Little Nemo: The Dream Master
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    • US September 1990
    • JP 12/07/1990
    • UK 12/12/1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 01/13/2017.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master, known in Japan as Pajama Hero Nemo, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in North America in September 1990, Japan on December 7, 1990, and Europe on December 12, 1991. This game is based on a Japanese animated film produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha called Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which itself is based on a comic strip called Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, which ran in various newspapers such as the New York Herald and New York American from October 15, 1905, until December 26, 1926. The Little Nemo movie is notable for having gone through a lengthy and tumultuous development process that ended in a box office flop, having only made back $11.4 million of its $35 million budget. The film first aired in Japan on July 15, 1989, but it didn't come to the United States until August 21, 1992, which was way after the release of the NES game. Due to that, the NES game went mostly ignored in North America, as the movie hadn't come out there yet, and the comics were too old by then to be remembered by most. It's a right shame, because this is a right good game.

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Similar to the vastly more popular Bobby's World, an American animated television series from the 1990s, Little Nemo is about a little boy named Nemo who goes on fantastical adventures in wondrous worlds conjured up by his dreams. I bet you didn't see that coming. The game's story is essentially a heavily condensed retelling of the movie's plot. Set in New York in 1905, which is the same year the comic strip was created, the titular Nemo is fast asleep and caught within one of his wild dreams. During the dream, Nemo receives a royal invitation to visit the castle in Slumberland, as the princess has chosen him to be her new playmate. When Nemo arrives at the palace, he is informed that King Morpheus has been kidnapped by the wicked Nightmare King. Now it's up to Nemo to go on a grand adventure across Slumberland to rescue Morpheus. Hopefully, he doesn't wake up from this dream before he completes his mission.

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Before the title screen shows up, you'll witness a short cinematic sequence explaining the story. This is the first place where you'll notice this game is packing a lot of visual power for an NES title. These scenes feature lots of delightful backgrounds and portraits with big, detailed still images of the characters as they converse with each other. The great visuals don't stop at the cutscenes, though, because the in game graphics are also superbly done. The backgrounds, foregrounds, and sprites are all quite detailed, the animations are solid, and everything is given life with a vibrant color palette that'll make you question whether this is truly the NES' doing. The music is pretty nice, too, being that it's comprised of countless catchy tunes that'll make you want to hum a catchy tune yourself. Late era NES titles such as these had a tendency to look really good, and Little Nemo: The Dream Master looks really good.

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As the title suggests, you assume the role of Nemo in this game, who runs around everywhere in his pajamas. The controls are easy and precise: press left or right on the d-pad to make him walk around, down to crouch, and the A button to make him jump around. The kid can also swim in bodies of water by pressing directions on the d-pad, with the A button used to make him jump out of the water once he's near its surface. If you press the B button, Nemo will throw an unlimited supply of candy that the princess gave him. Where is he keeping all that candy? Who knows, but since it's all just a dream, anything is possible. The candy is Nemo's primary "weapon," but it's only able to temporarily stun enemies, not harm them. He does get another weapon later on that can actually kill stuff, but he's restricted to candy for most of the game. Candy has one other, far more important use, however.

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Alone, Nemo is pretty much defenseless. To make up for that, Nemo is able to feed three pieces of candy to certain enemies, usually animals, to put them to sleep, allowing him to ride them or use them as suits. When ridden or worn, each creature will extend Nemo's life gauge by varying degrees and give him different abilities. For example, he can mount a gorilla that can do a devastating punch attack by pressing the B button, ride a lizard that can climb walls, become a mole to dig into the ground, bear the likeness of a hornet to fly for brief periods of time, or wear a frog suit that'll allow him to jump really high and stomp enemies like in Super Mario Bros. 3. Some animals do have drawbacks when ridden or worn, however, like how the mole is unable to jump or attack. Nemo is able to dismount his ride or disrobe his suit at any time by pressing the select button, but he'll have to find a new one after that. This is the primary mechanic that sets this game apart from other platformers of the time, and also the primary thing that makes it fun.

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While the game is mostly linear, the goal of most stages isn't simply to get from point A to point B. Instead, Nemo is tasked with locating a number of keys to unlock a door at the end. The amount of keys you need differs depending on the stage, with later stages usually requiring more keys. There's no time limit, so you can take your time. As a result of that, there's a moderate emphasis placed on exploration. The one drawback to this system is that, if you reach the door without having all the keys, you'll have to backtrack through the stage to find the ones you missed. Further complicating the issue is the fact that you won't know how many keys you'll need until after you reach the door. However, this is more a problem in theory than in practice, since the keys are generally easy enough to find. Plus, it helps that the exploration itself is entertaining.

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Finding everything generally requires that you use the abilities of different animals to reach areas Nemo can't normally get to by himself. Sometimes you'll encounter friendly characters that'll give you some hints via dialogue on where to go next. For instance, the second stage has a fellow named Oompi who tells you that you'll need the lizard to climb trees further onwards. Because of the dream theme, the stages have a wide variety of varied scenery, like a mushroom filled forest, a flower garden, a place with a toy train you ride around as toy planes attempt to dive bomb you, a starry night sea with sunken ships, a mysterious ruined city in the sky, an area where everything is upside down, and even an oversized version of Nemo's house. There are around eight stages to this game and they're all quite enjoyable to explore. Strangely, you don't fight any bosses until the last few areas. The bosses are decent, but fairly hard. In fact, the last couple of stages are, in general, super hard. There are infinite continues, though.

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Capcom created a fair amount of licensed NES games in the early 1990s that were fairly fantastic, such as the wildly popular DuckTales, so it should come as no surprise that Little Nemo: The Dream Master is great. Unlike DuckTales, however, the Little Nemo NES game didn't enjoy the same level of financial success or critical acclaim, likely due to being attached to an IP nobody cared about at the time of its release. Even after the Little Nemo movie came out in North America, it was a failure, so the game being associated with the film probably wouldn't have boosted sales no matter how you slice it. However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, most NES experts are now keenly aware of the game, finally giving it the credit it rightfully deserves. If you've never heard of it before, then definitely consider playing Little Nemo: The Dream Master. It plays like a dream.

Word Count: 1,403

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