October. Nintendo was willing to export the game to the West, but this plan quickly encountered a problem. A shortage of ROM chips along with Nintendo’s preparation of the Western Super Mario Bros. 2 prevented them from exporting games such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to North America according to their original schedules.

However, the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise. In 1989 as they were preparing to export the latest Mario game, Tom Pollack of Universal Studios approached Nintendo of America’s marketing department with an interesting proposition. Inspired by Nintendo game competitions, he wished to direct a film about them. Specifically, Mr. Pollack envisioned a video game version of Tommy, a famous rock opera released by The Who in 1969 about a deaf, blind, and mute child inexplicably skilled at pinball. Nintendo agreed to these terms, licensing their products to be included in this film. The film, released in December of 1989, would be known as The Wizard.

The plot of the film can be summed up thusly. A boy named Jimmy Woods suffers from PTSD after the death of his twin sister two years prior. He is dead-set on going to California for unknown reasons and has been committed to a mental institute. This spurs his older brother, Corey to sneak Jimmy out and run away from home. After discovering his younger brother’s innate skill for video games, they travel to a tournament being held in Universal Studios Hollywood to compete for a grand prize of $50,000.

Despite being panned by critics, The Wizard was a box office success, making double its budget back in ticket sales. Any enthusiast who watched the film could point out its myriad factual errors. Nonetheless, The Wizard would become a cult classic. Particularly memorable was the dramatic, climactic reveal of a game North American players had no idea existed until then. That game was none other than Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo had seen this film as the perfect opportunity to promote the newest Mario game and with the success of The Wizard, the enthusiasm could not have been greater. Two months later, those excited fans would get the opportunity to finally play it for themselves. The promotional campaign was a complete success, for Super Mario Bros. 3 went on to sell over seventeen-million copies worldwide. Even decades after the fact, critics considered Super Mario Bros. 3 one of the finest games ever made. With one of the most impressive legacies in the medium, does Super Mario Bros. 3 manage to stand on equal footing alongside the masterpieces it inspired?

Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. 2

Introduction

When Super Mario Bros. was released in tandem with the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in 1985, it quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. Though many games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man were smash hits in the arcade scene, what Super Mario Bros. accomplished with its own success was arguably more important. The specs of popular consoles before the 1983 crash were uniformly inferior to anything one could find in arcades. This didn’t matter because the idea of playing a game in the comfort of one’s home was novel at the time – unless they turned out as disastrously as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, that is. However, Super Mario Bros. changed the way people looked at console experiences. This was a game that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the arcades, yet it in many ways, it could be said to have offered an experience far superior to anything the common person played. In 1985, games as easy to pick up as Super Mario Bros. were typically played until the player expended all of their lives. Not only that, but one would be lucky if they even had multiple stages. Super Mario Bros., on the other hand, was a game with thirty-two distinct levels and a definitive ending. With the success of both Super Mario Bros. and its respective platform, a sequel was inevitable.

Fans of the game were in luck, for Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto had been experimenting with challenging level designs. The result of their endeavors was released in June of 1986 for the Famicom Disk System entitled Super Mario Bros. 2. Although it sold over two-million copies and would appear to be a guaranteed best-seller abroad, it wasn’t to be. Howard Phillips, who was in charge of evaluating games for the president of Nintendo of America, deemed it unfairly difficult. The subsidiary as a whole didn’t wish for the series to be associated with the levels of frustration one would feel attempting to play Super Mario Bros. 2. As such, they requested a newer, easier sequel to Super Mario Bros. for the West. Not wishing to stifle the considerable momentum they had gained with their overnight success, Nintendo agreed accepted the proposition of their overseas branch.

Employee Kensuke Tanabe found himself directing this sequel. He quickly developed a prototype that emphasized vertically scrolling levels with two-player cooperative gameplay. They were to ascend by throwing and stacking blocks. In the process, Mr. Tanabe encountered many difficulties when his ideas exceeded the consumer hardware, and his peers expressed that they didn’t care for the gameplay. Mr. Tanabe insisted on sticking with his idea, but relented and agreed to add overtly Mario-like elements such as horizontally scrolling levels. However, development was suspended when no further progress could be made.

Shortly thereafter, Fuji Televison approached Nintendo with an intriguing request; they wanted them to create a game using mascots from Yume Kōjō – a live event they were in the process of orchestrating. The event was conceived in 1984 when Fuji Television producers took a trip to Brazil, taking part in Carnival. They enjoyed it so much that they wanted to preserve its spirit in Japan with a similar festival. It would both promote Fuji Television and display new technology for families. It was also intended to inspire the children of 1987, who would become the first adults of the twenty-first century.

This ultimately provided Nintendo with the inspiration they needed. Collaborating with Shigeru Miyamoto’s own team, they expanded on the gameplay. The result was the 1987 Famicom Disk game Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic – “Doki Doki” alluding to the Japanese onomatopoeia for a rapid heartbeat.

Once Doki Doki Panic proved a commercial success in its native homeland, Nintendo reverted the licensing changes so that the game would once again star Mario in the lead role. This version of Doki Doki Panic was the one released abroad under the name Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1988. Though it was intended to be a Mario game as Mr. Tanabe developed its prototype, Super Mario Bros. 2 is historically considered something of a black sheep in the series. Nonetheless, people in 1988 didn’t mind its radically different gameplay, for it sold ten million copies, making it the third-best selling title on the system. In fact, it was such a success that Nintendo eventually released a Japanese version entitled Super Mario USA. Does Super Mario Bros. 2 measure up to its formidable predecessor’s legacy?

Continue reading

Super Mario Bros.

Introduction

In an attempt to break into the North American gaming market, the president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, requested employee Shigeru Miyamoto to helm a new project. Being the first time he ever found himself designing a game, Mr. Miyamoto took cues from various inspirations such as Popeye, Beauty and the Beast, and King Kong. The result was the 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong, which fulfilled Mr. Yamauchi’s goal when it proved popular in the United States and Canada. As a testament to its success, by June of 1982, it had sold 60,000 cabinets, earning a profit of $180 million.

As the arcade scene was enjoying the height of its popularity, the video game market as a whole began to experience periods of rapid growth. Much of this growth could be attributed to the success of the Atari 2600 – the first successful console to utilize interchangeable cartridges. Many third-party developers sought to exploit this rapidly growing industry – Nintendo among them. Suddenly, Donkey Kong saw itself ported and packaged with the ColecoVision – one of the Atari 2600’s top competitors. However, Nintendo did not intend to remain a third-party developer for long.

Since 1980, designer Masayuki Uemura had been leading Nintendo’s R&D team with the intent to create a gaming system of their own. Their aim was for their product to be less expensive than its competitors while also performing at a level no one could match in the foreseeable future. In order to keep costs low, the team opted against using keyboards, modems, or floppy disks. If they were to develop any add-ons, a 15-pin expansion port connection could allow the use of peripheral devices. Having found success with his Game & Watch product line, which proposed the novel concept of portability in the medium, Gunpei Yokoi designed the console’s controller. The controls on a Game & Watch console were intended to replace the bulky joysticks found on arcade cabinets.

The console, dubbed the Family Computer or Famicom, launched on July 15, 1983. Its launch titles included ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, and Popeye. The Famicom sold well, but consumers quickly began complaining about the units freezing during gameplay. Upon discovering a faulty circuit, Nintendo recalled all of the consoles, suspending production until the issue was resolved. This cost the company millions of dollars. Despite this setback, they reissued the console with a new motherboard. This allowed the Famicom to outsell its primary competitor at the time: the Sega SG-1000. As 1984 drew to a close, Nintendo had sold over 2.5 million units. In the face of this success there was only one logical thing to do: turn their attention to markets abroad.

