What dreams are made of!
To Beat: Reach the ending
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Little Nemo Longplay
There are quite a few games I have discovered in the NES library where I play it and immediately realize that I have been missing out for years. Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games for me. I had most of the popular games growing up and many other good games, but there are so many games on the console that some end up being skipped. I am sure I had my opportunities to play the game much earlier since I was definitely aware of Little Nemo long before I played it. Either way, it’s better late than never! Little Nemo is a game that I really like and I am excited to tell you more about it today!
Little Nemo in Slumberland is a comic strip created in 1905 by an American cartoonist named Winsor McCay. It follows the story of Nemo and his adventurous dreams where each strip ends with Nemo waking up out of bed. The comic was published in the New York Herald until 1911 when McCay moved to the New York American. McCay was able to retain the rights to the characters and he brought Nemo to the American under the name In the Land of Wonderful Dreams from 1911 to 1914. In 1924, McCay returned to the Herald and revived Little Nemo in Slumberland until 1926 when it ended due to lack of popularity.
Little Nemo branched out into other forms of media over the years. A play was created in 1907 and another was created much more recently in 2012. There was a film made about McCay in 1911 that involved him creating animations of Little Nemo characters. There was an original opera performed in 2012. There have also been compilations of McCay’s original work, and McCay’s son even tried to bring back Little Nemo after his father’s death with lackluster results. However, the most notable work was the joint American-Japanese film named Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. This 1989 movie serves as the basis for the NES game.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master was released on the NES in North America in September 1990. It was both developed and published by Capcom. The Famicom release, titled Pajamas Hero Nemo, was released a little later in December 1990, and the European NES release debuted in December 1991. The story of the game follows closely to the 1989 movie. Curiously, the film was not released in the US until 1992, two years after the NES game. Capcom also released a separate arcade platformer simply named Nemo in 1990.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a platformer game. You play Little Nemo as he is tasked by a messenger of the princess to rescue Slumberland and King Morpheus from the Nightmare King. Nemo must work his way through eight areas to beat the game and save Slumberland. True to the source comic strip, each area in the game is a separate dream with Nemo hopping into bed to start the level and being woken up by his mother after the level.
On his own, Nemo is not very powerful. He can move around reasonably well, including jumping and ducking, and he can throw pieces of candy. However, the candy can only temporarily stun enemies without dealing any damage. Nemo can feed certain animals three pieces of candy which causes them to fall asleep. He can then take a ride on the animal or sometimes actually become the animal, which gives Nemo the means to clear obstacles and fight enemies. You can press Select to switch back to regular Nemo and from there take control of a different animal if desired.
There are several animals in the game and each one provides Nemo a set of additional capabilities. For starters, each type of animal has a certain amount of health points that may vary from Nemo’s own health. Enemy attacks deal one point of damage to Nemo and he loses a life when he runs out of health. More important than health are the different animal abilities needed to properly explore the stages. For instance, in the first level Nemo can become a frog that can jump higher than Nemo to reach tall ledges, and he can defeat enemies by jumping on them. Later you come across a mole that lets Nemo dig underground to explore even more. Some animals can climb walls, some can swim or fly, some have useful attacks, and so on. You have to play around a bit to figure out what you can do with a new animal. If there is an obstacle in the level, then there is an animal nearby capable of tackling it. Therefore, the platformer has some puzzle elements to it where you need to track down different animals and experiment with their capabilities.
There are a few items that will help Nemo out. Small bottles restore a single point of health, and first aid kits restore all of Nemo’s health. There are 1up icons that give Nemo an extra life. Finally, the most important items in the game are keys. At the end of most levels there is a locked door with several keyholes next to it. To finish the level, you need to collect enough keys scattered throughout the stage in order to unlock all the keyholes. Unfortunately, you have to reach the end of the level first to see how many keys are required, and you are forced to backtrack if you come up short. Some of the keys are well hidden in alcoves and branching paths. You will need to master all of the creatures in the game and search high and low to meet the level requirements.
There are many different environments in the stages. The first level is a mushroom forest with giant mushroom mountains as well as caves to explore and waterfalls to climb. There is a jungle level, a sea level, and others. There is also an auto-scrolling train level thrown in there for something really different. There is always something new to explore and there is a lot of variety to keep things interesting.
This is a bit of a spoiler, so jump ahead a paragraph if you don’t want to know. Toward the end of the game Nemo gets an actual weapon that he can use to take out the bad guys when he doesn’t have an animal helper. The difficulty gets significantly bumped up here in part by introducing boss battles. Not only do you have to get more used to controlling Nemo on his own, but you have this new weapon to figure out. It may seem like an unnecessary change in the game, but I find it quite a bit of fun.
Little Nemo is typically regarded as a difficult game, and to an extent I agree. The difficulty curve feels a little bit uneven with some levels more taxing than others, and then the game takes a significant bump up in challenge toward the end like I just mentioned. The game has infinite continues which limits the difficulty, however, the whole game is long and challenging enough where you may not be able to grind through it in a single sitting.
I didn’t own Little Nemo until much later in my NES collection, but I remember reading about the game quite a bit. I probably ended up emulating it first but only just to try it out for a bit. One of my good friends has a very small collection of NES games but Little Nemo is one of them, and he would tell me about how good the game is to play. That sold me on the game enough to seek it out. I don’t remember when or how I ended up getting my copy, but when I did I ended up playing through it shortly thereafter. I have played through it at least a couple of times before covering it now.
Despite my experience with the game, I don’t know it well enough to just breeze right through it. I remembered enough to beat the game in a single sitting, but not well enough to look good doing it. I recorded my playthrough but it is definitely not my best effort. I had to continue a few times, and I forgot some of the keys and had to go back and find them. Thankfully this blog is about finishing the games regardless of skill or style, so I’m satisfied with getting to the ending of the game.
I want to take a moment to praise the soundtrack. Capcom games tend to have really memorable music, and Little Nemo follows that trend. The soundtrack is often upbeat and I think it really captures that dreamy feel that should accompany a game like this. Some of my favorite tracks are right at the start, including the prologue, title screen, and Mushroom Forest theme. You can listen to all the songs at the VGMPF website.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master is one of those games that should be in any NES library. The graphics, music, and gameplay are all top-notch. There is quite the variety of animals, level layouts, and obstacles for a game of this length. Despite that fact that each animal behaves differently, the controls feel good and make sense all around. This is a title that is still affordable for any cart collector. The only negative I see is the uneven difficulty and the endgame challenge, but I welcome it so that’s not a problem for me at all. If somehow you missed playing this game like I once did, I would recommend giving it a try!