From the pages of the past! Horror from yesteryear – A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nightmare on Elm Street 1990

As hugely popular as the Nightmare series was back in the eighties, not a lot of game developers took advantage of what could be the admittedly difficult source material, much like how Ridley Scott’s Alien recieved only two game versoins while the more action-oriented sequels spawned boatloads of licensed tie-ins.

Another day in October brings another horror game out to play, this time, LJN’s 1990 release of Nightmare on Elm Street for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was actually the second game to take advantage of the Nightmare license following the one by Westwood Studios for PCs like the C64 in 1989.

LJN hasn’t had the best kind of history when it comes to games. The toy company broke into the business in the late eighties and the game I remember most from that time is Jaws, perhaps one of the worst games I’ve ever played on the NES. The final scene where you have to stab the shark with a boat was just too crazy to buy — just like in the actual film, Jaws: The Revenge, from which it was taken.

Like some companies do today, LJN also had a lot of love for movie licenses. Jaws wasn’t the only franchise they went after.

Friday the 13th, The Karate Kid, and Back to the Future joined Nightmare on Elm Street in their parade of terribad titles. It’s also all the more surprising considering who was behind its development — Rare. Yes, THAT Rare, the one that would ultimately be responsible for what would become one of console gaming’s greatest FPS games ever made, GoldenEye. But everyone has to start somewhere, and Rare’s reputation didn’t suffer too much considering that they are one of the few survivors from that classic era to make it big through several console generations.

Nightmare on Elm Street was set up as a basic platformer with a lot of action thrown in. As part of LJN’s “Enteractive Video Games” line, it was packed with action leading in to the license it was supposed to be based on. At one point, from what I had read, players were supposed to actually BE Freddy as they took him around to recover his bones from the teenagers that found them. Of course, this being Nintendo, something that horrible just couldn’t fly intact. So now players were the teens instead, the “Dream Warriors”, and it was up to them to find Freddy’s bones and incinerate them.

The game was notable for having four way co-op if you had the right adapter for the NES so friends didn’t have to fight Freddy’s body parts alone. These made up the “bosses” for each area — his knife fingered hands and his head would try to destroy you, for example, before disappearing in a puff of defeated smoke turning into a key allowing access into closed zones where Freddy’s bones awaited collection. Moving platforms also stood in your way along with snakes and giant spiders that you had to punch in the “real world”.

Instead of a life meter, a gauge measured how awake you were which was maintained with a healthy diet of coffee or boom boxes. Getting hit in the game pretty much just kills you. If you fell “asleep”, you’d end up in the Dream World but even there, you can use one of three powers to defend yourself with if you can find them. You can throw javelins as an Acrobat — though I’m not sure why an Acrobat would be armed with their own spear — or toss bolts as a Necromancer. As a ninja, you can also throw stars.

As far as platformers went, it didn’t do anything that great. The boss battles were particularly weak as they were often rigged with predictable patterns that drained any of the terror that could have been a part of fighting Freddy in the Dream World or the strange creatures there. It had decent graphics for the time, however, and the music wasn’t bad. But as a movie tie-in, it just borrowed elements from the films, threw platforms and punches around them, and topped it all off with a thrifty ending.

Still, the NES version was one of the few games that boasted co op between four friends back in the day making it something of a rarity as well as a pioneering example of the concept on the console. Nightmare on Elm Street might not be a game that some might want to remember, but it didn’t deserve to be burned, either, as much as some others did.

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