You Might Pray for Narcolepsy – Nintendo Entertainment System – A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1989

Nintendo Entertainment System
(c) 1989
Genre: Horror Platformer

Apparently, in my attempt to get into the Halloween spirit early, I made a vow to play at least one game that makes me want to bang my head against the wall until death and then come back as an angry ghost. My first order of business when I come back will be to haunt anyone who owns A Nightmare on Elm Street and warn them of the evils therein. Once again, LJN has taken what could have been a promising idea and butchered it. Strangely enough, this time it was with help by Rare, which is a strange twist indeed.

If you don’t know the plot of Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s essentially this: Freddy Krueger is a knife-fingered and severely burned being who stalks the children of Elm Street. You see, he was a child molester and, as such, the parents of Springwood decided to burn him alive. Now, he comes back to kill their children through their dreams. The game is based mostly on the third installment of the series, ‘The Dream Warriors’. In this game, you must go through numerous locales in Springwood to find the bones of Freddy Krueger. Each time you find all of the bones in a section, you move on to the next one until you face a boss. The bosses bear some resemblance to forms Freddy takes in the movies. Making your way through Elm Street High, the Thompson house, and the junkyard among other places, you’ll fight a variety of baddies including bats, zombies, and other creatures.

As you venture, a small gauge diminishes slowly. You can refill this with coffee found in the levels. If it runs out, though, you fall into the dream world. Everything changes appearance and things become a little tougher. Luckily, you can find pick-ups that will allow you to become either a spear tossing acrobat, a fireball hurling necromancer, or a shuriken chucking ninja. Each of these have their strengths and weaknesses you can use as you travel further. Wait too long, though, and you’ll hear that familiar tune signaling Mr. Krueger’s imminent attack. If you find a radio or some coffee, you’ll wake up and find yourself back in the real world. Sounds a lot like the movie, right?

If only it were so entertaining.

The game starts off pleasantly enough. Roaming down Elm Street is fun, and your character’s abilities are not terribly stunted- they jump high enough and their punch is useable enough. The enemies here make about as much sense as they did in Friday the 13th, though I understand the idea of changing from ‘real world’ to ‘dream world’, so I can let it slide. The largest problem with the game is that it ranges from downright fun to ‘pass the Drain-O please’ in rapid fluctuation. Playing in the ‘real world’ feels excruciating once you actually know what you could do in the ‘dream world’, but you have to play in that world for most of the adventure, should you not want to get slaughtered by Freddy. Fans of the series could see this as an up side considering how alike the movies it is in tone. The game was also based on one of the best entries in the entire series, which is also a bonus. It’s possible that the more you enjoy the movies, the more you’ll probably enjoy the game.
A large problem comes with the overall packaging. The levels seem pretty slapped together as the game goes on, leaving some near to impossible jumps to overtake. Cheap deaths are never fun. Not only that, but there is no health meter, though you might mistake the sleep meter for it. That’s all well and good, but it’s nice to know when your character is near death. According to sources, it’s four hits, but it feels like it’s more .

Speaking of the enemies, that was another problem. Plenty of games ramp up difficulty, especially in that age, by placing harder enemies in later levels. This game, however, intersperses them by making the same enemies take more or less hits. The fun part is you can rarely tell which ones take more or less. I found this especially true in the blue ‘Shamblers’ who would take one hit sometimes or three hits. This also results in a lot of frustration as you never know if you’re going to actually defeat the creature your fighting and be able to move on. This ends up giving you some extra hits you didn’t quite earn. It’s kind of a mess.
One of the biggest problems with the game, hands down, was the collision detection. I understand that LJN was the chief proprietor of Terrible Movie Adaptations, but that does not make up for making a game more difficult by misleading your players. I noticed this most when the character changes to the ‘Necromancer’ form. The fireballs he throws connect about 60 to 70 percent of the time. I could try to lend this to me not being great at the game, but this time, that is not the case. I didn’t notice the same problem with the Acrobat or Ninja. Also, some of the obstacles take up a little more space than their sprites might suggest. This was especially noticeable in the claw hands that bounce over a lot of the pits in the later levels. Being careful does nothing when closing in as, in plenty of cases, you’ll find yourself being knocked back while inching toward the ledge.

Now that I’ve finished rambling about the awful parts of the game, I’ll drag the good out of the closet. First of all, and I’ll repeat this from before to highlight it here, this game is complete fan service. Everything from collecting Freddy’s bones to the different Dream Warriors and the locales will jump out and scream to fans ‘This is for you!’. Plenty of the references in the boss battles were also interesting anf fun to battle against. While LJN doesn’t seem to have known exactly what they were doing with movie adaptations, they do tend to know how to make a game jump out to the fans.
While the ‘real world’ play may be excruciating, the ‘dream world’ is a lot of fun. The Dream Warriors have different general abilities- the ‘Necromancer’ can jump higher and longer, the Ninja kicks in mid-jump and can hit enemies with no effort- so it was fun to toy around with that, at least. In some cases, it even makes the impossible parts more fathomable. Just a little. The fact that staying in the ‘dream world’ for too long summons Freddy is also a neat touch, and probably one of my favorite sequences of the whole game.
Speaking of Freddy, his advantage over Jason and his NES debut is that the end battle is actually epic rather than repetitious. While if you see Freddy during the game, it’s not much different, it’s not required that you see him three or four times through the game. The sense of anxiety and excitement did wash over me a little while I was in the final boss, something that wasn’t completely true in Friday the 13th.

This game has some okay graphics. While the color palette is all over the place in some levels, especially the junkyard, it maintains a dark theme. There are also some weird perspective things going on with some of the houses on Elm Street. Namely, the Thompson house. Again, if you’re a fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but that boarded up old house that you go in towards the end for those of you not in the know. I know it’s supposed to make it look imposing, but it just looks kind of strange. The ‘Shamblers’, again, look like kind of a mess, but the other enemies are clean enough. It’s fun to travel through the boiler room of the high school. It’s nothing special, but that wave of nostalgia hit again and I got excited knowing that the game would be ending soon. These graphics, however, glitch like crazy sometimes. They never incapacitate the game or the gameplay, but it’s especially noticeable in a few boss battles that the game would glitch when certain things or movements would happen. Freddy looks way better than Jason did in his game, as well.
The music is another mixed bag. I like the theme and a couple of the tracks. My consensus, though, is that I really enjoyed the music. If it had fit the game throughout, I would have enjoyed it that much more. While there is a variety of music involved, there are few tracks that retain the feel of the game. It tries to be more funky than dark. It’s like the game doesn’t know what it wants its tone to be. The sound effects are all right. The Necromancer’s fireballs makes this strange noise that teeter between enthralling and annoying.

Much like Friday the 13th, I have to close with this statement: This game is for hardcore fans of the movie. As a platformer, you’ll find it infuriating, and as a horror game, it falls flat. If you’ve always wanted to hunt down Freddy Krueger and kill him, though, now’s your chance. Just like the movies, if you go into the game without much thought, you’ll have a blast. This game doesn’t particularly stand up to the test of time, presentation or gameplay-wise, but it is an endless font of potential that could be built off of in the current day to make a great adaptation.

One thought on “You Might Pray for Narcolepsy – Nintendo Entertainment System – A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1989

  1. Pingback: Make Like a Tree and Get Out of Here – Nintendo Entertainment System – Back to the Future – 1989 | 3PStart

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