It’s safe to say that most of us grew up with the Sunday Comics, or at least the animated cartoons, tv specials, and merchandise based off of them. Often considered the best part of any newspaper, they’re a quintessential piece of pop culture that is usually taken for granted. We all have our favorites, whether it be the sharp honesty toward the ‘ol 9-5 of Scott Adams’ Dilbert and Norm Feuti’s Retail, the enduring heyday classics of Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy, Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, and Jim Davis’ Garfield, or the modern hits of Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine or Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits.
But let’s go back a ways, before the late, great Charles Schulz bottled lightning with Midwestern Americana charm and gave us the immortal Peanuts; back even before Dick Tracy, Mandrake the Magician, or even the “Rolling Stones” of the comics itself Prince Valiant; back an entire century ago to the days of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Krazy Kat, and a little strip known as Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.
Little Nemo was the brainchild of cartoonist Winsor McCay and ran from 1905 through 1926, under a couple different titles. Modeled after McCay’s own son Robert, Nemo goes into various surreal settings and has adventures that played out in his dreams. It was beautifully drawn and reading it can feel like having a fever dream of Spirited Away, nevertheless, it remains an icon of the classic syndicated comics and has spawned movies, plays, and a plucky little game by Capcom in 1990.
Based on the 1989 Japanese animated film, Little Nemo: The Dream Master follows Nemo through 8 fanciful stages – or dreams. You don’t need to see the movie to play the game or appreciate the source material’s origins. The game makes the most of its genre in focusing on a little boy’s psyche and imagination as well as the phobias of dreams and blurring the lines of wake and sleep, similar to Neverending Nightmares but without the often disturbing elements or heavy melancholic overtones.
Little Nemo plays similarly to Chip ‘n Dales Rescue Rangers mixed with Mega Man, which should come as no surprise as they’re all Capcom releases. Also, throw in some A Boy and His Blob with the usage of friendly creatures’ abilities – that, I’ll get to later. The ambiance of each level is great and the graphics are decent as well. The music, done by Junko Tamiya (Bionic Commando, Sweet Home), is playful, energetic, and fits each of the levels well.
Although he handles decently enough, Nemo is generally weak throughout the game; mostly just running around in his pajamas and tossing candy to briefly stun monsters. This is to encourage obtaining the aid of various animals within each level that offer their strengths and abilities once befriended with some candy. Several of the animal friends include a gorilla, frog, bee, mole, and natures most boring pet, the hermit crab.
They all have their unique skills and are generally rode upon while they look like they’re asleep (or in insulin shock), though in about half the cases, Nemo sort of morphs with the animal or looks like he’s wearing them like a suit.
There are cut-aways between levels that all fit a similar pattern: Nemo wakes up, gets yelled at by his parents, goes back to bed and then begins the next stage (what the hell is this kid eating before he goes to sleep?!) Stages are mostly open to free exploration and involve finding several keys that will open a door at the end. There is a lot of variety with level design, including a mushroom forest, a monstrous toy chest, Nemo’s own home, ruins among the clouds, and even an upside-down version of his house that’s a bit remindful of the second half of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This all leads up to Stage 8: the Nightmare Land where Princess Camille of Slumberland tasks Nemo with rescuing her father King Morpheus. She bestows the royal scepter to Nemo, which is basically a huge mace to use as a weapon to fight an evil Emperor Penguin, a Flying Stingray, and ultimately, the King of Nightmares himself. Nemo’s practical enough to mention the fact that he’s just a little kid and bludgeoning giant monsters to death is a task that’s a bit out of his league. Camille’s solution is to pull a Deux ex Machina by putting a spell on the scepter so Nemo can then wield it. Oddly enough, she never thought to use magic to make him indestructible, maybe give him a Gatling gun, or simply teleport the king back to freedom, etc.
After the final battle, where you’d swear the Nightmare King looks like he’s annoyed that he’s just eaten bad sushi, Nemo is made a prince of Slumberland shortly before he’s woken up to start his day in real life.
Although unforgiving at times, this is definitely something any gamer needs to play through and it really cements Capcom’s reputation of excellence. In regards to the “Sunday Funnies,” they have been around for some time and have a rich history to them. Aside from the collection books of strips, there are a good number of informative and entertaining books and films on the history of the comics that I can’t recommend enough, many made by the cartoonists themselves.
So, after you restore order to Slumberland, check out some in depth, you’ll find a whole new dream world.
Michael A. Jones firstname.lastname@example.org www.nerdsintheburbs.com
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