A five-month turnaround for a sequel is quick by any standards, but it’s easy to see why Nintendo might wish to capitalise on what could prove to be one of its savviest ideas in recent times. It’s an efficient way for the company to plug gaps in Wii U’s sparse release schedule, while satisfying the loyalists who’ve bemoaned Nintendo’s reluctance to offer regular Virtual Console updates. NES Remix is a company going back to its roots in every sense; not just leveraging its legacy, but embracing an ethos of score chasing and challenge. This is not, in other words, a series designed to appeal to the expanded audience.
As we suspected upon unlocking the likes of Baseball and Urban Champion in the original, Nintendo was reserving the highlights of its 8-bit catalogue for NES Remix 2. Once more, it invites you to complete a variety of bite-sized challenges against the clock; again, you’ll earn between one and three stars depending on your performance, unlocking more games and earning points that reward you with pixel-art Miiverse stamps. The result may be identical in structure, but it’s more enjoyable simply by dint of the 12 games featured.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is the obvious standout, and a timely reminder not only of what a marvellous game it is, but of the debt owed it by recent Mario titles. It needs little adaptation to fit: the sheer variety of its stages means it can comfortably host 16 multi-part challenges without feeling like it’s been anywhere near exhausted. Tasks range from coin collecting to hitting P-blocks, flying sections to swimming sequences, boss battles and auto-scrolling airship levels and more besides. It also offers a glimpse at the Mario ideas yet to receive a contemporary update: we’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Post-It note on a wall at EAD Tokyo, with ‘Frog Suit?’ written on it in kanji.
Both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 make an appearance, and it’s the undervalued reworking of Doki Doki Panic that fares best. The Lost Levels stages are fine, but highlight the conservatism of the original Japanese design. Its western counterpart was perhaps less of a risk at the time than it would be now – indeed, it’s hard to imagine such a radical change to the Mario formula these days – but its challenges are among the most entertaining and creative here. Its dozen trials suggest Birdo is a character Nintendo would do well to revisit; in one particularly inventive twist, this unusual opponent becomes an unlikely ally.
Punch-Out!! is NES Remix 2’s surprise package, though there’s perhaps not enough of it. It’s essentially the game’s campaign in miniature, a crowd-pleasing highlights reel of Little Mac’s pugilistic career, all two-minute TKOs and perfectly-timed uppercuts. Other games adopt a similar approach: on the face of it, Metroid doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to this piecemeal delivery, but developer indieszero smartly incorporates all of Samus Aran’s weapons and abilities, from wave beams to shinesparks, and concludes with the face-off against Mother Brain and Aran’s subsequent escape.
Elsewhere, Kirby’s Adventure benefits most from a bump in difficulty, while Kid Icarus has aged surprisingly well. The perennial Dr. Mario and 1994 curio Wario’s Woods add a puzzling change of pace, and Zelda II is the weakest link in every sense. The remixes and bonus stages are never quite as outlandish as you’d hope, offering gentle iconoclasm compared with WarioWare’s rather more irreverent take on the classics, though away from the mini-games there’s a mirrored version of Super Mario Bros. to play through as Luigi. A special unlockable awaits for those who own the original: Championship Mode asks you to complete challenges from three of the featured games for a high score, which can be uploaded to Miiverse.
NES Remix 2’s superior selection of games means it should maintain your interest longer than its predecessor; only rarely will you curse the controls that mean the more exacting platforming challenges can be infuriating to master. And even then, the temptation to return for another shot at three-star glory is hard to resist, though it’s a pity that failure still doesn’t come with an instant restart button. Nintendo might struggle to find enough untapped NES classics to make a third game viable, but one senses it’s not done tinkering with its past. The 16-bit era beckons, after all, and the prospect of a SNES Remix is positively mouthwatering.