Little Nemo the Dream Master is very near and dear to me, and opens a floodgate of childhood memories. As a grown-up indie designer, I love pillaging my gaming past to see what I might find useful for my own games. Little Nemo has a lot of interesting and unique art and gameplay ideas to offer. It’s based on a comic strip of the same name that started in the 1800’s, so there’s a ton of back story content that Capcom had to touch on throughout the game. The cutscenes of Nemo waking up at the end of a dream/level are lifted directly from the strip, which is a really nice touch for a 8 bit game. Most of the levels are based on the most popular strips, (Cloud Ruins, Topsy Turvey, Nemo’s House). Apparently the folks at Capcom wanted to pay homage to American comic strips with this game. I believe they succeeded in that effort.
Armless frogs, skeletal flies, flying turtles spewing out eggs, and a slew of other strange characters and creatures populate the game. Most of the enemies and characters in the game have some relation to the original strip, which is known for its surreal and strange tone. Since there’s so much less context for these characters in the game than in the strip, it makes it all the stranger. Why are there monkeys throwing plates in Nemo’s house? Who knows? The strip might of offered an explanation, but the game certainly doesn’t, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’m going with: monkeys are just Jerks! – Ed.). It all comes together to make a pretty cool experience, since you never know what’s coming next.
The music, simply put, is excellent. Junko Tamiya (the game’s composer) really captured the whimsical feeling of being in a dream
world. Mr. Tamiya also did his homework when it came to recreating the type of music being played in the 1800’s, although he seems to have reserved the 1800’s inspired waltzes for the cutscenes. The song for the ending cutscene always gets me a little misty eyed, it’s so wonderfully done. The regular in-game music, however, is pure 1980’s Capcom composing at its finest. Catchy upbeat themes for Slumberland, and ominous foreboding music in Nightmare Land. The theme for the sky city will always be my favorite though, it’s just so ridiculously cherry.
The main thing about the game that makes it so interesting from a gameplay standpoint is how radically things change once Nightmare Land is reached (level 8). For most of the game (which takes place in the bright and charming Slumberland), your protagonist Nemo merely throws candy, which stuns enemies, or can be fed to animal buddies so that they can lend you their powers. Hardly a lethal arsenal. Once you have an animal pal on your side though, most of them offer an attack of some sort. Once you’re in Nightmare Land, things become much faster paced, and you get the use of the Dream Sceptre, which can be wielded
to whack enemies in front of you, or charged up to blast enemies from above. Most designers would tell you that having the gameplay change so significantly so late in the game is a mistake, but Capcom broke that rule and made something that really sticks out and is: kind of odd, but that’s what I love about it, it’s not the same old thing.
In closing, Little Nemo the Dream Master is a great way to transport yourself back to the golden age of 8 bit gaming while enjoying some classic platforming. Little Nemo, for me, epitomizes the expert work being done by Capcom at that time, and will always be a true NES classic.