Game Picks: ‘Ultimate NES Remix’

In the “NES Remix,” the games of the past are boiled down to bite-sized challenges.
In the “NES Remix,” the games of the past are boiled down to bite-sized challenges.

Nintendo knows its strengths. Long after the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo systems, the Nintendo name remains synonymous with Mario, Link, Samus and the rest of a very famous flight of 30-ish-year-old protagonists. As such, it’s no surprise that it has come up with a way to make those original games playable once again.

“Ultimate NES Remix” (3DS; $29.99; Rated E) is every bit the nostalgia trip you would expect it to be, finally on a system that makes sense.

In the “NES Remix,” the games of the past are boiled down to bite-sized challenges. These challenges tend to last around 30 seconds, and success in the challenges nets you a certain number of stars, based on how quickly you were able to succeed. In practice, what this means is that in, say, “The Legend of Zelda,” you are plopped in a dungeon room with a boss and told to “get the next Triforce fragment!” Beat the boss and run to the next room and you’re done – complete with a time and a star or three to show for your work.

Gotta get those stars

The star system is extremely reminiscent of the Rovio method of mobile gaming, most famously done in the “Angry Birds” series. Just as simply knocking out all the piggies in “Angry Birds” means progress but not necessarily mastery, simply “getting through” these challenges isn’t enough to let you off the hook.

You’ll come back to redo the challenges as fast as you possibly can, all for the sake of that sometimes-elusive third star (or even the three “rainbow stars” if you’re a speed demon who mastered these games 30 years ago).

While it’s neat to play some of the best bits of the old Nintendo games without having to push through the boring parts, what’s particularly fun is the “Remix” and “Bonus” levels the game provides. Playing a Mario level in silhouette, or playing a “Donkey Kong” level or two as Link (who can’t jump), is both familiar and disconcerting. The Remix levels are the new experiences here, and they have an awful lot of appeal for the nostalgia buff who has played all these games too many times to be surprised by their challenges.

A few drawbacks

If there’s disappointment to be found here, it’s that the features exclusive to the 3DS version of the game seem a bit tacked on. “Speed Mario Bros.” is exactly what it sounds like: “Super Mario Bros.” – just three times as fast. Also exclusive is a “Famicom Mode,” a way to play the original Famicom versions of many of these games. While this is an interesting inclusion, only the most dedicated will see it, given that you need to three-star everything else to unlock it.

Everything else on this cartridge has been done before on the Wii U. While playing these games on the Wii U was surely fun, it’s almost strange that we haven’t seen this series show up on the 3DS until now, because the “mobile game” feel to these challenges is undeniable.

The bite-size “one more try” style of play seems like it would be as suited to the iPhone as it would a dedicated system. Perhaps this is Nintendo’s way of testing the waters for the mobile experience that everyone seems to think Nintendo should embrace. Or perhaps it’s just a way of acknowledging that boiling down these retro games into quick little bits is the best way to introduce them to a modern gaming audience.

Regardless of the motives, “Ultimate NES Remix” offers many hours of fun at what amounts to a bargain price – at least as far as 3DS games go. If you have any inclination toward 8-bit gaming, it’s worth every penny.

New this week: “Splice” (PS4, PC, Mobile) is a puzzle game where you turn cells into structures, which sounds like a perfectly peaceful, quiet experience for a cold January. If you’d rather shoot something, “Resident Evil” is back with an HD remake (multiplatform) that puts a fresh shine on one of the original survival horror experiences.