December 20, 2013 2 Comments
No, it’s not an indie. But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particular fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born. When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre. Almost as if they had no confidence in it. But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever. And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World. So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.
NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day. Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda. But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s. To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy. Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all. Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean. And Ice Climber? I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made. Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.” Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform. If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.
So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too? Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging? Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone? Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?
Well, actually.. yeah.
NES Remix utterly owned me. I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day. Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day. I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it. Okay, so that’s a lie. It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny. Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it. That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one. NES Remix is the perfect portable game. Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off. Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team. I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team? And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS. It just would be.
But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console. Fine. It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all. NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced. Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware. This is gaming in its purest form. Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming. And I love it.
The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection. Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me. There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason. Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.
The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here. Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying. It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible. I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too. You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you. As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner. Who would have thunk it? Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens. When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking. It was trippy. And awesome.
Not all the remix stages were well conceived. A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link. No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason. Also, you can’t jump. Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping? It’s way tougher than it sounds. You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them. My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was. Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump. Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you. Really, some of them are just plain lazy. But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong. I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.
The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks. Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present. I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game. But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled. The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump. Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work. Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it. If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform. In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening. Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.
Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly. In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe. The target time for three stars was 30 seconds. Getting this required near-perfect runs. I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something. Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6. No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it. Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot. I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into. I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed. I suck. But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.” There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.
Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game. Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history. I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it. It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished. Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own. At least, I think it is. Opinions are hugely divided here. One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have. I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible. See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year. So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeumI3, you’ll be sorry.
NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)