Review: Ultimate NES Remix

UltimateNESRemix

Wii U owners have already experienced the retro-gasmic bliss of NES Remix (two times actually), but now the series of 8-bit microgames fashioned after old Nintendo Entertainment System classics has landed on the 3DS. A portable system is where this game belongs.

Ultimate NES Remix is a compilation of content from the two Wii U titles. Not all of the levels that appeared in those games are included, but the major parts are here, plus daily leaderboard challenge stages, dedicated online leaderboards for each level (friends and regional), a Championship Mode (dash through three stages to post an aggregate score against other players), and a brand new Speed Mario Bros. mode which consists of the original Super Mario Bros. game in its totality running at hyper-speed.

A total of 16 NES games are represented in the portable edition, including:

– Balloon Fight
– Donkey Kong
– Donkey Kong Jr.
– Dr. Mario
– Excitebike
– Kid Icarus
– Kirby’s Adventure
– Mario Bros.
– Metroid
– Punch-Out!!
– Super Mario Bros.
– Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
– Super Mario Bros. 2
– Super Mario Bros. 3
– The Legend of Zelda
– Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Unfortunately the 3DS version does miss out on a number of titles that appear in the Wii U iterations, such as Ice Climber, Wario’s Woods, Clu Clu Land, Urban Champion, Pinball, and various sports outings, but the big names are present, and that’s what ultimately counts.

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Anyone experienced with either of the Wii U games will know exactly what to expect as the gameplay makeup is the same on 3DS, but for newcomers Ultimate NES Remix can be summarized as iconic Nintendo games chopped up into tiny segments and then served up as bite-sized morsels of retro speedrun gaming. It has the microgame pacing of something like WarioWare, just without all the silliness. So instead of picking noses and pinching chickens, you must collect a certain number of coins, defeat a certain number of enemies while using a power-up like a Super Star or Fire Flower, pop a target number of balloons, find and open secret entrances around Hyrule, kill enemies until Link has collected enough Rupees to buy a specific shop item, slay a boss without taking damage, perform a wheelie for three seconds without crashing, score a KO or TKO in the first round, eliminate all viruses using a limited number of capsules, and so on and so forth. All to a running clock which determines your final ranking and leaderboard position.

Typically over within a matter of minutes if not seconds, stages consist of either one particularly tricky challenge or a quick-hitting sequence of different goals that must be completed in succession within a set number of lives. Using up all of the lives doesn’t automatically force you to restart from the very beginning, but from that point on, should you choose to continue, your performance grade is capped at one star for that run, regardless of how fast your completion time ends up being. Without exhausting all lives, up to three stars can be earned based on how fast a stage is finished. For some reason, though, the game does not delineate the completion time tiers, so when you’re stuck on two stars trying to upgrade to three-star status on a particular level it can be a little frustrating to not know precisely how many seconds need to be shaved off your previous best run.

Especially fast speed runs are honored with a rainbow star rating, but except for personal gratification and bragging rights there’s no in-game reward for the accomplishment. Piling up regular stars, however, is the key to unlocking new content. As set intervals of stars are earned, new stages and additional games become available, with the ultimate prize of a Famicom Remix bonus mode, which allows you to re-run every single one of the 250+ stages based on the original Famicom code of the featured games, waiting to be unlocked after snagging every last star. That’s a total of 762 stars to be exact. It took around 15 hours and a lot of retries, but I earned every last one. Thankfully the reward loop of regularly unlocking new games and levels to try out kept me locked in the whole time.

The fun really begins once you start digging into the new remixed stages. These begin as traditional stages with some type of twist, such as mirrored level layouts, stages that appear in Limbo-style silhouette, or backgrounds that blink in and out of visibility so navigation must be done from memory or completely blind. Before long, the worlds and characters of the different NES titles even begin to crossover. If you’ve ever dreamed of, oh I don’t know, besting Donkey Kong’s tower as Link, breaking bricks and collecting coins in a Mushroom Kingdom locale while playing as Samus, or defeating Bowser as Princess Peach in order to, ummm… rescue Princess Peach, this is the game that makes those fantasy mash-ups a reality.

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The nostalgia factor is through the roof, but it can also be a cruel mistress. Nintendo edited the levels into a bunch of little pieces, but beyond that none of the games appear to have been optimized from the original releases to perform better on current hardware. While fortunately that means there is no 3D or touchscreen gimmickry mucking things up, it also means you’re getting a bunch of games built on 30-year-old code, and a mix of poor controls and technical faults may destroy fond memories for a select few. After being spoiled by the advancements of modern platformers, re-acclimating to Mario’s floaty jumps and slippery momentum (in the original Mario Bros., the one before the word “Super” was added to the front) can be tough to stomach. More noticeably, the frame rate in Metroid can literally slow to a crawl whenever multiple enemies appear on screen at the same time as Samus attempts to move or fire, which is a killer in a speedrun format where precise timing and button response is crucial to posting a quick completion time. (Kirby’s Adventure has some frame rate issues as well, but to a lesser degree that is more manageable.) I hate to say it, but Samus’ debut in general hasn’t withstood the test of time very well; the controls just feel wonky. Excitebike is another game that isn’t all that interesting any more.

The 8-bit crustiness definitely shows through in spots, but the overwhelming majority of the games prove to be ageless wonders–the second and third Super Mario Bros. remain super-tight platformers to this day, Zelda 2 really was ahead of its time (it shows up its more highly revered predecessor here), and Punch-Out still holds strong as the best boxing video game ever if you ask me. Moreover, getting the chance to relive small moments of so many of these old NES favorites–even the ones that haven’t aged quite as gracefully–is what makes the whole package shine. Ultimate NES Remix is like a playable time capsule from the most influential era in gaming history. Fire up your 3DS’s wayback machine and enjoy the ride!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fast paced speedrun format is an even better fit for on the go snack gaming
+ So many NES classics represented in one package is a treat
+ Extensive online leaderboard system
+ Performance stars and well paced game/level/mode unlocks create an addictive reward loop

Cons:
– Certain games suffer from control and tech wonkiness
– Doesn’t have all the games from the two Wii U versions
– No reward for earning rainbow stars

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 12/5/2014
Genre: Retro Compilation
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!