Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

What dreams are made of!

I usually listen to the good music for awhile here!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/27/16
Difficulty: 7/10
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.

You know you’re in for a treat when one of the first things you see is a giant mushroom!

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.

The Frog lets you make these tall jumps.

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.

What kind of toy house has crushers like this?

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.

You can “bee” deadly if you must!

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!

#39 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master

TaleSpin Box Cover

#12 – TaleSpin

A cleverly named Disney cartoon becomes an intriguing NES shooter.

Let's go flying!

Let’s go flying!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
Played: 1/22/16 – 1/23/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Well that didn’t take long to reach another Disney-to-NES conversion courtesy of Capcom! Based on the animated Disney television series of the same name as part of The Disney Afternoon, TaleSpin is unique among its NES counterparts in that it’s not a platformer but an aerial adventure true to the cartoon series.

TaleSpin, the Disney animated series, had a 65-episode run all within a span of a year running from September 7, 1990 to August 8th, 1991. It tells the story of Baloo, a pilot for his freight service, and his navigator Kit as they aim to deliver goods while avoiding and fighting air pirates lead by Don Karnage and other foes that attempt to steal their cargo. I’m simplifying this as it’s a show I didn’t watch and I’m not familiar with it. The NES game was likely developed during the show’s initial run on TV since it was released in December 1991 after the final episode had already aired.

Make those shots count because you only start with one!

Make those shots count because you only start with one!

TaleSpin on NES is a horizontal scrolling shooter with a few interesting mechanics. You can fly Baloo in eight directions and fire bullets with the B button to attack enemies. If you press the A button, Baloo flips around and flies both backwards and upside-down causing the screen to scroll left instead of right. Not many autoscrolling shooters allow you to scroll both left and right at will – this is the only one that I’m aware of. Your only attack is the default shot but you can aim your shots diagonally if you shoot while moving up and down, so altogether you can fire in six directions. It’s an interesting mechanic and it makes sense since the plane banks up and down pretty severely as you fly. However it takes some getting used to and it will cause misfires. This mostly occurs because to fire straight you must not be moving vertically, so to properly aim at something straight ahead you must line yourself up and stop completely before shooting. The game will occasionally scroll vertically and in these parts the scrolling is forced with no backtracking like in the horizontal scrolling areas.

Along the way you will pick up money bags and cargo containers that look like little briefcases. Collecting these will give you money at the end of the stage that can be spent on upgrades for your plane, the Sea Duck. You can buy extra shots for your plane as well as a permanent speed increase and some armor to increase your total health. You can also buy extra lives and even extra continues if you need some additional tries. You start the game with three hearts for health but only one bullet on the screen at a time causing the game to be fairly challenging at the start as every shot counts. Buying an extra shot right away is crucial to help ease the later levels.

Extra shot purchased.  Good player!

Extra shot purchased. Good player!

Enemies when destroyed will occasionally drop fruit on a parachute and this is the only way to earn points during the levels. Some parts of the levels hide pickups and they are revealed if you shoot their hiding spots. These often appears in nooks in the stages or in corners and thankfully you don’t take damage from touching the walls so feel free to look to your heart’s content. Just make sure not to get pinched by the scrolling screen as that will cost you a life. The entrances to the bonus stage are also hidden and revealed when shot. In these areas you switch to Kit who rides on this air surfboard called an airfoil. You can pop balloons that reveal fruit and extra lives and you can really stock up on lives by hitting every bonus area.

There are eight levels in total and each level ends in a boss encounter. There are a variety of locales to journey through and some of them are interesting for a shooter such as a haunted house and a baseball stadium. The bosses tend to be fairly challenging particularly since the Sea Duck is a pretty big sprite with equally large hitbox, the bosses spray a fair amount of bullets and other moving parts around, and also because each boss has an invincibility period after taking a hit.

How many times do I have to tell you?  No flying inside the house!

How many times do I have to tell you? No flying inside the house!

