Nintendo Entertainment System
NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, and just like the Friday The 13th review, Game Genie was used during the playthrough for this review.
Ahh, the end of the line. We have already revisited three of the four big horror icon games made during the 80s, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (review here), Halloween (review here), both on the Atari 2600, and Friday The 13th (review here) on the NES. Now we revisit Freddy Krueger’s foray into the video game realm, with 1989’s LJN release of A Nightmare On Elm Street.
The plot of the game revolves around you playing as a teenager who is going through all the houses on Elm Street attempting to recapture all of Freddy’s bones in order to bury and destroy them once and for all. If you recall, this plot point was first brought up in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (check out the Dream Warriors coverage from our A Nightmare On Elm Street Survivor Series articles here). Along the way you are met with an array of generic Halloween baddies, including bats, spiders and skeletons. At the end of each home you are forced to fight Freddy in varying forms. For example, at the conclusion of the first home you fight Freddy’s gloved hand attached to a series of balls that can attack you from across the screen. As you take damage you can also fall asleep, where the enemies have more strength. You can wake up by finding a radio or a cup of coffee in this dream state. Eventually, you face off with Freddy to end the game.
The first thing I want to say about the game is the difficulty level. Over the years many people have said that it is an easier game than Friday The 13th, and while I agree to an extent (it certainly is more straight forward than the prior game) I actually have to say that this game’s AI is significantly more difficult. It always seems like there is an enemy just where you jump or land. It doesn’t help that the game also has the dreaded hit-physics from Castlevania (review here) so every time you get hit you fall backwards, usually into a gap.
As you go through each house you are limited to the area in which you can go until you collect all of the bones. For the most part this isn’t a hard task, but sometimes the white bones blend with the background white spider-webs, so you have to be alert if you don’t want to keep retracing your footsteps.
Upon defeating the Freddy body part at the end of the third house, you gain access to the Junkyard, once again taken from Dream Warriors. Given how similar all the stages look, the Junkyard is actually a nice little respite for your eyes and brain. Eventually you make your way to the Graveyard where the game adds in a little more of a platforming element.
You are also tasked with fighting Freddy in his regular form from time to time, which is nice considering how the alternate forms you must battle him in are ridiculous. As I type this I am fighting the form of Freddy at the end of the Graveyard, and not even kidding, it is a Freddy shaped head wearing a bedsheet like a child’s cheap Halloween costume. Given how much freedom they could have had with Freddy in comparison to the other big horror villains, they could have at least put a little more effort into it.
The music in the game is 8-bit atrociousness. With how many iconic themes came from the NES-era (look at Castlevania, The Legend Of Zelda or even Super Mario Bros. for great examples) it’s always disappointing when game developers don’t put much effort into the music. While not as bad as the music from Halloween or Friday The 13th, they could have at least tried. But you always have the option to throw the TV on mute and listen to some Fat Boys or Dokken.
Your only means of attack is your fist. While this can be humorous at times (nothing like punching a spider directly in its face!) it soon becomes a nuisance as you have to be super close to an enemy to register the hit. While the rock in Friday The 13th was an awful weapon, at least it was a weapon. In the dream world however you can switch your character to have a javelin-style ranged attack. So the game wants you to stay out of the dream realm, but makes the game infinitely more playable that way. If you take my advice, stay in the dream if you have the option, as the game becomes much easier, especially the boss battles with Freddy. Not having to be right up in his face to launch an attack makes it almost feel like you are playing a real video game. Some of the character options appear to be a gymnast, as well as a ninja. Obviously once again, these inspirations are taken from Dream Warriors without actually being faithful. Who you have available is based on the seemingly random tokens that you collect through each level. Then there is that awkward moment when you realize that every boss battle has this switching option available to you regardless of your dream state. By the way, unless you have a tricky jump to make, in which case you want to use the Wizard (he floats briefly a la the Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2) the Ninja is the only one you want to use. His jump is a jumping kick which attacks anything in your way, plus he has projectiles.
After you’ve made it through all the houses on Elm Street, as well as the Graveyard and the Junkyard, you gain access to the school. Upon entering the basement you have to battle once again every form of Freddy thus far on your way to the boiler room, where you battle normal Freddy. Upon defeating him you empty all the bones into the furnace, purging Elm Street of all evil….or have you? Because why wouldn’t the game, just like the films, hint at a sequel.
One thing I have neglected to mention is that the game is one of the very few on the NES that supports up to 4-player co-op. I never knew anyone who had the proper add-on to play the game this way, so I can’t comment on how the game goes with 4 players, but did want to point it out.
Overall, A Nightmare On Elm Street actually holds up better than I recall. While I would still say my favorite of the games is Friday The 13th, I have to say that the most enjoyable game to play is Nightmare. Now if only some game companies would license all the classic series and make the game they all deserve….that’s a world I want to live in.