For a burnt child-molesting killer, Freddy Krueger sure as hell seems like Mickey Mouse when it comes to merchandise. Who’s idea was it at New Line to make a slasher-film character into water-squirt balls and talking dolls? With such popularity and icon value, it only made sense to make a video game. Rather than only covering the gameplay, I’m going to also explain the history of its creation that many people aren’t aware of: A Nightmare On Elm Street for the Nintendo Entertainment System is actually the 2nd version of the finished product by LJN/Rare.
A teaser advertisement came out in 1988 promising that the player would control Freddy with the objective to kill off the Elm Street kids before they can destroy you by collecting your bones. Three screenshots displayed an overhead map of a neighborhood, along with a Snake-Freddy coming out of a water-tap, and a teen ready to combat Krueger. The ad also mentioned a gameplay element where Freddy could warp through rooms via electrical/plumbing lines or by walking into mirrors. Nintendo Power Issue #2 for Fall of 1988 had a small blurb about the game’s plot alongside Friday The 13th in their Pak Watch section. It contained no screenshots but did mention that you controlled Fred Krueger. Nintendo Power Issue # 8 featured the game again but this time in a section about the NES Satellite peripheral that allowed 4 player gameplay. No longer were you to control Freddy but one of four Elm Street kids. The article contained two images: a title screen of the razor glove with the Elm Street logo and Freddy lashing out at a group of Dream Warriors in his boiler room. Since the issue was released in Fall of 1989, LJN had already begun to restructure the game to a degree, as this ad contains images from the prototype yet talks of the 2nd version’s gameplay instead.
The game was pushed back from its release date to have Rare (the company that brought us Battletoads and Donkey Kong Country) “retool the graphics”. Once it was officially put on shelves in October of 1990, it was a completely different experience than what was originally planned. Its generally perceived that the complete overhaul was due to Nintendo’s image at the time: gaining points by killing kids wasn’t exactly family friendly. However, another theory is that it was LJN’s decision to start from scratch (for the same reason no doubt) which put Rare to work for almost an entire year. The redesign now had the player as the protagonist collecting Freddy’s bones while trying to stay awake: a complete vice versa of the first concept. The game was met to lukewarm/poor reception from gaming critics alike.
An interesting note: a Sega Genesis version was planned originally, but canceled for unknown reasons.
A sidescrolling platformer with the charm of the series. You play one of four different Elm Street teens that pack quite a punch as their main attack. As you progress through levels on Elm Street, you obtain three Dream Warrior powers: The Acrobat, The Shadow Warrior, and The Necromancer. Each power has their strengths and weaknesses: the Acrobat enables a spin-jump and javelin-toss attack but the longevity of the spin-jump leaves you open to harm. The Shadow Warrior allows a flying kick and a shuriken toss but the kick needs to be positioned perfectly and the ninja stars are short range. The Necromancer has a long range fireball and the ability to hover in the air briefly but the slow speed of the fireball-blast can leave you open to attack. I prefer the Shadow Warrior aka Ninja power, as it gives you two ways to fight and if you can maneuver the jump-kick correctly, you can administer several hits to multiple enemies. While there is no meter for health, there is one for how sleepy you are and it depletes if you stand still for too long. Once you fall asleep, the scenery changes (like in Simon’s Quest) and enemies get tougher but you can use your Dream Warrior powers to combat them. You’re also open to attack randomly by Krueger once his lullaby begins to play. To counter this, your character must always continue moving or pick up either of two items that can rejuvenate your awake-meter: a boom-box or coffee mug. The basic goal is to go through each level collecting all of Freddy Krueger’s bones and defeating him in various boss-forms, until you make it to Elm Street High for the final showdown.
Gameplay wise, moving around isn’t too hard and I like the feel of the controls myself, but the brief pause for the wind-up portion of the haymaker punches can get tedious: it has to be timed right or you get hurt. Graphics are fine, nothing to scream about but I don’t particularly like the design for Freddy: he’s way too skinny and looks like a pirate. I’d rather see the original prototype design used. Some would say LJN dropped the ball by not including the Elm Street theme but the overall musical score is too good on its own. The best tune being the street music as you pass through level to level; it has a very heroic/tense beat to it. The only song that resembles something from the film is the Freddy lullabye that plays when you’re about to meet the man himself.
Here is a fun remix of the street theme:
Several references to the film are within the game, here’s a list of the ones I was able to find:
- – Dream powers (aka Dream Warriors from Elm Street 3)
- – Title screen image of Freddy has razors protruding out of his fingertips (Elm Street 2)
- – Elm Street High (high schools are pretty much in any of the films)
- – Nancy’s house (various)
- – Junk yard Level (Elm street 3 and 4)
- – Collecting bones (Elm Street 3)
- – Radio/coffee (various)
- – Boss Freddy-Head shoots out toungues (Elm Street 3)
I enjoyed the game to a degree but it could have been much better. Its a mediocre platformer for the NES that has its charm due to the license and should only be sought out by Elm Street fans or an NES collector. Most people recognize it instantly for the scares it gave to early gamers when it was released, and often companion it with Nintendo’s other horror-franchise cart Friday The 13th. Both games do not revolve specifically around one title in their franchises but do contain inspiration and references. Its very evident that Rare took some time to watch the films and pull a few things out to put into the game. There are rumours of attempts to create new games with the franchise since: New Nightmare was considered for the Super Nintendo. Ocean was going to be in charge of developing the title and it was to feature top-down gameplay that would switch to first-person mode when changing locations. Another attempt was a Freddy vs Jason tie-in game by Midway. Like Mortal Kombat, it would have been a fighting game with characters from the film and different attires for both monsters. It didn’t get past the planning stage but Freddy did make it to a fighting game years later as a DLC character for the 2011 Mortal Kombat.
As for a working prototype of the original NES game, there has been at least one noted case where a contributor on a gaming-site forum claimed they owned a copy and submitted images to prove so. Besides this discovery, its as rare as finding a cartridge for Hellraiser…
A big thanks to The Best In The World from Nightmare On Elm Street Forums for info on the history of this game!