The Rube’s Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (NES 1990)

A Nightmare on Elm Street - The Video Game

As 80’s supernatural slasher icons go, I feel that you were either a Jason fan or a Freddy Fan. For some odd reason this was a big deal with my friends growing up, especially when it was time to see either’s newest cinematic installment. I enjoyed the Friday the 13th films over the A Nightmare on Elm Street films because to me Jason was a silent stalker that no matter where you ran, or how much you hit him, he would always be there to get you… but most of my friends liked Freddy Krueger. I think his appeal has to do with city teens getting slaughtered by a bogeyman that was always ready with the one-liners. I guess for most kids there’s more to relate to than a killer that attacks teens at summer camp (which for the most part is still a foreign concept).

Maybe because for these reasons, Freddy was taken as being more adult, making the viewing preteens/teens feel more adult, but to me even – though the special effects were creative and top notch – I always thought of Freddy Krueger as the W.C. Fields of horror. For me, it was just hard to be scared by a comedian in a Christmas Cosby sweater wearing a gimmicky razor glove. Perhaps because of this, Nintendo’s A Nightmare on Elm Street slipped my adolescent radar, only coming to my attention a couple of years back when I first started collecting NES games. Since “tis the season,” let’s pop this game in the ol’ NES and see if it’s worth the $20 (ebay) that I paid for it…

Nightmare on Elm Street - NES Title Screen

First, I need to comment on the title screen. As NES graphics go, this is a really cool site to see, but what’s the deal with the attached razors or the absence of green on Freddy’s sweater? Anyway, you have to admit this is makes for a pretty awesome title screen. As for the actual in-game graphics, they’re not too bad except for your player character. You think with all the time that the developer spent designing wolves, snakes, Freddy-faced spiders and such that your playable character would look better than a faceless gang member from The Warriors. Oh well, let’s check out the instruction manual and see what’s in store…

Uh Oh, Trouble!! Something frightening has been happening on Elm Street lately. Each waking day heralds the discovery of another neighborhood teen that has passed away in the dark stillness of the night. Everyone says that it’s “natural causes”, but it’s almost as if something (or maybe someone) has been picking them off one by one as they slept. It’s a horrible nightmare come true, and this one has a name… Freddy Krueger™. It’s up to you and your remaining friends to search Elm Street for his scattered bones and throw them all into the high school furnace. If you can just stay awake long enough, you just might end Freddy Krueger’s™ reign of terror for good. But you’d better hurry, it’s getting l late and you can feel those eyelids getting heavier and heavier with each passing minute!

Nightmare on Elm Street - Video Game Villains

Damn that’s a long intro! I want to play the game, not read about it! So, the short version is that you control your nameless/faceless character left and right down Elm St, dodging… um, what the hell does the instruction manual call them… oh yes, Deathwings (bats), Shamblers (Frankensteins/green sleepwalkers), and other pointless re-namings. F*CK, I swear, the Rube’s number one pet peeve with NES games is when game companies (especially LJN) try to “hip up” basic game baddies with bullshit names. For example, a Deathwing is not a Deathwing. IT’S A F*CK’N BAT! Nothing more, nothing less.

Anyways, you have to learn to dodge rather than battle these creatures since in the “Awake World” you’re only armed with a wimpy punch that takes practice and needs to be executed exactly one millisecond before the monster bumps into you. If you miss, you’ll take damage, which kills you after only 4 or 5 hits. To be honest I really don’t know how many hits you can take since there’s no Damage Meter to speak of… yeah, really! Instead, what you think is a health bar is actually the Sleep Meter™. This meter is always decreasing, clocking down to the point that your player falls sleep into the “Dream World,” which is exactly like the “Awake World” but the baddies look different and are twice as hard to kill. The only advantage is that if you find a grey icon block, you can take advantage of a Dream Warrior power that includes a projectile attack and a longer jump. I tended to find the Acrobat block that lets you shoot a javelin, which is 10 times better than your weak-ass Daniel-San Karate Kid punch.

Nightmare on Elm Street - Boss Battle

This begs the question: If I can shoot bad guys with weapons only in the Dream World, why would I EVER pick up a Coffee or Boombox Icon to return to the Awake World? F*CK, did anyone at LJN beta test this shit? To make matters worse, after a while in the Dream World, you’re randomly forced to battle Freddy one on one, which is one of the easiest things to do since he has a simple pattern (run under him as he jumps, DUH), but if you’re only armed with your fists, then you’re kinda screwed.

So while dealing with the messy gameplay, you are also forced to guess which house will let you in so you can continue to the next level, collect Freddy bones, and fight whatever mini dream boss is at the end of each level. This entails going to each house, standing at the steps and pressing up which is so damm frustrating since, if you choose the wrong house, it’s tough titty toenails! You’re forced to continue down the block until you either A) lose all your lives walking/dodging/dying as you get attacked by monsters or B) when you do pick the right house, you’ve used up all of your continues, end up dying and are forced to start over. F*CK! The worst part is when you do eventually use up all of your continues and start over, the order of open houses randomizes, guaranteeing you take a well deserved break during which you take out your frustration into your Screaming Pillow™ for hours, pondering why anyone would make a game so fuck’n hard?

Now, if you’re lucky enough to find the right house, you have a bone meter (top center) that counts down every time that you find a Freddy Femur. When the meter reaches 0, you can progress to the level’s dream boss (ie. flying razor glove, tongue spitting Freddy head, etc.). BUT this only happens if you find ALL of the bones. Nine times out of ten at least one of these bones are hidden in a white background object (stairs, spiderweb, moving platform, etc.), ensuring that you lose even more lives before you fight the mini boss(s) – the easiest things to kill in this ongoing lesson of frustrating redundancy.

After playing this game for about four days (with many Screaming Pillow™ breaks) The Rube could only get to the 4th dream boss just before losing all of my lives and continues. However, I am getting better at dodging meanies while I travel from house A to house B on so on, but believe it or not – with all of my complaining – I honestly think this is a good game. Yeah, really! I know that A Nightmare on Elm Street has it’s problems, but as movie games go, it keeps you on your toes. After you realize that playing in the Awake World is just f*ck’n pointless, you can let your sleep meter run down and focus on your goal.

I would also like to mention that one of the main reasons for my digital woes could be due to the fact that A Nightmare on Elm Street was designed as a 4 player game, but good luck trying to convince three friends to play this pain in the ass game. Overall, I feel that this is a poor man’s version of Ghost and Goblins and that part of the gameplay is a endurance trial that is needed to complete this game. Do you remember how frustrating it was playing Ghost and Goblins for hours and hours until you finally beat Satan, threw down that controller and said “YEAH, I FINALLY BEAT YOU MUTHERF*CKER!” as you flick off the screen with you middle finger? I sure do and I can’t wait to do that again as I continue to dodge, die, and dodge… finally beating this A Nightmare on Elm Street and never playing it ever again!


6/10 Freddy Femurs

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Countdown to Halloween 2012This article is part of the Countdown to Halloween blogathon, a month-long blogging marathon dedicated to honoring the Halloween season. For more information and a full list of participating sites, please visit

Written by The Rube

The Rube is co-owner of Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade & Museum in Minneapolis, MN. He is also a Special Effects Artist, Master Chef, and Multiple Threadless Design Winner. Other than writing reviews and doodling, he enjoys watching bad movies, building monster model kits, and collecting games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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