“Back in my day,” is a common phrase for those of us with heavy nostalgia towards experiences of our youth. Gaming-wise the phrase fits even more perfectly. “Back in my day video games weren’t just challenging, they were excruciatingly hard.” “Back in my day we didn’t complete games, we beat them”. And, “Back in my day, we captured our gaming achievements with a VCR.”
Wait… I’m realizing now that gaming was a bit tedious back in the day.
Maybe that was part of the magic, though; it wasn’t just about finishing a game, it was about doing so with several bizarre stipulations that our friends would concoct in order to torture each other or to determine who was king of the playground.
The Wii U’s NES Remix is that experience, several years later and with some wild mashups added in.
One of the most common challenges we would undertake with Super Mario Bros in 1987 was the “Fireball Bowser” run. That is, we were only allowed to beat King Koopa at the end of each world with the fire flower equipped, launching the ignited balls and avoiding whatever it was that he was throwing back at us. If we didn’t have a fire flower going into the battle, we had to restart the stage in hopes of finding one along the way. It quickly becomes brutal to have to restart the level each time, but that fear and frustration added to fist-pumping “in your face, Billy!” celebration that would take place once achieved.
That very same challenge is in NES Remix, albeit snipped to just the battle, along with over 200 others from early 8-bit NES games that induce far more hair-pulling. The challenges are designed to break us, with some asking us to complete speed runs of Excite Bike courses while landing perfect jumps each time (it’s much harder than you think) or giving us just seconds to clear a stage of enemies in the original (non-Super) Mario Bros. Playing through Donkey Kong Jr again when the social challenges are built into the game (rather than shouted at us by 8 yr old Billy) can be frustrating, if not for a well-designed level restart mechanic akin to Super Meat Boy.
Some of the games, like Tennis or Pinball or Balloon Fight, aren’t very enjoyable even today. Though the challenges added in do give some reason to try them, they ultimately don’t add up to a fun time, and I found myself happy to complete them once and move on.
The challenges seem to be geared towards those of us who grew up with the original games, and not so much to newer/younger gamers. In the 1980s, it was more about the social experience of NEStalgia rather than the actual fidelity of software. Many of the games from that era don’t hold up mechanically, but we didn’t know that back then. We cared about the high-fives or the “oooooooh!” after each group session, not the graphics or music. Glitches and sub-par controls were bad, but they were fine at 10PM on a Thursday night in the Summer at our neighbor’s house. It was all because of the challenges that we kept going back to those games, and NES Remix faithfully emulates those experiences.
Completing these challenges within time limits or certain stipulations gives us stars, or rainbow stars if we’re excellent, or MiiVerse stamps if we’re magical. Collecting enough stars opens more NES games and more challenges, and the vicious circle continues.
Added in are special Remix levels, providing a series of “What If?” scenarios that seem nested in Nintendo fan fiction. What if Link was in Donkey Kong? What if Mario was a free runner, and we could only control his jumps? What if we had to control both characters at the same time in Ice Climbers? It’s an intriguing mashup concept, providing some cool little experiences that often feel like completely new games.
The biggest issues with the game don’t lie in what it delivers. There are terrific gaming challenges and experiences to be had, and the polish applied to them is meticulous. The faults with NES Remix are in the unrealized potential.
For a game built on the social challenges we created decades ago, there is no multiplayer included in it. Only one person can be logged in at a time, and there’s no reason to cheer or jeer others on. We played these games in groups, passing the controller around, and not being able to take advantage of multiple controllers with screens and TVs seems like a huge miss. There is potential for this to be the real NintendoLand, where people get together and play those early games and challenges in groups. Leaving that out makes it ultimately a series of mini games that we can’t share with anyone else (outside of MiiVerse).
Another miss is the relative lack of compelling games drawn from. Tennis? Pinball? Golf? No Thank You. Where’s Metroid? Where’s Super Mario Bros 3? Where’s Mega Man 2? I’m hopeful (and assuming) that there will be more games added to the collection through DLC, though it would have been nice to include a couple more that piqued our retro interests.
That all being said, NES Remix is a good experiment in rekindling memories of gaming past, and seems much more compelling at times than the actual games its experiences are drawn from. Will I ever buy Donkey Kong Jr on Virtual Console? Nope, but I feel completely fulfilled by the aspects of it that are located here. NES Remix is at times frustrating, in a brutal historic gaming kind of way, but almost always leads to a little fist pump when no one else is looking after a challenge is completed.
A little more content, and this could really be a diamond. Until then it still needs a few more elephants to stomp down on the coal.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer for SideQuesting.