During what is likely to be the final Nintendo Direct of 2013, there were a few surprise game announcements. One of these was a bit more surprising than the rest, because it was available immediately after its announcement — NES Remix.
At first glance, NES Remix might just seem like a collection of NES games, but in truth it's more like a combination of WarioWare and Retro Game Challenge — there are no fully playable games here; instead, you are tasked with completing short, simple tasks in 16 different NES games within a set time limit, after which your performance is graded and you unlock further stages.
Shortly after starting and completing a fairly simple opening stage, you'll have seven game categories open to you: Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., Excitebike, Balloon Fight and Remix I. Each has its own set of levels which you have to work through — anywhere from around 15 to 25 each — which, naturally, get progressively harder.
Upon starting a level, you'll be presented with a certain objective, and then you've got a short period of time to complete it. Naturally, it's not as if each level only has one challenge, unless it's a very long one; most of them will have three or four in a row before you can move on.
The first few levels for each game are quite simple and give you a chance to (re)learn the game's mechanics, even going so far as to give you unlimited lives, but you'll quickly find yourself completing harder sets of challenges with a strict life limit, forcing a full level restart if you lose them all. Once you're past the first few levels, each game will start throwing you some interesting curve-balls — in one Super Mario Bros. level, for example, the whole game is mirrored so you move left, while in one of the Mario Bros. levels you control both player 1 and player 2 simultaneously.
For each level you complete, you'll get a rank, represented by a maximum of three stars. Collect enough of these and you'll unlock additional levels, as well as new games, each with yet another set of levels to beat. If you're super fast on a level, the stars you get will also be rainbow-coloured, adding some extra incentive to figure out the optimal strategy for every challenge. Completing levels will also earn you "bits" — essentially points by another name — which will unlock sprite-shaped stamps for you to use on the game's Miiverse community, a neat little extra.
While the game-specific challenges generally keep the same game mechanics and elements as the original games, the Remix category, which features levels based on all games, mixes things up a little with new features. One Excitebike-based stage, for example, has you driving in the dark with only part of the ground in front of you being visible. Elsewhere, a Super Mario Bros. level has you running through a level that has completely frozen over, making every single block slippery.
When you get even further, the Remix levels will even feature some "crossover" games, a Nintendo fan's dream come true — how about trying to beat the first level of Donkey Kong as Link, who can't jump? Or trying to play Pinball while the bottom half of the screen is filled with lava from Bowser's castle?
As you may expect, not much has changed about the audio and visuals of the individual games. Catchy 8-bit title screen and menu themes are about the only new things in the music department, and while the graphics have been polished very slightly (for example, sprites in Super Mario Bros. now all cast shadows) they're largely identical to the way they were over 25 years ago.
It would be simple to write off NES Remix as something only die-hard retro gamers would enjoy, but developer indies zero is really on to something here — the 200+ challenges are short enough to be interesting and fun to replay, but not long enough to outstay their welcome. The developer has even somehow managed to make challenges based on games like Urban Champion and Baseball fun to play, which is an achievement in itself. If you're the type who likes to relentlessly collect stuff, the stars and stamps will also keep you entertained for quite a while.
Perhaps if this becomes a success, we could see a sequel with more NES games, or even SNES games? One can only hope — but for the time being, this totally unexpected surprise ranks as one of the Wii U eShop's most engaging and downright enjoyable downloadable titles.