Little Nemo: The Dream Master

  • Released on Dec 6, 1990
  • By Capcom for NES

Little Nemo: The Dream Master review
I feel like a kid again


The Introduction:
Any gamer worth his salt should know who Capcom are. If not, then I laugh at you, but if I must explain, or at least jog your memory, I’ll just put it to you all simply – as well as 1943, Resident Evil, Final Fight, Street Fighter, Mega Man and Ghosts N Goblins, the masters of third party development are also responsible for some of the greatest video games based on a cartoon or movie license out there. Games such as Duck Tales, Chip And Dale and Aladdin really impress those who are under the impression that licensed games are terrible (even though I think there are a great number of excellent titles, but that’s for another time). Another game that impresses these little cretins is Little Nemo: The Dream Master, and I can certainly see why.

Now, if you haven’t heard of Little Nemo besides the game, or even prior to this review, no need to fret. What the game is based off of isn’t all that easy to find, especially the DVD version of the movie, which has run out of print for many years now and goes for quite a lot of money. Shame, because they’re all good, as is this game. There is a blemish to be found here, but not enough to kill the game.

The Story:
Nemo is asleep one night, and he is awakened by a messenger who wants him to play with the princess of Slumberland. Like any seven year old lad, Nemo refuses, until the messenger bribes him with candy. So he explores the dangerous realms of Slumberland in hopes of getting to the princess, and eventually, to rescue the king of Slumberland from the Nightmare King. It captures the spirit of a typical seven year old’s imagination quite well with all things considered. Not much of a plot to go by, but it’s something. If you want a deep, engrossing storyline... Oh, uh, the movie might not be much better, though it has more of a plot, at least.

The Graphics:
Each location you explore feels more and more like they were imagined by a seven year old. True, some levels may seem like rejects from the Mega Man series like the first two levels, but from there on, you know what you’re really in for. Whether you’re going through a larger version of Nemo’s house, or a house of toys, or a couple of sectors in the land of nightmares, you know that you’re swimming in the mind of a seven year old boy.

As far as the sprites go, they look pretty good. Backgrounds are remarkably simplistic in design; some of them, just a single color. However, there is an astounding amount of detail in everything else – from the foreground objects, to the sprites; you know that the artists manage to put quite an amount of effort into making everything look as good as possible. Unfortunately, when there are a few sprites out there, you’ll notice a bit of flicker. Not slowdown; just flicker, and it’s a little annoying to look at.

The Sound:
I enjoyed the soundtrack. While not Capcom’s finest efforts, most of the songs set the mood for each level quite well. Whether it’s the synthesizer used in Nightmare Land, or the happy-go-lucky tune of the first two levels, each tune makes you feel the right moods. They are also quite humworthy. Let me just say that if you aren’t humming to the game’s soundtrack, you might be deaf. Maybe I’m giving it more credit than it deserves, since I’ve seen some people who don’t praise the soundtrack the way I just did, but I honestly enjoyed it. It’s certainly not the best soundtrack I’ve heard, but it’s a good one regardless.

The Gameplay:
Little Nemo is a platformer that works a little differently from, say, Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man.

For instance, level designs are not 100% linear. The first level would indicate otherwise, but a bit into the second level would hint towards some non-linear designs, and the last few levels right up until the final boss require a LOT of exploration in order to get all of the keys in order to finish the level. This kind of design only softens you up to the more expansive levels, and all in all, they’re actually quite interesting to go through. It could just be the graphics, but the levels manage to increase in interest as you get further in the game.

Nemo himself cannot attack or, really, do much. He can run and jump, and that’s about it. Each level requires the use of each of the friendly animals, and to get them to work for you, you have to feed them candy. Once you give them three bits of candy, just go through the millisecond transformation (how he manages to actually become the animal, I have no idea) and there you go. Some animals actually allow Nemo to attack, some allow flight, some allow a high jump, and some allow you to scale up walls, like a ninja. Without these animals at your disposal, you’re as good as stranded, and dead. The best Nemo can do is stun the enemies, delaying the inevitable.

As each level gets bigger, you are forced to utilize all of the services that the animals available to you have. Amongst finding them, you also need to find moments in which they are most useful. When would you want to use the bee over the frog, and vice versa, for instance, is the kind of thought process you need to have while playing through towards the end, especially since levels get quite big. You also need to remember where they are, because you could be short a few keys and can’t really find them with the animal you’re using at that moment.

One last gameplay element I must discuss – This game can get very frustrating towards the end. Some levels give you no checkpoints, which can be a pain when you consider the sheer size of them, and having to trek through them again will seem like a chore. Some of the animals, when on the offensive, are even more useless than Nemo, as they can’t do a thing against enemies, so most of your time spent will be running away from enemies. But ultimately, it’ll be the floating cottonballs that will frustrate the hell out of you, since they respawn with impeccable timing if you kill them, and their movement patterns can often throw you off, either timing-wise, or off a surface you were climbing. They won’t let up until you leave their area, since killing them will only bring in reinforcements. It becomes a glorified game of cat and mouse when dealing with them. You think the Medusa Heads from Castlevania and the trained hawks from Ninja Gaiden were bad? Well, they are, but not to this extent. It’s like COMBINING them, here.

But thankfully, it doesn’t hugely compromise the difficulty. The pacing is excellent, getting harder and harder without going overboard, even towards the end, and without letting up just because you had a hard time before. It is a challenging game that you’ll find yourself having some trouble in for a while, especially towards the end.

The Stats:
Story: It feels like a seven year old imagined it, told it to a professional writer, and he managed to make it sound captivating. If you want a bigger plot than that, you may want to consider watching the movie. 5/5
Graphics: One of the finest bunch of visuals you’ll see on the NES. Backgrounds may be a little boring, but everything else speaks very loudly. There’s a bit of flicker throughout, though. 4/5
Sound: Humworthy tunes that manage to set the mood just right. Not Capcom’s finest, but a remarkable soundtrack, nonetheless. 4.5/5
Gameplay: Old school platforming at its finest! It has its share of frustrating elements, but overall, with its non linear level designs that always manage to feel fresh and some rather enjoyable gameplay elements that can separate it from the competition, it’s good. 8/10

The Conclusion:
Little Nemo: The Dream Master is an excellent romp - an NES game worth hunting down if you haven’t got it already. If you can overcome some frustrating parts and the odd bit of flicker, this game will be an instant favourite.

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