What I thought back during release….
Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a cutesy looking game that’s deceptively difficult. Transforming into different creatures really gives the game a unique twist to the genre. The difficulty is pretty high up there, and sometimes unforgiving to the player. The best part comes during the final stages, where you unlock a magic wand to shoot down enemies. Characters and backdrops are bright, detailed and well colored, with a soundtrack that’s fitting for the action going on. I wish that not only could I save the game, but the game wasn’t so difficult at times. Still though, Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a fun game, but one that needs patience over anything else.
Rating Then: 7.3
What I think years later….
Little Nemo: The Dream Master. A game that looks so very childish, until you actually grabbed the controller, and it just knocked your socks off at some parts. All the creatures that you can turn into gave you different abilities. Some were cool, and some were very limited. Once you get to the final world (if you could make it that far) you get your magic wand, and I remember that being pretty damn fun. Little Nemo is closing in on being a twenty year old video game. Back in the days, I remember it being a good title, with a great look and some equally engaging tunes to go along with your journey. But how about today? Is that journey through Nemo’s dream worlds still provide nightmarish difficulties at points? Will you lose any sleep over Little Nemo being nothing like you remembered it to be?
I’m welcomed back with that charming opening theme loop, with the same great story unraveling opening cut scenes that I remembered. Going in game, you talk to Jiminy Cricket’s bastard son, Flip, letting you know that this is not a place for little kids….oh but if you’re staying, here’s a couple tips! So after Flip offs, you start playing. Wow….how I have forgotten so much of the gameplay.
Jumping doesn’t go very high, and your only offense as Nemo involves throwing candy at enemies to stun them, while he has a big wand strapped to his back nonetheless. Trying to jump on enemies makes you lose one unit of health. You have to find certain creatures in each stage to feed your candy to, wait for them to blow a snot bubble, and then jump on them, where you transform into them. But be sure you wait for them to blow that bubble, or else you’ll take damage from them. I just had a moment where I not only jumped into a mole creature thing just a split second before the snot bubble came up, losing my last unit of health, yet changing into the mole, and dying again, all happening one after another. Right after that, I’m placed into a situation where I die almost immediately after respawning.
It’s 3 minutes in, and I’m already at the point of chucking my controller against the wall.
After my first Game Over screen, I go at it once more. After I’ve got the hang of the first stage, I feel a bit more comfortable. Each creature you capture has a certain perk or two that helps you find every key you need to unlock the next stage. You can belly flop stomp them with the toad creature, but you need to be precise with your landing. Belly first or you lose health. Certain creatures have longer health bars than others, none of which are 100% full when you capture one. Frogs can stomp enemies, jump twice as high and swim faster. Mole creatures can dig underground for keys, but cannot jump. Donkey Kong can throw a really short ranged punch, climb walls and has six units of health, but can’t jump very high. You’ll quickly learn that you will have to use almost every variation of creatures in some form to get every key and advance to the next stage.
On paper, that’s all fine and dandy. The problem back in the days was the brutal difficulty of the game sort of hampering that innovation and fun. Even today, Little Nemo is a hard as nails game, to the point of being infuriating. This might be one of the first titles I can remember playing all those years back, where I encountered cheap death after cheap death. It’s a big shame too, as this game has so much going for it.
Two big things that work well for it is the audio and video components. The music is varied, clear and very engaging. It has a perfect feeling for each stage. In fact, it’s one of Capcom’s better soundtracks in the 8-bit era. Sound effects work out well, sounding a bit kiddy here and there. That fits the look of it, however, with the difficulty level where it is, it may not work for most. As with the sound effects, the game looks very kiddy. Some stages have very bright colors, cartoon looking creatures and what not. I discovered ten years ago that Little Nemo was actually a comic strip from the very early 1900’s and made into a movie in the late 80’s. It was a fantasy world with a lot of fantasy and youthful undertones, so that’s why Capcom’s adaptation looks and sounds the way it does. But why is the game so damn hard? Was the comic strip written in hieroglyphics, with a blind man that translated them and wrote the code?
As mentioned earlier, Little Nemo: The Dream Master’s biggest issue is still the infuriating difficulty. With practice, you can possibly clear stages without losing a life, but as you progress, the amount of practice you’ll need with increase significantly. Back in the days, 8-bit generation titles were hard as nails. Today, they still are, for the most part. However, many games balance the difficulty well, and were designed with difficulty in mind. But with Little Nemo, simple things were programmed very poorly. Barely making jumps over enemies when you’re without a companion, small invulnerability window between hits causing easy deaths, overly punishing level designs that encourage exploration yet detour you out of fear of easy deaths, and so on. There’s way too many unnecessary headaches, more than I ever remembered. Try and get through that God forsaken train ride without dying your first several attempts.
Ultimately, if you can endure pain worse than Chinese water torture, and have enough patience to take your time with your actions, Little Nemo: The Dream Master is still a worthwhile addition to the NES game library. The look is very unique (although highly bizarre at points), the music is very well done, and there’s enough diversity between the creatures you can use. What makes this dream a big time nightmare is gameplay execution. You simply have to take your time, all the time. Luckily, you can continue as many times as you want, so long as you don’t hit the power button. But damn….
Rating Now: 6.7
** Note – I may or may not have my next Retro Re-Review set for next Friday. If I do not, my apologies, as I’m preparing for a trip. I’ll either get that out before I leave or a couple days after I get back. If I have it ready before I leave (good chance) I’ll set the scheduling here to post it on the normal day and time I have all my RRR posted.