If you're a veteran of the NES era, you've played its countless classics many times before. You may have bought them multiple times, either out of nostalgia or for convenience when a new system arrives. Modern gamers may scoff at the notion, but classic-chasers persevere, because it makes them happy.
Leave it to Nintendo to invent a new way to play all these old games yet again in the form of the Wii U game NES Remix. The good news is, it's actually pretty fun -- if you can still stomach playing them.
NES Remix (Wii U)
Released: December 18, 2013
Think of NES Remix as a fully fledged version of the "8-bit Gamer" subset of the WarioWare series, with tons of content. I dove into it thinking it would be a quick arcadey few hour affair -- and I was dead wrong. This game is incredibly long, and will most likely take you 10 hours or more to fully complete, even if you only play each level once.
For those of you who are wondering what you get with your $15, here's the full set list, so to speak: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros. Arcade, Excitebike, Balloon Fight, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Wrecking Crew, Ice Climber, Pinball, Golf, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong 3, Baseball, Urban Champion, Tennis, and remix stages that jumble everything together.
Whew! That's a lot of games, right? Keep in mind though that each of those levels is a minigame though, and not a full title. Yep, you do not in any way shape or form get the full versions of these NES classics -- in fact, the game has a comical (but ultimately lame) "Buy something will ya!" Zelda themed eShop ad. You'll also start off with the first six titles I listed above, and unlock the rest, lest you think everything is available from the start.
Having said that, I immediately dove into Super Mario Bros., and played through everything that subset had to offer over a good hour. It's pure, clean, simple fun, and the minigames are pretty much a 1:1 version of the originals, with slight twists that make them more arcade-like. For instance, you might have to kill a certain amount of enemies in a limited time with a star, or race to the finish of World 1-1 before time runs out. Levels range from a few seconds to 30 to a full minute or more, so they're not all micro games per se.
There's some good mobile design principles implemented here, in the sense that each stage has a three star rating to obtain (with a soft rainbow "four star"), so you can strive to complete each level with the maximum efficiency. You also get at least three lives for each objective, so you can afford to make a few mistakes. Timers make this perfect for speedrunning, and competing with your friends to earn the best performance. It also supports remote play, if you're interested.
The remix levels are the clear-cut highlight of the project, as they usually involve wackier objectives that deviate far from the game specific goals. In one mission, Link enters a special dungeon, and ends up having to complete the first level of Donkey Kong. The twist? Link can't jump, so he has to outwit the barrels and climb ladders to get to the end. The list goes on in terms of amazing remix stages, like endless runner Mario levels, Mario Bros. Arcade boards that zoom out so you can barely see anything, and Excitebike courses that are completely frozen over.
One remix in particular really struck a chord with me -- a "night-time" blacked-out run of World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. similar to the mechanic found in Donkey Kong Country Returns. It brought new meaning to the phrase "the first goomba," and I really enjoyed seeing some of these old stages in a new light. Having said that, NES Remix arguably should have consisted entirely of these levels, rather than bits and pieces of various games. It's great that there's a decent amount of remixes to work through, but I think more and wackier mash-ups would have resulted in a much stronger package.
There's also another unseen element that I realized a few hours into NES Remix -- the teaching element. The first stage of each individual game is a learning experience, complete with full button tutorials, and even giant circles on-screen to show you exactly where you need to jump, or how to kill each enemy. It's something that'll take a few seconds for veterans, but newcomers will appreciate these small mechanics -- especially considering the fact that the originals never had tutorials, and they can easily go back to them having learned the basics. Nintendo has unwittingly created an introduction to the NES for children, and it's much appreciated.
As I said before there's a ton of content in Remix, but a lack of full versions really hurts the prospect of this being an "insta-buy." There are other limitations as well, like a complete absence of multiplayer, no controller configuration options, and a lack of more remixes. If you love the Miiverse though you're in luck, as every level has support for stamps and posts. I've already seen some hilarious jokes for maps like the one where you have to kill Luigi to progress, and the community is as active as ever, even on day one. Speaking of stamps, there's a ton of unlocks here, and creative artists are going to have a field day with all the retro throwbacks.
Let me make this clear -- if you find yourself playing any of these games yearly, whether it's for nostalgia or because you think they're genuinely good games, you will love NES Remix. It lacks a lot of bells and whistles that newcomers may find inexcusable, but I had a smile on my face almost the entire time, and experienced the same controller throwing moments (although a GamePad against a wall would be more disastrous) that made me persevere until I got it right.