Returning to retro games isnt always the warm, cuddly love-in you hoped for. This is particularly correct when you take the Nintendo Entertanment System as an example. Where the SNES has several dozen games that comfortably stand the test of time, the years have been less kind to the older Famicom. Although I will get buried for saying so, many of the early games for that unit were dreadful. That NES Remix manages to make some of the very worst of these so-called beloved games palatable is something of a minor miracle.
Upon firing NES Remix up for the first time, the first game that sprung to mind was the superb Retro Game Challenge for the original DS, a knowingly reverential homage to 8-bit gaming that created its own completely original attempts at Famicom-style games and threw them all together with a sprinkling of comedy from the Japanese GameCenter CX television show that inspired it. Whilst pondering “Why didn’t these guys ever produce more stuff like this?”, it came as a wonderful surprise to learn that developer indieszero had worked with Nintendo on this new effort. Clearly a team that understand what can make retro seem more appealing than it has any right to be, this is clever stuff from the wily craftsmen from Musashino, right down to the ever-so-subtle polishes and the old-school graphics, this is a high-quality all-around presentation.
NES Remix sets challenges based on small segments or stages of early fare from the console’s back catalogue, the most recent of which is the original Legend of Zelda. Some of the titles, like Zelda, the peerless Super Mario Bros, and the addictive Excitebike, are excellent games in their own right. You can’t knock the fundamental sports gameplay of the original Golf and Tennis, either. The majority of the other 11 titles that feature are poor when taken as standalone efforts, but condense the gameplay into bite size pieces and these challenges become addictive and are lots of fun.
Take Donkey Kong Jr, for example. The NES conversion was always inferior to the arcade original that is so beloved. Here, you get given the challenge of reaching the goal, or dropping fruits, or whatever the stage asks you to do – against the clock. Do it quick enough and you earn three stars. Do it perfectly on your first attempt and in a ridiculous time, and you may get three rainbow stars. The better you do, the more in-game coinage you recieve. Called Bits, racking these up unlocks Super Mario 3D World-style stamps which you can use when bragging about your times or bemoaning the difficulty of a stage on the well-implemented Miiverse interactions.
Hanging a gnarly wheelie on your motorbike or stomping on fifteen consecutive Goombas is great. Hell, even clunky Joust clone Balloon Fight is ace in small doses. But the “remix” element of the package does not end with the variety of different games you can dip into. Layers of splendind gimmickry have been plastered onto these ancient titles. You will find yourself riding your Excite Bike in the dark, having to worry about controlling two Italian plumbers in a coin-collecting Mario Bros stage, or encountering obstacles within a Super Mario Bros level that you are damn sure weren’t there when you first played the game back in the day. Some of the levels even blend games together, giving you the novelty of seeing characters invade each other’s game-world. Ever fancied 8-bit pixel Link having a crack at Donkey Kong? Because that’s a thing in NES Remix.
The bugbear with this superb Warioware-meets-1985 premise is that some of the games really are dire, and it is terribly uninspiring when you bust your balls to win a pile of stars and your reward is the achingly bad Wrecking Crew to tinker with, or the nightmarish Ice Climber. There are some glaring omissions from the era that would have been ideal. The stinking Urban Champion could have been jettisoned in favour of classic rhythm action slobberknocker Punch-Out, or even a touch-screen jaunt through the beloved Duck Hunt. The lack of Samus also baffles the mind. And for a game concerned with time attack mechanics, RC Pro Am would have been immense. There could easily be an all-new sequel given the size of the library at Nintendo’s disposal. They could make a whole game like this purely based within the Mushroom Kingdom. Think about that.
VERDICT: Although it has flaws, you have to hand it to Nintendo for spicing up their eShop catalogue with something a bit different. Well put together by a developer who have a nice little niche carved out when it comes to this sort of thing, indieszero have made the most of the raw materials that EAD have given them. This will truly appeal to those who lived through the years during which these games were first served up to the masses, the hardy old-timers who would recognise a Power Glove with a knowing wink. But it is abundantly clear to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Nintendo that this could have been even better.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.