A Nightmare on Elm Street

A decent movie to video game adaptation.
November 13, 2012

Me, aged 4, playing A Nightmare on Elm Street on the NES for the first time.

*Inserts cartridge into NES, presses power button*

“This isn’t so bad..............”

"AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" *Drops controller and runs from TV*

That’s probably an accurate account of my first time playing this game. I was too young to remember in any detail, but I know I was afraid of that image. The cover art contained a pretty scary looking image of Freddy too, but something about his 8-bit form, really frightened me. I mean, just look at him. His disfigured face, snarled lip, chipped teeth and bulging eyes all make for a pretty grisly expression. Oh and don’t forget those 6 inch blades coming out of the tips of his fingers. The 8-bit rendition of Freddy’s theme playing simultaneously, also heightened the unease. Once I overcame the fear factor of the opening screen, I was rewarded with one of the coolest NES games I had ever played. My list of games played was a pretty modest size at this point, granted I was only 4 years old, but it‘s still a favorite today and I‘ve played hundreds of games since.

Upon discovering A Nightmare on Elm Street, it was at this moment that the Ghosts ‘n Goblins cartridge started collecting dust. To get my survival/horror fix, I no longer needed to bother with Ghost’s ’n Goblins, as a less punishing alternative was now available to me. Just about every game is difficult when you’re 4 years old, but I think we can all agree that Ghost ’n Goblins is no parallel to A Nightmare on Elm Street in terms of challenge. That game is ruthlessly challenging. I don’t even like to use the word challenging, since to me, challenging infers that something is at least semi possible. Cheap is a more apt description of Ghost ’n Goblins. The scales are so tilted against you, that it’s more an exercise in frustration and masochism than it is a source of entertainment and fulfillment. The reason for this tangent is because A Nightmare on Elm Street may have salvaged my early gaming career from permanent demoralization at the hands of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. True story.

Anyway, A Nightmare on Elm Street begins on, well, Elm Street. You control a teenage boy, who’s objective is to search Elm Street and collect all of Freddy’s remains, so you can burn them in the furnace at the high school and destroy Freddy once and for all. Of course amidst all of this, you have to try and stay awake to keep Freddy from entering your dreams. Easier said than done, but I’ll get into that later. You walk up and down the street, encountering many of the stereotypical things that go bump in the night. Such as Frankenstein monsters, bats, rats, and snakes. Apparently most of Freddy’s cohorts are a bunch of renegade animals from the local pet store. Another constant threat is giant rocks raining down on you. So on top of a burnt lunatic terrorizing and murdering teens in their sleep, there's an animal control crisis and a meteorite problem in the town of Springwood. Damn… They’ve got some problems.

Even bats will get in on the fun by trying to drop little rocks on your head.

Elm Street is lined with locations for you to explore, such as various houses, a junkyard, a cemetery, etc. The outside street area is really just an overworld where you can access all the different locations of Elm Street. We’ll refer to the locations as stages, because that’s essentially what they are. None of Freddy’s remains can be found on the street. Bones are scattered throughout each stage on Elm Street. However, you only have the key to one stage at a time. Once you enter a stage, you cannot leave until all of the bones are found. A bone counter keeps track of how many bones you have left to find in each stage. I can remember getting really hung up on finding the last bone in certain places. Sometimes they are placed strategically, so they blend in with the background somewhat.

Things are different indoors, but don‘t think you‘re safe from insane animals. Here you will find some different creatures, in addition to what you’d encounter out on the street. Things such as spiders, bee’s and some sort of jumping fish things in any stage with water. The stages are where the brunt of the platforming is played. Unlike the street, there are pitfalls and moving platforms to traverse in each stage. There are also collectible ability tokens which can only be used when you are asleep, or when fighting a boss, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Every stage contains a boss fight, which are always some incarnations of Freddy. Whether it be a floating Freddy head which spits attacking tongues, or Freddy’s glove flying around trying to slice you up, there’s always some kind of boss to kill at the end of each stage. Once you defeat each boss, a key is dropped which allows you to access the next stage on Elm Street. As far as knowing where to go next, I’m not sure. I would usually just walk around and try all the doors until I found the right one.

I used to love the way the rooms would flash crimson red before boss fights.

Sometimes, simply entering a door could be a pain in the ass. If you’ve ever played this game, then you probably will recall this glitch. Sometimes if you were even slightly imprecise with your characters alignment to a door, your character would not enter. Many times this resulted in me falsely attributing the glitch to a locked door. Consequently I would keep walking up and down Elm Street in search for the right door, when I was at the right door in the first place. Of course during these excursions, I would take unnecessary damage from enemies, only adding to the frustration. This was also one of those games where enemies spawned from the top of the screen. That was nowhere near uncommon for an NES game, but it could be especially cheap in this game. Most of the time you were forced towards the top of the screen in order to reach certain bones. So when enemies spawned from the top of the screen in these situations, you were a sitting duck. Being able to punch and shoot projectiles vertically would have solved this problem.