This proved to be easier said than done. One of the biggest obstacles Nintendo faced was convincing a skeptical public to adopt their system. The reason behind their potential consumers’ lack of faith in the industry stemmed from an event retrospectively dubbed the Video Game Crash of 1983. The Japanese themselves referred to it as the Atari Shock, which was an apt name given that company’s role in the recession. Popular culture attributes the crash to two high-profile disasters – the subpar Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man and the adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the latter of which became one of the most infamous titles in the medium. However, it’s inaccurate to assume those two games were the sole cause of the crash. If anything, they were symptoms of larger problem the medium as a whole was facing: oversaturation. Because the idea of publishers was a largely foreign concept in gaming at the time, there were few barriers to entry. Coupled with no quick method of determining whether or not a given game adorning store shelves was a quality product, consumers collectively turned their back on consoles.

Nintendo attempted to negotiate with Atari to release the Famicom outside of Japan where it would be known as the Nintendo Enhanced Video System. The companies appeared to have reached an agreement, and the contract papers were to be signed at the 1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show. However, at the last minute, Atari refused to sign. Coleco, one of their primary competitors, demonstrated a prototype of Donkey Kong for their upcoming Coleco Adam computer system. Though a port had appeared on their earlier console, the ColecoVision, Atari had the exclusive distribution rights in the computer market. Atari then perceived this as Nintendo dealing with Coleco behind their backs. The issue was cleared up, but Atari’s financial problems as a result of the crash ensured they could not proceed with the deal. With nobody willing or able to distribute their product in North America, Nintendo had no choice but to proceed alone.

Mr. Yamauchi assessed that Atari collapsed because they gave too much freedom to third-party developers, swamping their system with barely functional games. They implemented a lockout chip to prevent unauthorized games from being played in their system. Unfortunately, even after taking these precautions, they had to deal with American retailers believing video games to be a passing fad. In order to have any chance of selling the Famicom to a foreign market, Nintendo had to downplay their product’s status as a video game console. Therefore, they decided to market it as a home computer called the Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). The AVS was to be then outfitted with a keyboard, cassette data recorder, and a cartridge containing a BASIC interpreter. Tying everything together would be a wireless infrared interface.

Nintendo showcased the AVS at the Consumer Electronics Show in the winter of 1985. Attendees were vaguely impressed, though they didn’t care for the keyboard or the wireless design. Still wary due to the 1983 crash, retailers didn’t order a single system. Even worse, the American gaming press felt the console could have any success in North America. One of the most damning statements came from the March 1985 issue of Electronic Games magazine wherein a writer felt that “this could be a miscalculation on Nintendo’s part”.

That summer, Nintendo returned to the Consumer Electronic Show with a new version of the AVS. They designed the system so it would not resemble a video game console at all, avoiding terms associated with the industry by calling the cartridges “Paks” and the console the “Control Deck”. This new model would also have a front-loading chamber as opposed to the Famicom’s top-loading slot. To further disguise its true nature, the console was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Enforcing its status as a toy rather than a console were two peripherals: a toy called R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) and a light gun. Even after R.O.B. helped generate interest, retailers were still unwilling to distribute the console. From there, Nintendo redoubled their efforts, effecting telemarketing campaigns and demonstrations in shopping malls. Retailers at last relented upon learning they wouldn’t have to pay anything upfront. After ninety days, retailers would either pay or return everything to Nintendo. With the console slated for a launch in October of 1985, they knew they would need to make their launch an impactful one. To this end, they decided to bundle each console with one of their games. Luckily for them, Shigeru Miyamoto was putting the finishing touches on a game perfect for such a monumental task. Its name was Super Mario Bros.

Released in 1985 as a North American launch title, Super Mario Bros. quickly became one of the bestselling games in history, eventually moving over 40 million copies. Both the game and the console on which it debuted are credited with reviving the North American industry from the brink of death. As one of the most famous games in existence, could Super Mario Bros. still have a rightful claim as one of the greatest of all time?