Like I mentioned before I had not watched the cartoon basically at all, and in the same way I did not play TaleSpin on NES until adulthood. I think I bought my copy for $8 as part of a buy two get one free sale at my local game store. The game came up awhile back as part of the NA weekly contest as a high score challenge and I’m pretty sure I beat the game on either my first or second try at that time. I also got acquainted with the locations of the bonus areas back then because they are very point-heavy with all the fruit you can collect, so that experience helped me here too.

My playthrough of the game was fairly ordinary and unremarkable. I was very rusty at the start and I lost all my lives on the first level, but once I started it up again I was cruising through the levels with little trouble until I ran out of time that night and had to turn the game off. Starting over the next evening I beat the game with at least a dozen lives to spare and I didn’t need any continues to get the job done. There was one boss at the end of the fifth stage that gave me some trouble. It’s a crane with a wrecking ball that drops down on you and the boss shoots these bouncing shots so you are being attacked from above and below. It’s just about impossible to not take damage here. The only way I could beat it was to get there with full health and just sit in the middle constantly shooting it while avoiding attacks as best I could and taking advantage of my invincibility period to move to safety. I was able to beat it that way by attrition. With that in mind, here’s a hot tip for this boss! When doing some research for this post I found out that you can destroy the wrecking ball which completely takes out the attack from above. Look at me, I did it the hard way!

This boss is so hard with that wrecking ball intact.

This boss is so hard with that wrecking ball intact.

I had some trouble coming up with a difficulty for TaleSpin. The game isn’t exactly a cakewalk and it takes a few levels for the difficulty to ease up once you get some powerups under your belt. That was the way it went for me but once I got over that hurdle I thought the game was pretty easy. There are so many extra lives available not to mention continues I never had to touch. I decided to place the game just below average difficulty although I could be persuaded to slide the game up or down a notch.

TaleSpin is a solid experience from a good developer based on a quality Disney property, so it’s hard not to recommend the game. The mechanics are neat but they do require some practice and thoughtfulness that takes some time to get used to. Boss fights aside, TaleSpin isn’t all that memorable to me, but that’s not really a negative thing. With Capcom on NES you are pretty much assured of getting a good game no matter what and that is definitely the case here. My advice is if you decide to play TaleSpin, stick it out past the first level and buy that extra shot. I think you’ll have fun with it!

TaleSpin Ending Screen

#12 – TaleSpin

DuckTales Box Cover

#10 – DuckTales

Jump, hop, and bounce your way all over the world, and make a fortune in the process!

DuckTales! A-woo-o-o-o-ooo!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat the game on Difficult setting with the best ending
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 1/10/16 – 1/13/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

The world of Disney and its many franchise characters have held a place in the public consciousness for nearly 100 years. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Disney would have a prolonged period of success in both feature films and animated TV series which just so happens to coincide nicely with the NES era. It’s no surprise then that Disney and Nintendo would converge into something special, and perhaps there is no better proof of that than DuckTales on NES.

DuckTales, the animated TV series, ran from 1987-1990 and spanned 100 episodes over either three or four seasons depending on how you want to slice it. The series centers on Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, and his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louis in their various adventures which often revolve around either obtaining more treasure or protecting his wealth from the bad guys. The series was the first Disney cartoon produced solely for syndication and that approach paved the way for other Disney daytime cartoon series to follow suit in the following years.

Whoa!  I didn't know this could be so risqué!

Whoa! I didn’t know this could be so risqué!

DuckTales on NES, however, was not the first Disney property to appear on the console. That honor belongs to Mickey Mousecapade. Capcom published Mickey Mousecapade but the game was actually developed by Hudson. Starting with DuckTales, Capcom developed the rest of their Disney-published games themselves, and all of these titles are widely recognized as fun games for the console. Many members of the team that created Mega Man would go on to work on DuckTales.

