A Nightmare on Elm Street – NES
Slasher movies and video games both began to find their voices in the neon cesspool of the 1980’s. In a perfect storm of splattery violence and questionable soundtracks featuring prominent use of hair metal, both mediums became wildly popular on a mainstream level rather than remaining a fringe interest for cellar-dwellers. Smelling chum on the water, publisher LJN Toys released a series of horror movie adaptation games for the NES to capitalize on the slasher genre’s newfound popularity, and naturally, they had to adapt A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Listen, do you know how much shitty Freddy Krueger merch was floating around in 1989? The bubblegum and 1-900 hotlines and 3-D glasses? Pointless Freddy gewgaws were our greatest national export, and we are all to blame. All of us. We did this. We are the monsters.
But none of those shameless tie-ins can compare to the pointlessness of the NES adaptation.
You play as a Springwood teenager (at least I think it’s Springwood, because everything is labeled Elm Street High School and Elm Street Junkyard, and that is a horseshit name for a town, guys) who has to collect Freddy’s bones and throw them into a furnace to destroy him. (Who knew that Freddy’s entire skeleton was comprised of cartoon dog bones?) You have to try to stay awake by drinking cups of coffee and avoiding damage from enemies, because once you fall asleep, the world goes into a dream sequence wherein flying bats turn into flying bats with skulls on them. Complete mayhem.
It would almost be a cool game dynamic if LJN games had spent more than five minutes working out what a dream sequence could look like. The screen turns choking-victim blue, the monsters turn into…uh, other monsters, and you have the ability to use Dream Warrior abilities (like becoming a gymnast who throws knives at ghosts.) The NOES franchise did some excellent things with the surrealism of dream sequences, but the designers of the NES game decided that the best way to accomplish this was “ghosts ‘n’ snakes…but spookier.”
The controls are a horrifying mess. You’d think that a simple NES controller-style “this button jumps, this button punches” setup would be pretty easy to nail, but your punches are delayed by a half-second, and your jumps are an absolute crapshoot of guesswork and frustration. Wanna leap from a platform and punch a ghost in the face? Nope. Throwing knives at an oddly resilient Spooky Skeleton? Well, it’d work if the knives went further than HALF AN INCH IN FRONT OF THE ODDLY BULKY GYMNAST THROWING THEM.
“The graphics aren’t very good” isn’t a particularly valid critique of 8-bit games, but even in comparison to its contemporaries, these graphics are comically bad. Most of the sprites are monochromatic, they use maybe three different stock backgrounds, and even the boss battles look like they were animated by toddlers in MS Paint. The designers couldn’t even be bothered to make Freddy look more imposing than an emaciated Christmas worm.
If you stay too long in a dream state, a seizure-inducing “Freddy’s™ Coming!” flashes onscreen (the trademark symbol, ah, takes away a little from the heart-stopping terror) and you’re plunged into a boss battle with the man himself. It’s like a slapfight with a toddler. He moves in the exact same pattern every single time, and all you need to do is take a swing every time he jumps over you until eventually he hops away. He actually hops away from you like a sunburned pogo stick.
There are a couple of redeeming factors. Well, “redeeming” seems like a strong word, but there are a couple of elements that don’t feel actively insulting to the player. The dreaming/waking mechanic is kind of cool, and adds a kind of tension – every time you take a hit from a skeleton or a bat or a skeleton bat, it lowers your rapidly-depleting dream meter and forces you closer to a dream sequence. Of course, during a dream sequence you actually get to use some of your wacky dream powers, so it’s not exactly like you’ve been plunged into a particularly difficult hell dimension, but it’s at least nice to have contrast.
Relatively speaking, NOES wasn’t that bad when compared with a lot of horror movie adaptation games (especially anything published by LJN), but the experience of slogging through this limp excuse for a movie tie-in will make you want to personally find the hacks who made it and force them to play their unholy creation – Clockwork Orange-style, the eyeclamps, the whole bit. If anything, I can only commend it for having one of the most breathtakingly frustrating examples of the Goddamned Bats trope I’ve ever seen in a platformer.
Share This Post