Those of us of a certain age have a habit of looking back on things with distinctly rose-tinted spectacles.
When we actually come to revisit those things that we regarded with fond nostalgia, however, it can sometimes be disappointing. And it can be difficult to convince those who weren’t around for those things we’re nostalgic for that they, in many cases, have great value and historical significance, even if they “don’t hold up all that well today”, as the saying goes.
While Nintendo has enjoyed a certain amount of retro fever recently thanks to the launch of its dinky, mini-sized NES with a selection of pre-loaded games, many modern gamers still find the brutal challenge of games from this era — the notorious concept of “Nintendo Hard” — to be nigh-unpalatable. And even for those who don’t mind a bit of a challenge, it can be difficult to know where to start when developing the skills to play these games.
Enter NES Remix and its sequel, then, which tackle these problems head-on and create two brilliant experiences in their own right.
NES Remix and its sequel (simply NES Remix as a collective term hereafter) is split into two main components: various series of discrete mini-challenges based on specific games, and “Remix” challenges which play with the rules, visuals and even mechanics of the games to create all-new ways to experience them.
The individual games’ challenges vary enormously, but generally do a good job of teaching you how to play the games in question before giving you more complex things to do. Challenges based on Super Mario Bros., for example, begin with nothing more complex than headbutting the correct block and collecting a mushroom, but eventually move on to speedrunning or no-damage challenges.
In the case of games that have a clear structure, if not a narrative — the two NES Zelda games and Metroid are perhaps the best examples — the challenges in NES Remix effectively act as a Cliff Notes for the games, hitting all of the most iconic moments throughout (including the final bosses and endings) without forcing you to actually play through the entire thing. For those curious to understand what is significant about The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and The Adventure of Link, but don’t have the time or patience to devote to the whole game, this is a good way of getting an abridged version.
Elsewhere, the challenges encourage you to have fun with the games and discover the most efficient ways to make use of the game mechanics. Each challenge is set against a strict time limit, and you’re ranked between one and three stars after you’ve completed it according to how quickly you accomplished the tasks you were set, and whether or not you had to use a continue to retry from a midpoint of a multi-step challenge. With new games and Remixes unlocking at various amounts of stars collected, there’s a strong incentive to “perfect” the game as much as possible — and it’s eminently achievable, with all the three star times well within reach after a bit of practice.
The Remix levels present a variety of interesting challenges where you’ll have to use the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in the individual games, sometimes in different contexts. For example, you might find yourself having to complete the first level of Donkey Kong, but playing as Link from The Legend of Zelda, who can’t jump. Or you might have to complete a Super Mario Bros. level in the style of an “endless runner” game, with Mario automatically running to the right and your only input being telling him when to jump. In one memorably confusing Mario Bros. level, the game “camera” constantly focuses on Mario, providing the illusion of the game screen being infinitely wide in every direction, while a Balloon Fight challenge sees the “camera” panning back to reveal duplicate screens in every direction, forcing you to watch myriad clones of yourself performing the same actions.
Sometimes the Remixes are visual in nature: one Super Mario Bros. remix sees the entire level displayed in silhouette, for example, while a Dr. Mario remix flip-flops the colour palette back and forth between the full colour of the NES and the shades-of-grey of the Game Boy. Sometimes you might have to complete delicate platform challenges while a heavily pixelated mosaic filter is gradually applied and unapplied to the game screen; at others, additional visual elements (such as a pit of lava at the bottom of a Pinball screen) directly interact and interfere with your gameplay.
What’s interesting and exciting about NES Remix is that it follows the formula of many modern Mario games: once you’ve seen a gimmick once, the game doesn’t become overreliant on it, instead preferring to present you with a variety of different challenges rather than simple variations on a theme. It keeps things consistently interesting, even when you’re working through a sequence of challenges in a single title.
And the games on offer are nicely varied, too, taking in some of both the high and low points of the NES catalogue. The aforementioned Zelda, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. are obvious inclusions, but it’s also nice to see titles like Excitebike in the mix. Games like Ice Climber really make you appreciate how much better Nintendo got at jumping controls over the years, and titles like Clu Clu Land just make you wonder what on earth they were thinking at the time — though I must confess, once you get into the rhythm of swinging around poles in the latter, it actually proves to be a surprisingly satisfying experience.
The challenges never feel insurmountable, either, even if they might appear to be so at first glance. The final challenge in Golf asks you to sink a hole in one, for example, which initially seems like an impossible task until you remember that Golf is a much simpler game than modern simulations of the sport, and as such there are only a few variables for you to play with before you discover the sweet spot you need. And once you realise that this case is very much true for all the challenges in the game, NES Remix becomes a dangerously addictive experience.
Where NES Remix really succeeds, though, is as a “greatest hits” of Nintendo titles, by simply providing you edited highlights — the “chart singles” — of a wide selection of games, rather than forcing you to play through the entire “albums” just to get to the good bits. You’ll beat Bowser, you’ll crush Ganon, you’ll defeat Dark Link, you’ll blow up Mother Brain… and chances are you won’t miss the stuff in the middle, because you’ll be far too busy trying to do all these things in less than 30 seconds without dying.
Wii U Essentials is a series of articles that each focus on a single retail game from the Wii U’s library. These articles aim to build a comprehensive record of this turbulent period in Nintendo’s history: a time when the company released some of its very finest games, yet it struggled to recapture popular attention and commercial success in the same way as the original Wii did.
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