DuckTales is a side-scrolling platformer game where you take on the role of Scrooge McDuck as he goes off on a worldwide (and briefly interstellar) treasure hunt. The main feature of the game is Scrooge’s cane which is primarily used as a pogo stick. Holding down and B while in the air deploys the pogo stick allowing Scrooge to bounce higher than a standard jump, defeat enemies, and traverse hazards that would damage Scrooge when touched directly. There are five levels to start with and each level can be chosen to play in almost any order. Each level is open ended and contains branching paths, hidden secrets, and a boss fight at the end. The object of the game is to complete the levels while amassing as much treasure as you can find.

Let’s look at each level in a bit more detail:

The Amazon: This is a pretty straightforward level. Cross through the jungle, optionally go underground, and then climb up through some ruins. The middle portion of the level can be bothersome as there are bees that fly in a sine wave that spawn where they are likely to knock you right into a pit. Toward the end of the level there is a requirement to pay money to spawn a platform needed to proceed, but if you are an intrepid adventurer you can skip it without needing to pay, as I did when I played!

A good place to practice dealing with the bees

A good place to practice dealing with the bees

Transylvania: This is the most maze-like level in the game. There are a few branching paths as well as mirrors that teleport you around the level. There is also a hint that points out an “illusion” wall, and all that means is there is a fake wall you can walk through to proceed forward. There is also a mine-cart section hidden away in this level where you just ride along and jump out right before you hurdle into a pit!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

African Mines: The first time you enter this level you get booted out pretty quickly because you need a key from Transylvania to proceed, so the game sends you back there to search out the key. Once you get that, you’ll find a level that is mostly linear. Hidden in this level is one of two hidden treasures that really boosts Scrooge’s money count, and there is also a huge shortcut that will allow you to skip most of the stage. Otherwise, there are a couple of tricky portions you will have to contend with.

It's a bad time to forget swimwear.

It’s a bad time to forget swimwear.

Himalayas: This level starts out above ground under complete snow cover and if you try to pogo into the snow you will briefly get stuck. Pretty clever! The middle part of the level takes place underground with lots of spiders that zip down to hit you when you attempt to pass. This level has a lot of places where you could fall and die which makes this level a bit more difficult than the rest.

Oh Scrooge what have you gotten yourself into!

Oh Scrooge what have you gotten yourself into!

The Moon: This level starts off on the surface and there is an alien spaceship that you must explore to find a couple of items that more or less amount to keys needed to reach the ending stretch. Okay, one of the items is literally a key, and the other is a remote control. It’s more interesting than I’m making it out to be. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the iconic music track that plays throughout the stage. This song always seems to come up in any discussion around the best NES music and I can’t argue with that as it’s one of my favorite game tunes as well. I particularly like this arrangement of the song!

Good music helps distract from all of the danger!

Good music helps distract from all of the danger!

When all five stages are finished, the last stage opens up which unfortunately is yet another trip to Transylvania with a different boss at the end. This is the biggest letdown in the game but it’s really the only glaring negative thing about it either.

I have to admit that I have never really watched DuckTales much on TV and I also do not have much history with the game either. This is one of those games that I was aware of but never owned and I didn’t bother going out of my way to get it. When I really started collecting NES again for good, DuckTales may have been the most significant omission in my collection at that time considering the quality and recognition of the game as well as the relatively cheap price. I ended up buying my copy at my local game store for $10 which was a price I couldn’t pass up. The game would later come up as part of the Nintendo Age weekly contest that I participate in and that’s when I really spent some time getting acquainted with the game.

Even though I haven’t played that much of DuckTales compared to the other games I’ve played so far, I do have a personal story about it. Back in 2009, my best friend lived a few hours away and I would go up with some friends to spend the weekend at his duplex every now and then. One of the activities we came up with was racing random NES games on our laptops to see who could beat the game the fastest. We did this maybe three or four times and one of the games we did was DuckTales. From what I remember I won every race we did except for DuckTales. I chalk that up to my inexperience with the game relative to my friends. I think now I could perform way better!

So many spikes!

So many spikes!

