In the last year Capcom has shown us that it can take a property aimed at kids, like Rescue Rangers or DuckTales, and churn out a phenomenal game for any age group to enjoy. If you’re not aware of the turn of the century Little Nemo comic strip, or have never seen the Japanese animated film, you are certainly not alone. If you didn’t already guess, Little Nemo: The Dream Master has nothing to do with Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master – although on a hilarious note, LJN has a Freddy Krueger game planned for the NES next month.
Instead, Nemo is a young child in his PJs who visits the world of Slumberland in his sleep. You must travel though your dreams into Nightmare Land to rescue the King of Slumberland from the clutches of the King of Nightmares. From the very onset it’s hard to tell what audience this game is aimed at. The game’s box artwork for this game is gorgeous and very colorful, but also features a terrifying looking tree (whose very image should horrify any kid under 8) reaching out for Nemo.
Like Capcom’s great Mega Man series, this is a side-scrolling action game. Nemo must traverse each enemy-plagued stage in search of the exit. Before you can reach the exit, you must find a certain amount of keys scattered across the level. You are armed only with candy, which deals no damage to the hordes of creatures, instead it only stuns them. Luckily, you’ll come across friendly animals that you can feed the candy to. You then transform into the animal (or ride them), which not only allows you to jump on or attack, but also grants you a special ability that’s usually required to progress in the stage.
You can become eight different creatures throughout the game. The mole and crab have digging abilities, the gorilla can punch and climb, and the hornet can fly and shoots projectiles. There’s also a fish, frog, mouse, and lizard with their own attributes. Nemo on his own is useless, having to jump over enemies to avoid them – so it’s almost always best to become a creature. The levels are medium length, and odds are you’ll have to backtrack to find all the keys, as you must explore every section of each stage (underground and in the sky). Oddly enough, there aren’t any boss battles until the final stage (Nightmare Land).
The level design is one of the highlights here. You start in the Mushroom Forest, overgrown with giant toadstools – but it has its own Capcom touch and never feels like an invasion of Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom. You move onto to areas such as Flower Garden, House of Toys, Night Sea, Cloud Ruins, and more. All have their own flare, and the designs kind of remind me of the great stages in Rescue Rangers.
The backgrounds are colorful and match the dreamy feel of Slumberland. The character sprites are all pretty big, both the common enemies as well as Nemo’s allies. All of the friendly creatures have a very cutesy art style, which feeds the illusion that this is a game geared for small children.
The soundtrack here is very good and if you enjoyed the music in Bionic Commando, Nemo is scored by the same composer, Junko Tomiya. Every stage has its own unique track and goes well with the dream theme. The music here is nowhere near on the plateau of Capcom’s DuckTales or Mega Man 2, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.
Little Nemo is a very unique action game and also one of the most difficult games on the Nintendo. Any younger child that gets this has a zero chance of passing the first stage. Any impatient gamer will likely shelve this game after the numerous deaths they will experience. First, it takes quite awhile getting used to not having an attack as Nemo. You’ll find yourself accidentally jumping on creatures and taking damage. You do have a life bar of 3 (which can increase slightly when you become a creature), but avoiding the baddies can be very difficult. Just jumping over them has to be done with perfect precision.
All of the creatures have their strengths and weaknesses and adjusting to them on the fly is touchy. For instance, the frog can jump on most villains, but the lizard who can climb, cannot. The gorilla has the biggest life bar, but has a huge hit detection and cannot punch while climbing. Of course there’s a variety of level hazards as well. Falling down a pit or hitting a spike results in insta-death. Then there are some stages, like the House of Toys, where you are on a moving train and getting pinned behind a barrier here equals death. There is a ton of trial, error, and patience involved here. Also, in most cases, you’ll reach the end of the stage only to find you’re missing 1 or 2 of the required keys and you’ll need to go back and find them.
Besides the frustrating difficulty, my biggest complaint is the pacing. Nemo, and most of the creatures move very slow, especially in comparison to the recent Capcom hit, Rescue Rangers. Little Nemo definitely had the potential to become another treasured Capcom classic, but its unfair challenge really holds it back from greatness. Don’t let the cartoony characters fool you into thinking this is another Mario clone.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
This is a gorgeous and charming game, with a really cool mechanic of taking over different creatures and utilizing their abilities. It’s extremely rewarding to overcome the treacherous stages. At times this is a very fun game, but dying over and over again really gets to you. This is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played and many times I had to walk away from the Nintendo before I had a total breakdown. It’s still a sure rental, and for a gamer up for a challenge it’s not a bad purchase. Provided you can handle very challenging games, you’ll get your money’s worth – as you certainly won’t breeze through this one in a weekend.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.