Nintendo has become so practised at repackaging its old games and selling them to us across multiple formats that the general response whenever it happens seems to be one of quiet acceptance rather than irritation. This is just how Nintendo operates, we muse, as we roll our eyes, sigh gently and pony up for Super Mario Bros 3 for the fifth time. At first glance, NES Remix would appear to be another example of Nintendo cashing in on nostalgia, exploiting our affection for how games used to be. Or perhaps it’s simply a cheap and cheerful way of filling some of the empty space in the increasingly sparse new releases section of the eShop.
In truth, neither assumption would be entirely fair, although it’s true that NES Remix assumes a degree of fondness for the games it features. Instead, it’s something akin to a ROM hacked WarioWare, a quick-fire cutup of 8bit classics structured similarly to Nintendo’s brilliant microgame series. It’s equally reductive in one sense, honing in on the individual interactions that made these original designs so pure. But its challenges aren’t Pavlovian tests of memory and reflex – they’re a little meatier than that. So as Mario you’re asked to head for the flagpole, to grab coins as Bullet Bills fly past, and to defeat Goombas, Koopas and Bowser. As Link, you’ll bomb walls, avoid enemies and locate Triforce pieces without taking damage.
A timer ticks down each time, an added pressure on top of already testing tasks, and the result is often outrageously compulsive. You’ll unlock new stages, but two stars out of three always feels like a failure, not least when you realise there’s a further goal for true mastery: three rainbow stars. As with Pokémon, catching ’em all can feel mandatory at times. And then there are the Remixes, which blasphemously transform Super Mario Bros into an auto-runner with Luigi in the starring role; or recast Link as the hero of Donkey Kong, who’s a little trickier to topple when you can’t jump. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to complete a goal while the display zooms outward, the image repeating across the screen as the action grows more distant and the task ever more difficult.
And yet as expertly crafted as many of its individual challenges are, NES Remix is also something of a missed opportunity. The best games are available from the outset or soon afterwards, and the unlocked ones are progressively more dispiriting. Only blinkered die-hards or masochists will greet the words ‘Now you can play stages from Urban Champion’ with anything but a groan. The likes of Mario Bros and Ice Climbers have aged badly, the pair neck-and-neck for the dubious honour of worst jump in a Nintendo game. Golf and Baseball are here, but Metroid and Super Mario Bros 3 are inexplicably absent. The cynic in you may conclude that they’re being held back for NES Remix 2, and then you’ll wonder whether or not deliberate omission is a more palatable explanation than oversight.
After a few hours of joy, you’ll likely come to realise that the goals have grown progressively less inventive – or perhaps it’s merely that your interest in them has dwindled with each creaky new addition. Apathy becomes your greatest barrier to progress, that early desire for perfection having long since left the building. It’s a reminder that, while some classic designs never age, others were built as ephemeral pleasures; they were never designed to stand the test of time, nor to hold up to the close scrutiny NES Remix exposes them to. What began as a celebration ends with nostalgia’s bubble being cruelly pricked.