Remember WarioWare's diminutive geek, 9-Volt? The kid who liked to play 8-bit Nintendo games all the time and who - if Game & Wario is to be believed - had the world's scariest mum? That guy would love NES Remix.
This is a retro-head's dream, a celebration of Nintendo history that dares to slay a few sacred cows in the process. Fancy seeing Link tackling Donkey Kong? How about a playable Luigi in a mirrored version of Super Mario Bros? You've come to the right place.
Yes, it seems Nintendo has been taking notes from those naughty hacker types who like to rip off the classics and shake them up, at least until they get a cease-and-desist letter from the big N. So you'll see Excitebike's riders accelerate from right to left, Donkey Kong Jr. attempt to rescue his dad in pitch darkness and play through a Super Mario Bros. stage as the pixels gradually get fatter and blurrier, capturing the experience of playing while suffering from conjunctivitis.
Before you unlock these cheeky bootlegs you must complete some more straightforward challenges. Take the Donkey Kong stages, for example. Here you might be asked to jump over 10 barrels, then to clear two or three in a single bound. Later, you'll be asked to whack a fireball with a hammer, or to reach the summit and free Pauline from her hairy tormentor.
There are three stars to obtain in each challenge. Sometimes you're asked to complete several short tasks in succession, while others give you one longer objective. Most are a race against the clock, and you'll need to move quickly to earn them all. It's worth the effort, too, as they're your currency for unlocking more games and fresh remixes. Three-star all the challenges for a single game and you'll earn a warm round of applause for a job well done. Yet even then you've not truly mastered it, at least not until you meet the exacting standards required for three rainbow stars.
Links To The Past
For a while at least, it's a delight. Most of the early games are acknowledged classics and if it lacks the irreverent humour of a WarioWare, it's still fun to see EAD Tokyo (with a little help from Theatrhythm developer, indieszero) hone in on the mechanical purity at the heart of these highlights of the Famicom era. Mario and Zelda are best represented, though Donkey Kong has aged equally well and the perfect inertia of Balloon Fight's flights demonstrate that you don't need Havok physics to produce a convincing sensation of momentum, or complex controls to create a hardcore challenge.
Yet NES Remix also shines a light on the limitations of these games. Next time someone tells you the old ones are the best, just ask them to bear witness to the fiddly jumping in Mario Bros, or the dodgy collision detection in Ice Climbers. Back then games weren't always hard but fair, they were sometimes, well, a bit rubbish.
It doesn't help, either, that Nintendo has front-loaded its best games. The selection gets steadily worse as you progress, success unlocking the decidedly non-classic Pinball and Clu Clu Land, the rewards increasingly unworthy of the effort required to attain them. Then the Bonus Stages arrive, bearing more dubious gifts than a pound-shop Santa, including god-awful brawler, Urban Champion and Baseball, a hit in its day, but now more 'hit' with a silent 's'.
8-bit On The Side
Their presence here is all the more baffling in light of the games that haven't made it: the likes of Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, StarTropics, Metroid and Punch-Out!! would surely be ideal for a compilation such as this. An eShop link on the main menu suggests DLC may be forthcoming and while we'd welcome an opportunity to revisit those games, it'd be an unusually cheap tactic for Nintendo to hold the really good stuff back for a later date.
A shame, too, that the challenge goals tend to repeat themselves as you near the end of each batch, while several of the Remixes rely on the same gimmicks. A challenge in which only a small portion of the screen is illuminated doesn't feel quite so inventive the third time it shows up, while several repeat an early trick where the camera moves away from the action, the image gradually tiling across the display like a poorly sized desktop wallpaper.
If we sound rather down on NES Remix, it's only with the knowledge that a little more love could have turned it into a Gold Star classic. But while it does suggest some games are best left as rose-tinted memories, it's a strong proof of concept, a decent first shot at what could well become Nintendo's next cult classic. Let's face it, SNES Remix has a heck of a ring to it.