A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street
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Game Name: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Platforms: NES
Publisher(s): LJN
Developer(s): Rare
Genre(s): Platform
Release Date: Oct, 1990

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

One of the classics of slasher cinema, A Nightmare on Elm Street follows a group of teens as they are stalked by child murderer Freddy Kruger. There’s just one catch: Freddy’s been dead for years, tracked down and burned alive by a vigilante mob of Elm Street parents. Now he exists as a spectral force, haunting the children of those parents in their dreams. And though Freddy has no power in the real world, if you die in your dream, you die in real life. It’s a very interesting movie premise that the game tries shakily to follow.

Let’s face it, Freddy was harsh in the first film. Lurking in the shadows, scraping his finger knives, pulling tricks to scare teens witless. Wherever you went, there he was. Then marketing took over and he became a wisecracking sell-out. (“Soul Food!” anyone?) The game does attempt to portray the humorless demonic Freddy from the first film, in the sense that he’s only out to kill you and won’t stop for any hi-larious scares or puns. But it’s hard to take “scary Freddy” seriously when this game itself is part of the Kruger marketing blitz.

The real world seems tame enough...

The plot has most to do with Nightmare 3: The Dream Warriors. All the setup has been established, the rules and what’s at stake has already been discussed with your friends – a number of which Freddy has already aced, and we’re down to the last 30 “all or nothing” minutes from any one of the films. Your plan here is to move down Elm Street, entering the houses and landmarks as they open, and collect Freddy’s scattered bones. You’ll then throw them all in the high school furnace and be done with the man once and for all. So the game has you running along Elm Street, dodging snakes, spiders, anything else that might make a decent Halloween decoration, as you go through a linear sequence of the houses and collect bones.

Where Nightmare’s innovation comes in is that instead of a health bar you have a sleep meter. This gradually and unavoidably drains, and when it runs out, it’s nappytime. The world around you changes to reflect the dream world, and all the snakes and spiders are replaced by still generic skeletons and monsters. It’s now also just a matter of time before Freddy catches up with you and forces a fight.

I could blast the presence of these endless preschool creatures, who are neither scary, challenging, or have anything remotely to do with Nightmare on Elm Street, but I won’t. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that developers are always going to put these fucking bugs and ghouls in every movie license, because they couldn’t think of a way to make a game without them. That’s fine. I could blast the fact that Freddy makes only limited appearances, and the screen announcing his arrival has “Freddy’s Coming!” with a blatant trademark symbol, but I won’t. It’s a licensed title, and Freddy is a boss – sure, okay, I can deal. I’m willing to let these slide because this is a rare case where the developers must have actually seen the fucking movie they’re basing the game on, and tried to take some ideas from it. If it was a lazy cash-in, I’d berate them for all the above faults and more. But I have to give them credit for at least trying with the sleep meters and dream worlds.

...but the dream world is a little freakier.

The real world/dream world idea is fantastic, albeit probably swiped from Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. The switching here is more frequent though, and there are interesting little bits like coffee to refill your sleep meter and radios to wake you up from your dream. However, it’s a strong idea that’s implemented poorly. The levels never physically change between the two worlds, they are just simple palette swaps. To have had the levels distort, or have areas in the dream that did not exist in real life, would have made this much more interesting.

Monsters in the dream world only look different; otherwise they behave exactly the same as their real world counterparts, and are only slightly tougher. Freddy, of course, is meant to be the big fear in the dreams, but after you fight him once, you’ll realize how easy he is. He jumps and slashes in a very predictable pattern, and takes a minimum amount of damage before exiting stage right and leaving you to return to your quest. You know there’s trouble when you’re slapping the title villain around like a redheaded stepchild.

And then there’s the Dream Warriors. At the start, you have only short jumps and weak punches to make your way through the two worlds. Though enemies take only a few punches and can easily be jumped over, the game is certainly more difficult here. However, there are three icons in the real world that can be picked up to give you a different persona in your dreams – that of a Dream Warrior. Now you have projectile weapons and amazing leaps, and the game becomes so much easier. Too easy. Once you pick up an icon, you’ll never lose it, no matter how many times you die or continue. You can also pick up all three warrior icons and switch between their powers at will. You’ll only be in major trouble should you happen to wake up, but even then the entire game is designed to make it harder to stay awake. After just a few minutes your meter will drain again, and you’ll be back in sleep’s loving embrace, heaving javelins and magic with impunity

With even one Dream Warrior icon, the game suddenly has nothing to pit against you – only Freddy as a boss character has projectiles, and very rarely at that. With the ability to get them all and hold on to them forever, any player used to these kinds of platformers will suddenly find Nightmare too easy.

The game’s graphics aren’t too bad, but there’s nothing to incite buckets of horror. The houses are drawn with a stylized look to them, but not much detail. The indoor screens for every level are virtually identical, just with different layouts utilizing the same parts. Boss monsters are the most interesting, always being some part of Freddy or Freddy’s face on a different creature. They’re not too much to handle though, and the game seems to know this since you’ll fight all of them again in a row before the final bout with Kruger. Also worth mentioning is that you’ll always know the real world from the dreams, only because everything is shades of blue in dreams and shades of red in reality.

Sound is a high point with good effects and nicely done music. There’s a theme for every location, and there is a quality rendition of Freddy’s theme, warning you just before he attacks. Control is about what you’d expect, except that poor collision detection often results in missing platforms and enemies with your attacks. The mechanics of the game are rather solid, and would have supported something much more interesting if the game just offered a worthy challenge.

In short, Nightmare is a story of decent ideas with poor execution. The real world/dream world ideas were nice, but a lack of real difference between the two limits how cool this idea could have been. A collection of knockoff monsters can’t support the game, and Freddy himself is far too easy to be a challenge. This is one of the few games that support simultaneous 4-player action, so if you have a 4-play NES system, or an emulator capable on online play, and three friends you can dupe into joining your network, you might get something more out of the game.

 

The Good

Parallel real world/nightmares are cool, some solid ideas overall.

The Bad

Too easy, ideas weren’t carried as far as they should have been.

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