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NES Remix Review: What Took You So Long, Nintendo?

This collection of bite-sized Nintendo challenges is so fun and so obvious we're mystified that it's only now arriving.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Primary Reviewer Jeremy Parish

A few days ago, Eurogamer editor-in-chief Tom Bramwell observed that the Beyoncé-style tactic of dropping a completed album on the public without warning would be a welcome tactic for games publishers. Evidently Nintendo was listening, because two days later they gave us NES Remix, a game launched on eShop without a hint of advance warning.

At $14.99, NES Remix is even priced like a CD. This fact has clogged up a lot of the online discussion of the game. Look, like it or not, the sooner you come to terms with the fact that Nintendo openly refuses to race iOS pricing to the bottom, the sooner we can stop wasting time on stupid tangents about how games aren't cheap enough for you. Pricing is, as they say, what it is.

Besides, this game itself is no slapdash throwaway effort. Yes, it tosses a bunch of old NES titles into a cement mixer to tumble them into fragments and mash-ups, but developers Nintendo and indieszero have a lot of thought into how these disparate pieces work. I've seen comparisons to the microgames of WarioWare, and sometimes that's true -- some challenges consist of nothing more than performing the most rudimentary action possible, such as jumping a single barrel in a tiny slice of Donkey Kong or walking into a cave in The Legend of Zelda and grabbing a sword. This hardly represents the sum total of NES Remix, however, and eventually single challenges consist of much more complex tasks, like completing the final stage of a Donkey Kong game or running through a full level of Super Mario Bros.

No, what we really have in NES Remix is a distillation of the Nintendo design process, broken down into separate chunks. Nintendo's best games work so well because they teach you to play as you go; not coincidentally, the least entertaining sets you'll face here come from lesser titles like Ice Climber and Mario Bros.

I find NES Remix especially fascinating for entirely personal reasons. Over the past year, I've been writing a series of blog posts on the intuitive (and often unintuitive) design of classic games, many of which were made by Nintendo, and NES Remix is pretty much that project in video game form. The minigames here dissect titles like Donkey Kong Jr. and Excitebike, breaking their individual components into standalone tasks that grow progressively more complex, then bringing it all together with challenges that require you to synthesize and combine what you've learned. This is simply how the best games work, and all NES Remix does is show you what things look like behind the curtain by breaking each component of game design into a discrete event.

Harder than it looks.

But don't make the mistake of thinking NES Remix is merely an academic exercise. All of that is incidental to the fact that it's a fun, addictive collection of hundreds of minigames based on familiar properties. You don't have to care in the least about what makes video games tick, you just have to enjoy increasingly complex tasks of skill as you race to earn bragging rights. NES Remix grades your performance with one to three stars, with a secret fourth rank (three glowing stars) for truly superb performances. You also unlock stamps to use in Miiverse as you go along, just like in Super Mario 3D World; apparently stamps have become Nintendo's answer to Achievements.

Even this is all just window dressing, though. The reason you'll really keep playing NES Remix is the eponymous Remix mode, which you unlock by earning stars. As the name suggests, Remixes go the extra mile with these old games, applying tricky graphical effects and even smashing characters into new settings. You may be able to win a race in Excitebike, but can you do it in the dark with only your bike's headlights to reveal a portion of the track ahead? Can you beat the first level of Super Mario Bros. entirely in silhouette? Can you finish world 5-1 if it's suddenly covered in ice? The remixes constantly put surprising twists on familiar mechanics and situations, and while I haven't unlocked them all quite yet you'd better believe I intend to try.

The only question I have after playing NES Remix is, what took so long? This seems like it should have been an obvious project for Nintendo, so the fact that it's only now coming out is a little hard to believe. Well, OK, I do have one other question -- why is it only on Wii U? There's nothing here that couldn't have worked just as well on 3DS. This could have been a quick and easy way for Nintendo to experiment with a cross-buy, cross-save venture, but it looks like Sony still totally crushes Nintendo when it comes to platform synergy.

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Second Opinion Pete Davison

Until the SNES era, I grew up in a console-less household; all our family's gaming was done on Atari 8-bit and ST computers until then. Consequently, I missed out on a lot of NES games at the time they originally came out and consequently only had a passing familiarity with the most well-known stuff like Super Mario Bros.

Trying to go back to a lot of these NES games without the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia perched on my nose is difficult. I haven't bought many NES-era Virtual Console titles because I don't have much frame of reference for many of them and consequently am somewhat hesitant to spend money on them -- even though it's not much in many cases.

