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Review: NES Remix teaches old ROMs new tricks

By Chris Scullion on Monday 20th Jan 2014 at 4:15 PM UTC

Star Wars. Let It Be. Coca Cola. All three are considered classics in their respective fields and yet were nevertheless 'updated' years later (Star Wars Special Edition, Let It Be... Naked and New Coke) much to the distaste of those who loved them as they were.

For the most part, Nintendo hasn't done this. The odd 3DS remake or WarioWare homage aside, the company has very much been of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" persuasion and has steadfastly refused to tinker with the classics.

While it's a commendable stance to take, in recent years it's been to Nintendo's detriment. When the likes of Donkey Kong Jr and Wrecking Crew turn up on Virtual Console untouched 30 years after their original release, they tend not to stand the test of time, exposing themselves as limited, repetitive relics from a simpler age.

While still holding a special place in the hearts of long-time players, these games are simply no longer compelling to today's market. Younger players in particular simply won't see the appeal in a retro-style game unless it has decidedly non-retro features such as hundreds of levels, online functionality, unlockables and the now staple Angry Birds three-star scoring system.

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NES Remix, then, is Nintendo's attempt to address this issue. A collaboration with developer indieszero (the studio responsible for the similar Retro Game Challenge on DS), it brings sixteen 8-bit Nintendo favourites (and not so favourites) kicking and bleeping into the modern age.

Upon starting the game for the first time, the player is presented with a menu featuring six NES games - Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Excitebike, Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros - and a Remix option.

Each game has its own set of byte-sized challenges, giving players a task to perform as quickly as possible. These start off fairly simple as the player is introduced to each game - jump over three barrels in Donkey Kong, clear a level of Mario Bros - and get progressively more complicated (such as doing the 1-Up staircase trick in Super Mario Bros). It's sort of what NES games would be like if they had an Xbox 360-style achievement system.

The Remix levels are the most interesting. These are a series of 50 stages that mess around with each game rather than simply presenting them as is. Super Mario Bros gets trickier when the Bullet Bills are massive, while Donkey Kong throws up a new challenge when you're made to play as Link, who can't jump.

Slideshow: The first 10 Remix stages

The more challenges you complete the more new ones are unlocked, with other NES games making an appearance. Eventually the six games you started with will expand to twelve, with titles like The Legend Of Zelda and Ice Climber thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, this isn't always a good thing.

Not every first-party NES game was a winner, and the likes of Pinball and Clu Clu Land were even getting bad review scores when they were new. Shockingly, bringing them back 30 years later hasn't made them better.

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While it's clearly aimed at nostalgics, then, there's also a sense that Nintendo is trying to catch the eye of younger gamers who may otherwise not be interested in its older titles. The fact that each game also offers a link to its Virtual Console counterpart on the Wii U eShop makes it obvious that Nintendo is hoping these little tastes will encourage newcomers to order the main course.

It's here where it becomes clear just how much work has gone into NES Remix, as indieszero has had to deconstruct each NES game and rebuild it with new modifications intact.

In all there are 204 stages, each generally containing anything from one to five separate challenges (except for the final one, which features a ridiculous 44). While some of the games featured are ropey at best, it's fortunate that the most popular ones have more stages than the others. Super Mario Bros, for example, has 23 stages compared to Pinball's six.

On their own these missions are straightforward enough, and most players (especially long-time gamers who remember playing each title back in the day) will saunter through them at a brisk enough pace. The challenge comes with the game's rating system, whereby players are graded based on how quickly they completed each stage.

Each game offers a link to its Virtual Console counterpart: it's clear Nintendo hopes these little tastes will encourage newcomers to order the main course

Getting three stars in a mission will generally only take a couple of goes but nabbing three rainbow stars, the highest accolade, often requires a performance verging on speedrun-levels of competence. Getting top marks by clearing level 4-1 in Super Mario Bros without stopping can only be achieved by making use of the pixel-defying Piranha Plant jump glitch (as our slideshow above illustrates).

It's here where NES Remix gets its replay value, but also where it potentially minimises its audience. Not only does getting the most out of the game requires a fondness for '80s era Nintendo, you also need to be into the idea of performing short challenges over and over again, honing your skills in mini time trials until you reach near-perfection.

Stamp Of Approval As with most first-party Wii U games NES Remix has Miiverse integration, allowing gamers to post messages that appear on other player's menu screens. It takes things further though by borrowing the stamps functionality of Super Mario 3D World. By completing challenges and filling an experience bar, a total of 100 different sprite stamps can be unlocked and used in Miiverse posts.
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If you're the sort of gamer who believes a game ends when the credits roll, then as you plough swiftly through the missions you may smile at the retro nods but ultimately wonder what all the fuss was about. Unless you're willing to go back and aim for three rainbow stars in every stage - which will take ages - then this will feel like a slightly lightweight (if charming) experience.

For those who its sensibilities appeal to, though, the result is a game that celebrates a slice of Nintendo's history and, not content with simply reliving the past, also makes it relevant to today's gamers.

The only major drawback is the glaring omission of many other classic NES games. The optimist in us hopes that the lack of Metroid, Kid Icarus, Super Mario Bros 3, Punch-Out!! et al exists purely so that there's still something worth playing in a potential NES Remix 2 (and don't get us started on what we'd love to see in a SNES Remix).

That aside, anyone who gets misty-eyed reminiscing of the days of Donkey Kong Jr and chums but doesn't fancy forking out oodles of cash to buy each game's Virtual Console incarnation will be in pixellated paradise with this one.

The verdict

Not for everyone, but retro and time trial enthusiasts will love the huge number of old-school challenges on offer here

  • Clever remixing of classics
  • Top awards demand strong skills
  • Miiverse stamps are a charming addition
  • Some gaping holes in the line-up
8
Format
Nintendo Wii U
Developer
Nintendo
Publisher
Nintendo
Genre
Compilation, Action

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