Hall of Shame: LJN 1989
We've been over the coals with LJN before. Not just me. Everyone has. I'm far from the first hack to put his fingers on a keyboard and write about this stuff, and it's been established that 1) LJN games mostly sucked but 2) a couple of them didn't. Well, these three sure do. All were released in 1989, seemingly to contrast tons of great NES titles released that year, before, and after. In fact, it seems as if LJN's very purpose for a span of years was to produce terrible licensed games for any intellectual property they could wrangle.
I did not have to narrow this article down to three games. Out of mercy, I chose to.
Back To The Future (NES)
LJN/Beam Software, 1989
We all hoped this would be good, right? I mean, the 1985 film is undeniably one of the best things to have come out of the 80s, period. How can you screw this up?
Apparently the quick answer to that is, “let LJN handle it.”
When we turn our NES on, we're greeted by a short, repetitive, and spiritually empty loop of music. Get used to this, because unless you mute your TV, it's what you'll be hearing for a while. The introductory level consists of a town street which, with or without you, moves forward at a steady pace. Everyone and everything on this street wants to hurt you, and that isn't hard. Like, don't even touch a fence or a bench. Marty's pretty fragile. If you ever make it past this first stage, there's a handful of others that are pretty much the same, broken up by a series of mini-games. Where have I heard that music before? Oh, that's right, EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE GAME, FROM THE MOMENT I TURNED ON THE NES.
Now, I understand the concept of making a game difficult so as to give it good replay value. No one wants a cake walk, especially not at the price point an NES cart sold for back then ($30-40 new). However, if you make it stupidly difficult AND have it look and sound like crap, people will feel like you stole that $30-40 from them and stuck a turd in their pocket as “collateral.” The combined elements of this game make it a capital offense. The graphics look more at home on a console from the previous generation, there are minimal sound effects (except for that AWESOME F*CKING MUSIC THAT PLAYS ON LOOP FOREVER), and it's really hard to get into what you're doing when a bench can kill you. The only saving graces are the diner and guitar mini-games, if you can make it to them.
This time we've got a reliably cool and popular comic license, one that would later translate itself fairly well onto 16-bit systems and the arcade platform. This one writes itself; just get a good set of programmers and artists on it, and we'll be golden, right?
Instead we got this weird top-down mess. More laughable art that seems to mock the characters represented more than anything else. We've got marginally better music than the previous title (in fact, the menu music is downright grooveworthy) but more Pong-style sound effects. Level design seems random and meandering; in fact, one could argue that the levels were just pieced together. Imaginative design also led to enemies like giant springs with googly eyes. It often seems like LJN had a sort of bland contempt for video game consumers. “You'll buy anything.”
Well, that may have been true, and arguably still is today, but that's beside the point.
Two-player action is easily ground to a halt by the fact that the characters move at very different speeds; it is, in fact, possible to get the slower character trapped behind something irrevocably, effectively killing the game. There's also a set of clues combining things you learn from the game with information on the cartridge itself, and these clues are supposed to help unlock the final level. Enough with that kind of arcane bullshit, we all played Simon's Quest and we had to buy that issue of Nintendo Power to get anywhere. Thankfully, Konami produced the X-Men arcade title and Sega handled the Genesis game.
Friday the 13th (NES)
I will start with something positive: the title screen kicks ass.
Unfortunately, that's where the ass-kicking ends, unless it's Jason kicking kids' asses off-screen while you try and fail to navigate your way to where it's happening.
The biggest issue most players have with this one is the absolutely counter-intuitive map interface. Think you're going the right way? Better check... SURPRISE, YOU'RE NOT. Meanwhile, that car-horn sound you keep hearing? The one that seems to match up with the number of kids slowly decreasing? That's Jason Voorhees, going nuts with a machete in a cabin on the other side of the camp. You'd like to get there in time to stop him, wouldn't you? Tough shit. Don't worry, though. Jason occasionally takes time out from frenzied streaks of infanticide to personally murder you at random. He is pretty much invincible until you achieve a bunch of stuff later in the game (while simultaneously keeping him from killing kids). In his absence, you're accosted by waves of nondescript zombies, because LJN is all about phoning it in when it comes to details.
You like repetitive music loops, right? Because, while the instrumentation has gotten a little richer, the composition surely hasn't. In fact, the music when you're outside is probably even shorter and more annoying than the main theme from the Back to the Future game. Have fun listening to it while you get lost in the woods, looking for stuff you need in order to finish this game. At least here, you can throw away all pretense of the map being useful, because it does jack shit for you.
But hey, if you're that committed to finishing this game, that's your problem, not mine. You might want to get your head examined.
I'll eventually get the wind up to talk down some more terrible games, but goodbye for now, RetroFans. See you in September for more articles and videos!