The challenges range from simple to "how the hell am I supposed to do that?" hard.

What NES Remix does, among other things that we'll get to in a moment, is provide a brilliant taster of a selection of NES games, both classic and... not-so-classic. Through the various minigames, you not only learn how the game's basic mechanics work, as Jeremy says, but you also get a pretty good feel for the game as a whole, too. It is, in many ways, the world's best demo -- and in fact, the game conveniently provides a link to the eShop so you can purchase the full Virtual Console versions of all 16 games should you find yourself particularly enjoying one.

It's more than that, though; it's a surprisingly sprawling series of gaming challenges that start off deceptively simple but gradually work their way towards demanding nigh-superhuman reflexes and skills. Fortunately, the game is paced so immaculately that by the time you reach the tougher challenges, you're more than capable of handling them. It is Nintendo's game design philosophy distilled down to its purest form, and a damned enjoyable game in its own right.

Totally, completely and utterly recommended. Now roll on Super NES Remix!

The Final Analysis

  • Visuals: What you see is what you get with this package of 8-bit challenges, though the remixes do some inventive and clever things with those ancient sprites.
  • Audio: Familiar, iconic music and sound effects will pluck at your hindbrain in the best way possible, though the newly remixed incidental tunes tend to be strident.
  • Interface: Pretty simple and straightforward, though it does continue the irritating Virtual Console trend of mapping NES buttons to the equivalent Wii U buttons (despite how awkward that proves to be) with no control customization. It's 2013, Nintendo. You forgot again.
  • Lasting Appeal: NES Remix offers hours' worth of mini-events, and the scoring system encourages replay for perfectionism. The one critical flaw is the use of Miiverse in place of proper leaderboards (as opposed to complementing them).

Simple, addictive, and incredibly replayable, NES Remix is one of the smartest games Nintendo has made in ages. No one in gaming (save perhaps Sega) owns as rich a back catalog as Nintendo, and this is a great way to rework all those musty black-box NES games into a form that feel palatable to a contemporary audience. It even manages to make Urban Champion kind of fun; truly, a Christmas miracle.

4.5 /5

NES Remix Review: What Took You So Long, Nintendo? Jeremy Parish This collection of bite-sized Nintendo challenges is so fun and so obvious we're mystified that it's only now arriving. 2013-12-19T19:00:00-05:00 4.5 5

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for kidgorilla #1 kidgorilla 3 years ago
    When you say that Urban Champion is made fun, do you mean that it takes you to the next challenge/game after you hit Start at the UC title screen?Edited December 2013 by kidgorilla
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  • Avatar for docexe #2 docexe 3 years ago
    On one hand, I think the concept of the game itself is a brilliant idea, specially coming from a company that’s often criticized for living on nostalgia. This is probably one of the most clever things Nintendo has done with their back catalog.

    On the other hand, the price do seems a bit high. Being fair, $15.00 USD has pretty much become the standardized price for digital games on consoles, but for a minigame collection based on old NES games… Mmmm… I don’t know, I think $10.00 USD would be more palatable.
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  • Avatar for garsh #3 garsh 3 years ago
    So much consequences! They'll never be the same!
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  • Avatar for sean697 #4 sean697 3 years ago
    Man the price should be no issues here. I would rather spend 15.00 on this than the VC games them selves. This takes some pretty unplayable NES games these days. (SOME not all) and breaks them down into small chunks that are quick and fun. This is like a retro games lovers dream come true. And the remix stages are great! Beat a Donkey Kong Level with Link where you can't jump?mSure why not. This is probrably the best way to experience most of these titles. Glad to see Nintendo doing so etching new and interesting with old IP.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #5 Mad-Mage 3 years ago
    Concerning the price, I'm embarrassed for those of you who would debate whether this game should be 10 or 15 dollars. Today, even those of us who make a pittance (myself included) have a huge wealth of great games to play for little to no money, making the "5 dollar debate" subjective and pointless.

