Little Nemo: The Dream Master was one of the games I never owned growing up, but borrowed from friends repeatedly. When we were kids, my brother and I never beat it from start to finish – it was NINTENDO hard – but we still loved it. When I found out there was a movie back in the 90’s, I rented it right away and loved every minute of it. Over the past year, but brother and I have been working our way through some classic NES games, and this was one was at the top of the list!
In terms of story, its simple, strange and awesome (and actually based on a psychedelic comic from 1905 until 1926). Nemo – the protagonist – is summoned to Slumberland so that he can save King Morpheus from the evil nightmare King! Nemo is transported to Slumberland whenever he falls asleep (leading to a new dream/level each night) and throughout the story, gets repeatedly woken up by his parents whenever he finishes a dream/level. This goes on until he finally gets to nightmare land and defeats the Nightmare King! As a psychiatrist in training (and one who values dreams and the symbols and narratives that emerge from them), I wish more games explored dreams like this game does, as they really provide a canvas for creativity and the bizarre!
In terms of gameplay, this is a classic Capcom 2D platforming game. This game has tight controls with the directional buttons guiding Nemo, and the A and B buttons throwing candy and jumping! Candy doesn’t hurt enemies, but if Nemo can feed a couple to certain enemies, he can take control of them and gain their powers! Enemies that can be controlled include hornets, lizards, gorillas, and frogs, among others! Most controlled enemies have an attack move in addition to unique powers that can help Nemo navigate around levels including climbing on walls, digging underground, swimming, and flying! This is one of the really unique gameplay mechanics of the game and work somewhat like Mega Man’s powers.
What makes this game dramatically different from Mega Man (and any other platformer on the NES for that matter) is that the levels aren’t linear (apart from a few levels that scroll). To pass a level, Nemo must find a certain number of keys scattered around a level to unlock the exit. This design decision allows for much more open levels that force Nemo to discover secrets and hidden areas that make the game feel satisfying. The levels are well-designed too and force Nemo to use every enemy power he has to its fullest!
In the later part of the game, the design changes to a more Mega Man focus by granting Nemo a magic wand that dispatch enemies and forcing his to battle bosses throughout the last three levels. As a kid, I loved obtaining this item as Nemo always felt quite weak, but I did miss the more open levels found earlier in the game.
In terms of graphics, the game is extremely colourful and still looks good for a NES game. The sprites are a nice size (especially some of the controlled enemies) and the levels have such variety! I absolutely loved the dream themes of some of these levels including the first with the giant mushrooms, the third where you travel through a child’s toy train set, and the sixth where you drift through a night sky! Few games (let alone NES games) can capture the magic of dreams! The sound effects are fine, but the music is absolutely timeless including the intro theme and many of the level themes,
In summary, this is a timeless 2D platforming game that has uniquely open levels, awesome gameplay, and great music! While challenging, the charm of running through dreamscape levels and obtaining powers of enemies makes it all worthwhile! I give this game a final score of 8/10!
Final Score 8/10