NES Remix is the video game equivalent of a family vacation photo album. If you went on the trip, the snapshots in the album might bring memories of happy times flooding back. But if those photos don’t represent a cherished part of your past, they probably won’t have any effect on you. NES Remix serves up a bunch of bite-size moments from Nintendo Entertainment System games, and if you played and loved those games when you were younger, those positive associations can make playing these nuggets a warm, fuzzy experience. But if you don’t bring that nostalgic context to NES Remix yourself, playing the game will feel like looking at a stranger’s cherished family photos.
The Legend of Zelda is an enduring classic, one of the greatest and most important games of all time. In NES Remix, you relive many iconic moments from it. Your first task is simply to walk into the cave on the screen where the game begins and collect the sword from the old man who tells you that it’s dangerous to go alone. Grab the sword and the objective is done; you’re then whisked off to a screen infested with octoroks that you must slay. Then you restore your health at a rejuvenating pool, buy an item from a merchant, and enter a dungeon. If your memory can fill in the gaps in the experience, it can stir up some feelings of what it was like to embark on the game’s heroic quest for the first time. But on their own, these objectives aren’t interesting, and the disjointed way in which they’re cut out of the full game and presented without context means that anyone who hasn’t already played The Legend of Zelda won’t come away with any understanding of what makes this game so extraordinary.
Even though he was originally known as Jumpman when Donkey Kong was released, Mario wasn’t nearly as good at jumping then as he is now.
The same can be said of NES Remix’s handling of Super Mario Bros. For lifelong fans like me, stomping a goomba on World 1-1 is enough to fill my heart with nostalgic warmth. But it’s only because I have memories of many happy childhood hours spent running and leaping through the game’s eight worlds that such moments have this effect on me. Because I didn’t play Clu Clu Land as a kid, I didn’t feel drawn to the snippets of it that are included in NES Remix. And in the case of Ice Climbers, a game I enjoyed as a child, playing it here was frustrating; as an indiscriminating youngster, it never occurred to me how much of that game’s difficulty results from your character’s strange, irritating jumping arc.
Turns out Pinball on the NES wasn’t a great game.
In addition to gameplay challenges that are lifted right out of classic and not-so-classic NES games, there are “remix” stages that change things up in some way. A few are endless runner-style stages that have Mario running automatically through stages from Super Mario Bros, and your only focus is making sure he leaps over hazards and avoids enemies. Some are stages from Donkey Kong, but they replace Mario with Link, who cannot jump, which makes avoiding barrels and rescuing Pauline much more difficult. But most of the remix stages aren’t all that clever. One has you playing Mario Bros. upside down. Others shroud stages from Donkey Kong or Donkey Kong Jr. in darkness, an interesting visual twist that doesn’t actually make playing through those levels much more difficult.
At $15, NES Remix is a pricey piece of packaged nostalgia. For me, playing through these mini-challenges and unlocking new stages and new games was an enjoyable whirlwind tour of some of my fondest gaming memories. But then again, I’ve been on this vacation before.