As I prepared to head off on vacation over Christmas, I found myself perusing the Nintendo 3DS eShop for games I might have missed. It was there that I unexpectedly came across Ultimate NES Remix—a game that I had loved on the Wii U.
A compilation of NES Remix and NES Remix 2, Ultimate NES Remix includes challenges from Donkey Kong, Excitebike, Super Mario Bros., Kirby's Adventure, and a dozen more games from the Nintendo's storied 8-bit catalog. In condensing the series into one package, it loses more esoteric releases like Ice Hockey, Urban Champion, and Ice Climber, but nevertheless manages to feel like the strongest collection yet. This is the game everyone envisioned when the first NES Remix came out just about a year ago.
It finds a great home on the Nintendo 3DS. With challenges lasting less than a minute apiece, NES Remix feels like it was made for handheld devices. Not concidentally, I mostly played the Wii U versions on the gamepad while the TV was occupied. In going mobile, the challenges—which range from killing seven enemies while invincible to landing a jump in Excitebike—quickly become as compulsive as anything you'll find on iOS or Android. And if you get bored messing around in Super Mario Bros., there's always Donkey Kong or The Legend of Zelda.
Putting aside the addictive quality of the challenges—getting three stars is almost compulsive once you really get going—I like the way that they serve almost as a supercharged tutorial for the games themselves. I often take my knowledge of NES games for granted, but that's because I grew up with them. For many younger gamers, the 8-bit era might as well have taken place during the Cretaceous Period, the NES having ceased production well before many of them were even born. Ultimate NES Remix is a valuable gateway for these newcomers, serving as an introduction to what you might call the classic literature of gaming.
But even for older gamers like myself, who spent endless Saturdays developing the muscle memory required to beat Super Mario Bros., Ultimate NES Remix can be a valuable resource. For instance, you might be surprised to know that I never really knew how to play Excitebike until now. The few times I played it growing up, I always wiped out on jumps without really realizing why. It wasn't until Ultimate NES Remix that I realized that you have to level out your bike in the air; which, I know, duh, but when you're six-years-old and just learning to speak the language of videogames, it's not necessarily something that crosses your mind.
I've since discovered that I actually really like Excitebike—a game that I had never really even thought about until now. It's a feeling that also extends to Donkey Kong and Zelda II, both of which I mostly missed during their heyday. Make fun of me for missing out on these classics if you must, but I know I'm not alone. When you're growing up and you only have a $10 allowance, it can be pretty tough to play every game the NES has to offer, especially with the likes of Excitebike being long gone from the stores by Christmas 1990, which was when I (finally) got an NES.
Granted, most of these games have been Virtual Console for a while now, making it easy to brush up on gaming history for as little as $4.99. But while it's true that nothing can replace the experience of playing the actual game, I still find Ultimate NES Remix preferable in some ways. Its presentation, for example, which includes a nice border that hides the outdated aspect ratio as well as some of the more annoying technical flaws (like the persistent line found on the border of the Super Mario Bros. 3 ROM). The sharp graphical overlays also contrast nicely with the 8-bit sprites, in turn making even the likes of Balloon Fight feel modern and accessible. It's these sort of touches that make me wish Nintendo had continued with their 3D Classics updates.
In any case, Ultimate NES Remix has done a phenomenal job of entertaining me over the course of numerous rides on trains and planes, serving as a kind of chaser for deeper and more taxing experiences like Suikoden II and Persona Q—the other two games that have comprised the bulk of my gaming on this trip. That's what I mean when I say that it's the Nintendo 3DS' secret weapon. In this age of digital distribution in which its possible to have dozens of games on a single device, it's nice to have lightweight, easily digestible games to go along with more nourishing adventures. Ultimate NES Remix is a great example of the former.
For that reason, I consider Ultimate NES Remix an essential download on the Nintendo 3DS. Whether or not you grew up with the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong, it provides a great opportunity to revisit some of the best games ever made, all of which are well-suited for play on the road, on a plane, or while watching TV. It took a year, but Nintendo's clever mix of classics has finally reached its full potential.