As I alluded to earlier, it is possible to fall asleep in this game. This game was original, in that it contained a dynamic, multilayered world. There was the real world, and the dream world. When the game begins, you are in the real world. You don’t have a health meter in this game, but you always take four hits before you die. What you do have is a Zzz bar, which keeps track of how tired you are. The Zzz bar depletes in two ways. It gradually lowers as time passes, and it lowers when you take damage. Standing idle will cause your Zzz bar to drain at an accelerated rate, which is very thematic and makes perfect sense. In the movies, the teens of Elm Street would try to keep themselves occupied with something to ward off sleep, since sitting around will make you more likely to fall asleep. That mechanic is cleverly implemented in this game.

When the Zzz bar completely drains, you fall asleep and enter the dream world. Things are different in your dreams. The color of the environments change and so do the enemies. The standard enemies are replaced with flying ghosts, demons and Freddy heads with spider legs, among other things. You also have the use of the aforementioned special abilities you have collected throughout the game. In total, there are three different abilities in the game. There’s the wizard, the gymnast and the ninja. The gymnast can jump high and throw javelins. The ninja can jump kick and throw throwing stars and the wizard can glide somewhat and shoot a projectile too. You cycle through those with the select button, or you could choose to be your normal self, but where’s the fun in that? As fun as it is to use those abilities, the dream world is a much more perilous place than the awake world. Enemies take more damage before they die, and there’s also the looming threat of Freddy finding you and he will find you if you spend too much time asleep. You’ll know he’s close when the Freddy’s coming for you music starts playing. Once the music stops, Freddy finds you and you have to fight him in a weird room. All you have to do is land a few hits and he’ll retreat. Theses confrontations with Freddy are disappointingly easy, since his attack pattern is so basic. Typically you'll take more damage from the hands emerging from the ground, than you will from Freddy.

___________Freddy’s 8-bit character model looks fantastic_______________

Once you have fallen asleep, there are only two things that will wake you up. Finding a radio which plays loud music and defeating a boss are those only two ways. If you haven’t yet fallen asleep but are on the verge of slumber, finding a cup of coffee will completely reinvigorate you. When your character dies, he becomes an angel and ascends to heaven, only to immediately return to earth. I was always amused by the stupid expression on their faces when they were floating away.

As far as graphics go, they were pretty good. Elm Street looked good, although I always thought it looked like it was in outer space, especially in the dream world. Maybe that explains the meteorite problem. At any rate, all the houses and buildings were well detailed. However, the same can’t be said about the interior of the buildings. Level design ranged from lackluster to decent, so they weren‘t breaking any new ground there. Most levels lacked any defining qualities and looked too similar to one another. Enemy design was subpar for the most part, but I’m willing to overlook it since I liked the teenagers, the bosses and Freddy’s character designs. Controls were acceptable. Sometimes they weren’t as responsive as I would have liked, but they were acceptable for a Nintendo game.

Sound design is outstanding. It is 8-bit ear candy from beginning to end. The music tracks in this game are some of the best on the NES, as far as I’m concerned. Even if you hate this game, I would hope that you would at least concede that the music is pretty awesome. All of the tracks are memorable and fit with the atmosphere like a glove. The song that plays at the title screen really captures the essence of the Freddy theme. Also the theme that plays when Freddy is about to find you sounds very good. Certain sound effects are noteworthy as well. Such as, the riff that plays when you find a radio. It’s got a very energetic quality to it and is catchy as well. It makes you want to go out of your way to find a radio, just so you can listen to it. Another cool effect was the music that plays when you transition from the real world to the dream world. It was a really hypnotic sounding tune, which makes sense considering it signifies that your character has fallen asleep. Lastly, the sound effect made when you cleared an area of bones was really cool. I don’t know how to adequately describe this one, so I won’t even try.

After scouring Elm Street for all of Freddy’s bones, you have the final showdown with him in the high school boiler room. This is one of those games where you have to fight every boss again in the last level. After beating all of the bosses you get to fight Freddy Krueger. His predictable attack pattern is the same here as it is in your previous encounters with him, but that might come as a relief to some, since you are likely to use up a lot of lives fighting all of those bosses before him. Regardless, It’s a satisfying conclusion to the game to be able to destroy Freddy in his true form, rather than a floating head or glove. Incinerating his remains makes all of that bone collecting seem worthwhile and meaningful. The whole game is a pretty satisfying adaptation to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Of course the whole punching animals and Frankenstein monsters in the face thing has nothing to do with the Freddy movies, but the concept was very well done for an early 90‘s video game. The integration of the dream world and awake world was clever and undeniably faithful to the movies. Also, the three dream abilities were taken straight from the third Nightmare on Elm Street movie. So as far as being authentic to its cinematic counterpart, it did much better than most movie to game adaptations for its time. For that reason, I feel it is a pretty satisfying horror movie based video game. I’m still waiting for that sequel the ending lead us to believe we were getting.

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