This Nightmare on Elm Street game came out in 1989 and is based on the Dream Masters movie where some of the kids got X-Men powers and could fight back against Freddy. I was intrigued to see this one was made by Westwood before Virgin picked them up in the VGA days, and it's actually a pretty decent concept, just held back by the fact that programmers in general didn't know how to make good action games on the PC in the late 80s.

You start the game by choosing your character ... just not Joey, who manages to get owned before you even make it off the character select screen. Sorry Joey. If you dawdle for more than 10 seconds or so, Freddy starts offing random other characters. Once you pick someone, whoever isn't dead of your lethargy gets teleported off to random levels of the Freddy Manor and will have to be located before Freddy chips their health bar down all the way. In that respect it's kinda similar to the Friday the 13th game for the NES, just without the convenience of being able to switch off characters.

Whoever you choose is initially represented by a generic white stick figure dropped into the general vicinity of Elm Street. You have to comb through this suburban maze looking for the Freddy House (the only one that has any animation at all) while being pursued at a very moderate speed by a giant Mecha Freddy. The maze seems to be the same between games, but the location of Freddy's house can hop between a few different spots. Fortunately there's plenty of time to find it as Gojira Freddy's pathing is pretty terrible and he tends to trap himself in little clusters of houses that he has serious trouble getting out of. Even if he does catch up to you, he has to take a swing to actually hurt you and he's very lethargic about doing that. So it's pretty easy to Bo Jackson his ass even when he catches you down a dead-end street.

Once in the house you get down to the game proper ... which surprisingly plays a lot like Gauntlet. You comb floors of Freddy's house looking for the ladder down to the next level, and also for one of your companions if they're trapped on that floor. There's a bunch of random monsters like skeletons and uh ... possessed wheelchairs roaming around, so you'll find weapons to fight them off with and save keys to open doors. You also often have to find levers on the wall to open up secret passages. The first level is fairly sedated with only a couple skeletons roaming the halls, but the second level introduces you to timed spike traps you have to skip over, and both the enemy and the trap count gradually increases from there until it's at pretty crazy levels around level 5.

The big challenge to the game - other than the sheer frequency of annoying traps a few levels in - is actually inventory management. Your "dream power" zaps everything in your path pretty toastily, but it's also finite in use and only replenished by finding the occasional bottle of Hypnocil around. You'll want to save it to run off Freddy's periodic appearances, as he cares little for your feeb melee weapons. The game nicely tells you which weapon is effective against which monster when you pick it up, but if you attack a monster with the wrong weapon you'll have to clumsily club it out with them for awhile and they'll drain a bunch of your health in the process. The difficulty is compounded by a Resident Evil-ish inventory limit of only six spaces, which are also filled up with life-giving coffee, holy water bombs, keys and Hypnocil.

Conceptually this game is actually kind of cool, and it even looks pretty nice for a 1989 PC release to boot. You gradually descend through increasingly nasty hellscapes, sometimes with nice little background details. Freddy can also pop out of treasure crates randomly and sometimes fucks with you by shutting the lights out temporarily. Sadly, the action is stiff as a board and gets to be too much to put up with when you're being swarmed by 5 enemies at once while also dealing with traps littered all over the floor. If you weren't there for PC gaming in the 80s and early 90s, clunky action was simply the norm, developers just couldn't get a handle on it for PCs the way they could for the consoles. So I don't think it was failure on Westwood's part just so much as bad timing in the continuity of PC action game praxis. You just came out a little too early in PC gaming's lifespan, Freddy. If only you could have waited just 3 or so years longer this might have been a nice little horror classic.
Links :
* Review of The Dream Warriors - The movie this is mostly based on
Videos :