Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Games That Need An HD Update - Little Nemo : The Dream Master (NES)

I Dream Of HD

With the excellent DuckTales Remastered by WayForward opening the floodgates for further potential Capcom / NES game reboots, there are several prime candidates that should be first in line for the HD treatment. Ignoring the obvious choice of their popular Mega Man series, or the home console ports of their own Arcade titles, one would expect to look at their outstanding titles based on Disney characters for inspiration. From the speedy, box-hurling exploits of the Rescue Rangers, the undersea exploration of The Little Mermaid, the cutesy shmup action of TaleSpin, or even the theme park shenanigans featured in Disney World-advertisement-disguised-as-a-videogame, Adventures In The Magic KingdomHowever, it is actually a non-Disney game that, for me, stands head and shoulders above all those titles, a game that is not only a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable platform adventure even today, but also one that, thanks to its creative mechanics, has the depth and variety needed to appeal to modern players. That game is Little Nemo : The Dream Master.

Based on the Japanese anime Little Nemo : Adventures In Slumberland - itself, based on the original comic book - Dream Master sees you take control of the titular sleepyhead as he ventures into his own bizarre dreams - strange places filled with friendly, and not-so-friendly creatures. The ruler of Dream World, Morpheus, has been kidnapped by the Nightmare King, so it's up to the pyjama-clad hero to venture into this dark and hostile place in order to free the captured monarch. As expected, this takes the form of a 2D platform game, the genre of choice on Nintendo's 8-bit platform, featuring large multi-directional scrolling stages filled with pitfalls, hazards and enemy critters. 

Located in each of the eight stages are several keys, which are scattered across the environment in hard to reach places, and are required to open the locks on the exit door. Reaching them is no easy task as Nemo is a rather feeble little guy, capable of only jumping a short height, and whose only method of defence - hurling sweets - merely stuns the enemies. Thankfully, help is at hand in the form of a selection of animals willing to assist you for the small price of three pieces of candy. Initially harmful to touch, once fed with sugar-filled treats, these creatures become allies, allowing Nemo to utilise their special abilities. Rather bizarrely, some animals are mounted and ridden like a horse, yet others are 'worn' like a suit. It's slightly disconcerting, as you are never sure what is actually going on.. Is Nemo inside them (a grim scenario) or mounting them?.. And when he does mount them, why does he become tiny? I want answers, damnit!

Regardless, the bestiary of animal pals include, among others; a frog, capable of swimming and jumping great heights; a gorilla who can climb walls and punch enemies; a mole specialising in digging through soil and a wasp who utilises his natural ability to fly and sting anything it sees fit. These special powers are the key to reaching parts of the large environments that would otherwise be impossible for Nemo to reach and thus allows the game to slip comfortably into the Metroidvania sub-genre. Dream Master is also no pushover, with numerous enemies to avoid (or dispatch with the right ally), bottomless pits and spikes to avoid, and mandatory keys hidden in difficult spots. 

Dream Master also has minor puzzle elements - you often have to make use of one animals natural abilities in order to reach another, and so on, which means you have to plan ahead - especially on the difficult later levels. In fact, the fairly punishing difficulty level is a slight downer on proceedings, as it can often be incredibly frustrating with regards to enemy placement and the protagonists inability to adequately defend himself. The stages themselves are a highlight and include some traditional platform staples such as forest and water levels, alongside some more original ideas, including a stage set on a moving toy train. 

Visually the game is a cartoon treat and makes great use of the NES's colour palate. The creatures, both friendly and hostile, are cute and well drawn, and the environments are colourful and rather surreal, nailing the dream-like qualities of the anime perfectly. The catchy chiptune tracks that accompany Nemo's exploits are extremely catchy and will be stuck in your head long after you have turned off your NES. It's an incredibly charming title that exudes the usual level of polish and care that Capcom were know for - before they became the soulless DLC-whores of today - and is an absolute must-have for any NES fan.  

A modern remake would be like a dream come true for fans of the NES original and it has the potential to appeal to a whole new generation of gamers who enjoy 2D platformers. There is a wealth of source material to use as inspiration, and the idea of animals as power-ups / special abilities is there for the taking. Just imagine all the new and quirky creatures that could be added to the roster for a modern remake! Revamping the visuals in the style of the DuckTales Remastered game could really bring Slumberland to life, with the power of modern systems producing some truly stunning representations of the lush greenery of the Mushroom Forest, the rooftops of the Cloud Ruins, the purple depths in the Night Sea, or that madcap dash along the moving train in The House of Toys. Stages could be expanded to several times the original size, while new environments can be plundered from the comic books or from the developers imaginations. The, often unfair, difficulty level of the original could be toned down and made far less frustrating and technical issues such as excessive flicker would be a thing of the past. Trophies and achievements could provide added incentive for exploring every inch of the Dream Worlds, while online leaderboards could add a new level of competitiveness for speedrunners or high score freaks. 

Here's hoping that someone takes note and makes this a reality. Maybe WayForward and Capcom are already having discussions regarding this very matter - after all, there was talk (rumours?) of a new collaboration to bring another NES / Capcom game to life. While we wait with our fingers crossed, let's venture again into the 8-bit DreamWorld, and enjoy this timeless classic once more.

Title : Little Nemo : The Dream Master
Developer : Capcom
Year : 1990
System : NES
Genre : Platformer
Chance of Remake : Reasonably Good

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