"Presumably you’re not reading this review because you’re getting ready to open a new copy of Little Nemo to play on your brand new NES. I have to figure instead that you have an emulator and may have been wondering whether there’s anything good about a game featuring a little boy in his pajamas. The answer is a definite “yes.”"
Emulation has changed the way we experience old titles. Some would say for the better, and I’m not sure they’re wrong. Save states, in particular, have the ability to solve one of early gaming’s biggest problems: having to beat a game in one sitting. I’m not a huge proponent of using save states to muck around in a boss fight or to reload every time I die (my introduction to save states was a friend in college who used them in FF Tactics to make sure every one of his attacks hit, and it struck me as incredibly cheap). But using them to set reasonable checkpoints sometimes takes games which were exhausting to play and brings out their best qualities.
Enter Little Nemo: Dream Master, a game that tortured me in my youth by being annoying enough to frustrate the hell out of me, but also fun enough that I continued to come back to it. The concept had a lot to do with this. Nemo takes a platforming foundation and then puts the emphasis on exploration rather than on linear completion. It isn’t about running from right to left until you get to the end of a stage, instead it’s about climbing into the sky, burrowing underground, sneaking through hidden passages, and generally scouring the level for the keys you’ll need to unlock the exit. To do this, you have to enlist the aid of several animals hidden around a stage. By feeding them candy, Nemo can, um, merge with them to become an animal-human hybrid. Sometimes it makes a surreal kind of sense, like Nemo riding on the back of a giant ape and directing it to punch enemies out of the sky or climb trees. Other times, not so much; like when Nemo straight up steals a bee’s skin, wearing it to give him the power of flight and aerial attacks. Doesn’t matter, though, everyone knows the bee is friggin’ awesome.
Finding the keys always requires finding new animals first, and switching to them to use their powers, then switching back to Nemo at the right time, turning stages into dilemmas started whenever you spot a key. Yeah, you can see that key, it’s right there just out of your reach, how are you going to get it? Solving that puzzle is the fun of Little Nemo. It’s a concept that would much later be repeated in games that received infinitely more attention, like Super Mario 64. It might not have 3D graphics, but Little Nemo still thinks about level design three-dimensionally.
Community review by zippdementia (February 18, 2013)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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