Release Date: October 1990
Genre: Platform Game
At the turn of the 1990’s, Fred Krueger was on the Christmas lists of children across America.
Yes, that’s the same razor-fingered child killer with the burnt face and darkly sexual wit. Sure, he had softened quite considerably since his cinematic debut back in 1984, but his primary purpose – if you exclude selling crappy merchandise by the bucket load – was to stalk children in their dreams and find increasingly elaborate ways to kill them. So, how did we get to this point, I hear you ask?
Back in the early 80s, director Wes Craven revitalised the slasher genre with his money-spinning, dream-based variation of the classic stalk-and-slash villain. The movie was a masterwork of low-budget horror which gave us one of the most iconic movie monsters in the history of cinema, for better and for worse. The thing is, Craven never wanted a sequel for his once in a lifetime creation. He felt that a one-off story with a definitive ending was the best thing for the character, but New Line Cinema could not afford to be so precious about the material they had so heavily invested in, and Craven and Producer Robert Shaye compromised by concocting the kind of false ending that detracted from the movie’s credibility, while setting up a whole series of money-spinning sequels.
Before long, Krueger was performing rap songs and appearing on talk shows, while New Line Cinema continued to cash in on their main attraction, sanctioning the manufacture of Krueger dress costumes for kids, a trend that would eventually result in a range of Freddy-themed pyjamas. Naturally, it didn’t stop there, and by the time Krueger killed one of his later victims via home console, the writing was already scrawled on the wall in blood and viscera.
A Nightmare on Elm Street for the Nintendo Entertainment System was yet another in a long line of Ljn franchise tie-ins that was rushed into production in time for Christmas, and all I can say is, there must have been a lot of bored and angry children during the festive period. No longer were they scared of Freddy. Instead, they wanted nothing more than to meet him along a dark alley so they could kick the living sh*t out of the fritter-faced cretin who would provide their first lesson in the insidious realms of marketing hype.
To be fair, there are worse console-based movie tie-ins out there, and the game does manage to get a couple of things right. For a start, your character often descends into Freddy’s ethereal dreamworld where things turn a little, well, dreamworldish. It is there that you meet surreal variations of Freddy, such as a giant claw and a centipede, and the delineations between Krueger’s realm and that of reality are clear enough. While hardly living up to Charles Bernstein’s soul-crushing original score, the game’s 8-bit variation is also pretty devilish. However, I’m afraid that’s as far as it goes.
Everything else about this game is rushed, and a total blow to excitable children across the globe. This looks like one of those games that was intended to be something else entirely, but which was quickly altered to meet the changing demands of corporate ambition. Apart from those moments with Krueger himself, which of course are few and far between, none of the game’s elements even remotely resemble the ‘Nightmare’ franchise. The locations are correct – the graveyard from The Dream Warriors, the junk yard from The Dream Master, but they hardly resemble the real thing beyond a crappy sign and a tire or two. Not that kids should be watching the franchise anyway, but they are, and LJN know they are, so a little more attention-to-detail was surely warranted.
The game also lacks clarity. I mean, there’s just no logic to it whatsoever. Where are you supposed to go, and why is it that you can’t seem to get anywhere? You begin on a side-scrolling path and have to make your way into one of the buildings in the background. The only thing is, which are you supposed to enter? You would think those buildings which have their doors open, but that would just be too logical! Instead, you just have to keep walking, monotonously leaping over enemies until the game decides to let you in somewhere. So infuriating and senseless was the opening that I almost turned the game off after a couple of minutes.
Also, what are these enemies and where were they in the ‘Nightmare’ movies? Snakes and rats – I’m sure they may have played a small part somewhere along the way, but in which instalment can you find a lurching Frankenstein’s monster? If that wasn’t bad enough, there is no variation. It is just level after level of the same unimaginative opponents, and sometimes you become so complacent leaping over them you accidentally fall off a ledge as if purposely committing suicide. Also, I never saw Johnny Depp walking around punching snakes and rats. I mean, they didn’t punch snakes and rats in Double Dragon, and that was a beat ’em up. They did, however, offer you a variation of different moves to keep you entertained just that little bit longer – but not here. The game does allow you to turn into a super entity during dream sequences like in The Dream Warriors, but all you can do then is kick. Surely the fellows at Ljn could have used a little more imagination!
The aim of the game is to collect bones. Presumably they belong to Freddy, and collecting all should seal his fate. I never actually got to the very end of the game because I felt my brain devolving at a rate that might have proven irreversible had I stayed the distance. I did get close, however, and as far as I can gather I am roughly 10 percent dumber than I was before I lurched blindly into the realms of franchise inanity, and as a consequence 5 percent less interested in the game’s overall goal.
The other disappointment is Freddy himself. When you manage to lure him out of the dreamworld and into reality he is something of a bitch. Okay, that is pretty accurate when you recall some of those later movies, but what Krueger lacked in brawn he more than made up for in manipulative intelligence. His cartridge-bound variation is not quite so savvy. In fact, he’s a bit of a dimwit. Instead of trying to trick you or cloud your senses, he simply walks in the opposite direction and leaps head-first into brick walls. For the most part he looks like he’s trying you fart you to death.
I never owned or played A Nightmare on Elm Street as a child; luckily, I was fortunate enough to avoid it, my love for horror outweighed by my fascination with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Konami‘s subsequent festive tie-in, which although something of a disappointment too, is a veritible masterpiece when compared with this.
Playing it now, I can smirk at the outright gall of developers tasked with making a quick buck at the expense of peewee gamers, but when I recall those days it’s not so amusing. This is cynical marketing at its most abhorrent, not just in regards to the title’s content, but also due to the nature of the Krueger character himself. It’s amazing to think that games of this calibre cost as much as £40 ($50) back in 1990, which would be the equivalent of around £90 or $100 today.
Now there’s something to give you nightmares.
It hurts me to say this, but ‘real-world’ Freddy is as lousy as they come. It may be immoral to market a child killer to such a young demographic, but this is a cultural icon you’re dealing with. At least make him intelligent or devious or witty. As much as this game made me want to run into walls myself, this is no example to set. Ljn, hang your heads in shame!
The side-scrolling path to each of the other levels. It goes on and on, with little variation, and there is just no way of knowing where to go. Your progress is completely random, and as a consequence totally unrewarding. There are only so many snakes you can punch in the face before you get the urge to punch yourself.
Most Interesting Opponent
Technically, they’re all the same. Harmless and meandering and a couple of boring punches away from extinction. By default, I would have to go for the plethora of exploding rocks which fall from the sky. Where did those rocks come from? Are they meteorites? Will this Freddy game subject me to a random alien attacks at some point? I should be so lucky!
Is Nintendo’s imagining of A Nightmare on Elm Street enough to give you nightmares? No. It is more likely to send you into a daydream. With its monotonous levels, lack of focus and uninspired characters, it will eventually act as a natural sedative, one that is guaranteed to put you under until the snap of that first Christmas cracker brings you back to life again.
Perhaps I’ll play with that plastic thimble after all.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut