Gimmick! is one of the most valuable after-market titles for the Famicom, and even more so for the NES, where it only received a limited release in Scandinavia as Mr. Gimmick. Sunsoft, the publisher, was an unsung hero of the 8 and 16-bit gaming eras, with titles like Batman, Gremlins 2, Panorama Cotton, and Waku Waku 7 to its name.

Gimmick was director Tomomi Sakai's labour of love, appearing late in the NES’s life cycle. A lot of effort was put into its graphical quality and soundtrack as a response to the Super Nintendo’s emerging dominance. You play as Yumetaro, a small green creature who is accidentally gifted to a young girl as a toy. When she finds herself kidnapped to another dimension, Yumetaro decides to rescue her.

A platform action game, Gimmick is famous for two things beyond its technical feats: deviously designed levels that require clever use of physics properties, and an utterly brutal difficulty level. Its stages are designed to perfection, Sakai engineering their layouts with pitfalls that require both logical strategy and knife-edge reflex. It features six stages in total, but mastering it will take long-term dedication. For those willing to push themselves, a speed run mode has been included to record your times.

Although he can acquire one-time use secondary weapons, Yumetaro’s primary ability is his magic star projectile. This bounces forward, taking out enemies and bouncing off the scenery in an organic fashion. But, it’s the way that you can leap on top of the star as it pings back, riding it to out-of-reach areas, that defines the game. You often need to judge the star’s trajectory, seeing how it responds to various angles, before hitching a ride, and this takes a great deal of trial and error. The star acts as a means of attack, defence, and a method to uncover secrets throughout the game. The last part is key, because each Gimmick stage requires exploration to discover a hidden magic object that affords you several extra lives in accordance with a massive score boost. Should you acquire all six of these treasures without using any continues, you can reveal the true last boss and achieve the best ending. The hidden areas are puzzles within puzzles, requiring incredibly deft finger reflex just to have a chance of reaching them. Beyond the viciously designed platforming and enemy negotiations, using your head to seek out these magic items makes the game what it is, riding cannonballs in a true leap of faith just to see where they take you.

This special edition re-release is a fine port from BitWave Games, featuring achievements, art galleries, save state features, and a rewind function that really comes in handy when you need to learn a thorny section. All are very welcome additions, though the art gallery is a little anaemic and no CRT filter options is a tad disappointing. The presentation is fairly basic overall, but it gets the job done.

Switch-bendingly tough though it is, Gimmick is a salient example of what made the 8-bit era so wonderful: a razor-sharp, thoughtfully illustrated action adventure full of creativity and imagination. Just be warned that when people talk about 'old-school difficulty', Gimmick is a cut above what they usually have in mind, and to that end may prove frustrating for those unable to steel themselves to the challenge.