At this point DuckTales is a pretty straightforward game for me, even on the Difficult setting. The only difference I see between difficulties are the types of item drops you get from the chests. The endings are not dependent on the difficulty settings anyway. The endings are determined by the amount of money you have at the end of the game and you need $10 million to achieve the best ending. I took my time and explored everything I could remember but I only ended up with $9.5 million. There is a bit of a trick to getting more money that I ignored. In most levels you can find Launchpad and if you talk to him you have the option of leaving the level to choose a different stage. If you do that, you get to keep all the treasure you found and the level resets completely so that next time you can collect all of the money again. Doing this at every opportunity makes it easy to reach the $10 million mark.

So, back to the drawing board. My second attempt went much smoother but it ultimately ended in disaster. I fell victim to an undocumented feature. Huh? It’s not listed in the manual but there is a way to refill your health in case it is running low. When the game is paused, pressing Select refills your health but it costs $3 million. I accidentally pressed Select when trying to unpause the game and I spent that precious money. I was on The Moon which was the 5th level I was playing and I had no opportunity to grind out enough money after that to eclipse the $10 million mark. Another attempt gone to waste!

I didn't completely run out of money like this but you get the idea.

I didn’t completely run out of money like this but you get the idea.

My third attempt was more or less the ideal run. There are some other ways to squeeze even more money out of a run, but I ended up with more than enough money to get the best ending. I was feeling pretty good so I decided just for fun to make one attempt at getting the bad ending. Yes, DuckTales has a bad ending and it is quite difficult to pull off. You need to finish the game with no money at all. This seems impossible since beating each boss gives you an unskippable treasure that adds $1 million to your score. However, with some creative money collecting and spending all of it on health refills, the game can be finished with Scrooge completely broke. Now the typical way to do it is to not grab any money at all except for the boss treasures and one of the two large hidden treasures. That leaves Scrooge with $6 million that can be spent on two health refills. The downside is that each level needs to be played perfectly and each level must end with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock because every 10 seconds turns into $1000 at the end of the stage. With that method there is perfect playing combined with a lot of waiting, so I chose a different strategy. I played the game normally and had my money set up to be close to $6 million right before the boss of the last regular stage. From there I would time the treasure grab after the boss is defeated so that I would end with the exact amount I need. I had it all set up and it would have worked out, except that I died at The Moon boss on my last life. I guess I should have paid more attention to grabbing extra lives along the way!

DuckTales was remade in 2013 by Wayforward as DuckTales Remastered. Now I have no experience with the remake at all, but it came out on a bunch of platforms and I’m sure I will spend some time with eventually. I bring it up because it has an interesting tie back to the NES. Capcom sent out some promotional material for the release of DuckTales Remastered consisting of a lunchbox with promotional paperwork inside along with a gold DuckTales NES cartridge. It’s not just some kind of showpiece but rather an actual working copy of the game. There were only 150 made so they are hard to come by and expensive, and it makes for some interesting discussion among NES collectors whether or not this game is an official release.

Simply beautiful

Simply beautiful

DuckTales on NES is really a charming, fun game that looks to be relevant to the source material. It was a great cartoon series and an equally great game. It is also coming back to relevancy. Not only did it receive a recent remake, but also there is a new DuckTales animated series in production slated for a debut sometime in 2017. I suppose the saying is true that everyday they’re out there making DuckTales!

With DuckTales completed, I have now finished the first ten games of Take On The NES Library! Hooray! Now the real fun will begin as the project shifts from games I specifically chose to games that are chosen at random. If you want to know more about how I designed my master list, check out my Methodology page that explains the overall selection in far too great of detail. My list has been set for many months but by now I have mostly forgotten where certain games reside in the list. I’m excited to start jumping into the unknown. The blog posts may take a different tone for games I haven’t played. This is always a work in progress and I hope you’ll stick around to see where we go from here!

DuckTales - Best Ending

DuckTales – Best Ending

#10 - DuckTales

#10 – DuckTales