Continue reading

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom

Introduction

The late eighties marked Disney’s resurgence after nearly two decades of underperforming films. During their return to relevance, an up-and-coming gaming console known in North America and Europe as the Nintendo Entertainment System emerged. It revitalized the North American gaming industry after its severe crash in 1983. As many of the games on this platform became bestsellers, companies owning famous, successful franchises would license their properties to developers so they could capitalize on this rapidly growing trend. Unfortunately, many of these titles wound up being transparent cash grabs, as these largely unknown companies would put only the bare minimum amount of effort into creating them.  Products that could hardly be considered finished lined the store shelves alongside earnest efforts, waiting to swindle enthusiasts out of their hard-earned money.

Disney themselves would follow suit, allowing a company to turn their IPs into video games. However, in an unexpected move, the developer to whom they gave permission was Capcom. By this point in history, the company had made a name for themselves with classic arcade games such as Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Gun.Smoke. Their success continued in the home market once they released the first installment in what would become their most well-known franchise: Mega Man. Capcom gathered their most talented programmers, creating adaptations of DuckTales, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and Tale Spin among others. Many of these efforts continue to be highly regarded to this day as some of the finest examples of licensed games in the medium’s history. Another one of the games released during this time was Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. This stands out slightly among Capcom’s other Disney-based games in that it’s an adaptation of a real-life location rather than a show or movie. It also generally isn’t remembered as much as their other Disney games. Does it nonetheless have a place in the NES library as an underrated classic?

Continue reading

Friday the 13th (NES)

Introduction

May 9, 1980 marked the debut of Friday the 13th. It was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who previously worked with Wes Craven on the 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left. Inspired by John Carpenter’s classic film, Halloween, Mr. Cunningham wanted his own work to make his audience jump out of their seat on top of being visually impressive. He also sought to distance himself from The Last House of the Left in favor of a fast-paced experience akin to a rollercoaster ride. For the most part, it was not received well by critics with a notable detractor being the esteemed Gene Siskel, who called Mr. Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business”. Nevertheless, it proved to be a success in the box office, impressively grossing around $60 million on a $550,000 budget, and the film would go on to become a cult classic.

Though intended as a standalone story, its performance in theaters prompted the executives at Paramount Pictures, the film’s distributor, to plan out a sequel. It was originally intended to be the beginning of an annual, anthological series. However, Phil Scuderi, one of the three owners of Esquire Theaters, along with the producers of Friday the 13th, Steve Minasian and Bob Barsamian, insisted that the new installment should feature a character named Jason Voorhees, directly linking the two films. Steve Miner, who would go on to direct the film, believed in the idea, and when Friday the 13th Part 2 debuted in April of 1981, fans were introduced to one of the genre’s most iconic villains. Even those who have never seen a horror film in their life recognize the hockey mask-wearing revenant that is synonymous with the series and the slasher genre in general. Though the fourth installment would be dubbed The Final Chapter, the franchise endured to the end of the decade.

Around the time the fifth installment was released, a gaming console known as the Nintendo Entertainment System saw its debut. It almost singlehandedly revitalized the North American industry after its crash in 1983. Games on this console sold thousands or millions of copies. To capitalize on this success, companies commissioned the development of tie-in games to popular films. The results from this practice were decidedly mixed. While some proved passable or even good, others barely had any thought put into them and were solely meant to ride the coattails of the property’s success with little effort on their part. Despite the second installment necessitating the creators cut forty-eight seconds of footage in order to avoid an X rating, an NES adaptation of Friday the 13th was commissioned in the late eighties. Conceived by a Japanese developer named Atlus and published by the toy company LJN, the game was released in February of 1989. By this time, the series had an impressive seven installments with an eighth looming around the corner. As console games were typically perceived to have been enjoyed primarily by children at the time, how would Atlus go about translating a slasher film experience to such a platform?

Continue reading