    If anything, this game can be judged on whether it is worth one's time. And based on other reviews, I'm not sure it is. It sounds like there is a lot of wasted potential. I read that while some of the remix levels are really cool, most of this game's content come from bit-sized challenges that one already comes across when playing the actual games in question. Other reviews have compared it to busywork that merely makes you wish you were playing the actual games. I'd be interested to hear why someone such as myself who has spent significant time with several of the titles included in this game, would want to revisit such titles in bite sized form.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #6 Critical_Hit 3 years ago
    Is this Nintendo's first original downloadable console game? I know they've done stuff on 3DS eShop before, like Sakura Samurai or Pushmo. But is this their first for consoles?
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #7 Dogislander 3 years ago
    Aahhh, indieszero. You can do no wrong. You cheap bastards go out and buy this immediately and let Nintendo know that THESE kinds of enjoyable and creative endeavors are what the eShop was made for!! Gonna go play some more Retro Game Master now...
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  • Avatar for sean697 #8 sean697 3 years ago
    @Mad Mage I am such a person who has spent significant time in the past playing lost of these games. (Well not the sports ones.) it is definetly worth it. I would rather play this than go back and play the original games at this point. It puts a fun spin on them. And the remixes do new stuff with the games. Yes they are basically ROM hacks. But they are pretty cool. And the challenges and goals are fun and competitive. Plus the Mii versed integration is great.
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #9 pashaveliki 3 years ago
    @docexe I remembered paying full retail for Warioware and not regretting it. The amount of work put into this game and the amount of fun I am having with it makes the game well worth the asking price.
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  • Avatar for TPaulBuzan #10 TPaulBuzan 3 years ago
    Jeremy posed the question at the end of this review that dawned on my mind as I read: Why on earth isn't this on the 3DS?

    Of course, with the way this was released, who knows? Maybe we'll be playing NES Remix on the go this time next week!
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #11 The-Fool 3 years ago
    It's interesting to note that this is actually cheaper in Australia...

    It costs $13 AUD, which is strange, frankly, considering we normally pay a couple of dollars extra.

    Example: SNES VC Games in NA - $7.99
    SNES VC Games in AU - $10.40

    Well... maybe I'll pick this up someday.

    It's just that no one new what it was...

    It also isn't completely out of the blue... The Australian Classification Board let it slip a month ago.

    Link: http://www.vooks.net/nes-remix-appears-australian-classification-site/Edited December 2013 by The-Fool
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #12 Dogislander 3 years ago
    Also, can Parish make a sincere compliment that is NOT back-handed? The game is great, but do we REALLY need to harp on it not being earlier?
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  • Avatar for aros #13 aros 3 years ago
    SNES Remix would actually push me within 1 or 2 titles of buying a Wii U for £120.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #14 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @Dogislander This was a review, wherein a reviewer comments on the good and bad, not a warm huggy feel-good affirmation.
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #15 Dogislander 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Ugh. So reviews include partial judgment based on lack of prior existence? Getting quantum up in here...
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  • Avatar for docexe #16 docexe 3 years ago
    @pashaveliki Well, believe it or not, I’m something of a retro gamer and I actually don’t have problem paying premium for true classics on the Virtual Console (even NES games) or the PS Store.

    I think what bothers me the most about the price of this game is that (like somebody else pointed out), this are technically rom hacks of NES games, of which there are too many available for free online. That fact creates some cognitive dissonance of sorts in my mind regarding the price.

    In any case, if the entire package is as enjoyable as this review suggest, I might end up buying it once I finally get a Wii U.
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  • Avatar for Baleoce #17 Baleoce 3 years ago
    It's like an amazing mashup of Nintendo World Championships meets Wario Ware. I hope Nintendo explores this remix style further, as I think this is a great way of revisiting and paying homage to that generation of gaming.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #18 Mad-Mage 3 years ago
    @sean697 Thanks for your opinion, Sean. Maybe I'll give it a try if I have some spare time.
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  • Avatar for sean697 #19 sean697 3 years ago
    @docexe Thinking back, if you played New Super Mario Bros U, they had a challenge mode. Where you played 50 some odd challenges in the game and where awarded stars based on how you performed. They took specific parts of the game and added challenges, like stay in the air with the raccoon suit for 30 seconds. Or beat this stage in x amount of time. At the time someone on Miiverse said wouldn't it be cool if they did that with classic NES games? Well that's pretty much what they did. It is almost exactly like that. Except they also threw in the remix stages where they alter the original games or throw in something new(well they remix it, makes sense.) add some Miiverse integration and stamps to collect and that's pretty much this game. I definetly think they hit the price point right on for once. I am getting tremendous enjoyment out of my15.00. At twenty, it might be kind of pricey.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #20 Thusian 3 years ago
    Wow, the reviews of this are all over the place, from this which indicates its a thoughtful breakdown of the classic games to others which say its a cynical cash grab to flesh out the eShop.

    Fortunately when it comes to retro, I know to trust the Toastyfrog. I can't put it down and while it starts out simple, it does get tricky. Thanks for the insightful review from both of you.
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