Retro Review: Little Nemo: The Dream Master

In the NES era, Capcom was well-known for its fine side-scrolling action games, particularly Mega Man games and those with the Disney license. Little Nemo continues this tradition as an eight-level platformer complete with various transformations. However, the game isn’t quite as finely designed as some of Capcom’s other NES entries.

The basic gameplay premise of Little Nemo is that you play as a child whose only defense is to throw candy at enemies (which will briefly stun them). Nemo is pretty fragile, and even stunned enemies can be difficult to avoid. However, a variety of friendly animals can be recruited with candy, resulting in Nemo being able to ride or turn into them. This is the core gameplay mechanic, and it is somewhat reminiscent of Mega Man’s various weapons. Each animal has its own movement and abilities, and some of them are equipped with a method of attack. However, you’ll spend far more time avoiding enemies than fighting them directly.

Little Nemo’s avoidance-focused gameplay can get frustrating due to enemies that respawn or have tricky attack patterns (or both). You’ll only be able to take 3 hits as Nemo, though many of the animals will increase your maximum health somewhat. You’ll find that you need to memorize spawn points and attack patterns to get by, especially in later levels. In essence, your goal is to master each stage so you can get through it with your meager health.

The first seven stages are highly exploratory, with your mission consisting of finding a series of keys. If you reach the exit without all of the keys, you’ll have to continue searching for more. The game doesn’t feature any dramatic secrets, but many keys are in what would be considered “secret areas” in most games. You’ll have to explore thoroughly, and this is the most enjoyable part of the game, provided you’re not exploring an area with cruel enemy placement. Often you’ll need to find one animal companion to get to another and so on, which gives each stage a puzzle feel. However, lose a life and you usually have to start from scratch, leading to a lot of wasted time.

The final stage is another story. Consisting of a series of short but very difficult areas interspersed with the game’s only three boss fights, it’s like another game entirely. Fortunately, Nemo is also given some more offensive prowess for this final gauntlet. While any given area can be completed with some practice, stringing together all of them in a single set of lives is quite a challenge.

Little Nemo is a fun game, but due to the difficulty and design, you’ll spend a lot of time re-doing things you’ve already done, which can really make the game drag. The premise is fun, and transforming into animals works well in many cases, but it’s a bit too limited in scope. If you can deal with a bit of frustration, this is a fun game to play through, but even with unlimited continues, it can get tiresome.

Review Score: C+