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Ultimate NES Remix (3DS) review

Ultimate NES Remix
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £30
inc VAT

A great trip down memory lane, but an over-reliance on old Mario games prevents it from really digging deep into Nintendo's rich history


Available formats: Nintendo 3DS

By today’s standards, NES games are perhaps the most intimidating bits of software in Nintendo history. Known for their extreme difficulty, occasionally wonky mechanics and their emphasis on throwing players straight into the heart of the action, only a select few have managed to withstand the test of time to become real classics in their own right.

This can make the rest of the NES library a bit baffling to someone who’s never played one before, but when you actually break each game down into its core essentials – running, jumping, fetching, etc – they’re really not that scary any more. Of course, this is hard to do when playing a game in real-time, but in the safe confines of Ultimate NES Remix for 3DS, you’ll soon feel like you’ve been playing these games your entire life. By distilling each of its sixteen titles into short, sometimes seconds-long tasks, it acts as a brilliant introduction to several NES games you may have never got the chance to play before.

Ultimate NES Remix screenshot ^ When Super Mario Bros turns to ice, Mario becomes a lot harder to control

However, you will have played them all before if you bought either of the NES Remix games available on the Wii U, as Ultimate NES Remix is more like a greatest hits compilation of those games than a brand new title in the series. This doesn’t leave much for returning NES Remix fans, but for those who are new to the series, this is easily the best entry to go for.

At its heart, Ultimate NES Remix is essentially one big beginner’s guide on how to play a Nintendo game. There are hundreds of stages to choose from, and you’ll still be unlocking new ones even when you’re several hours in. This gives the game a great sense of progression, and it’s more-ish, bite-size structure makes it hard to resist the temptation of playing just one more stage in order to see what’s on the horizon.

Ultimate NES Remix screenshot 01^ Samus is on auto-pilot for this stage, so the only control you have is when and how far she spin-jumps

Or at least it does when you’re playing one of your favourite games. Other, less popular titles such as the original Mario Bros, Excitebike and Balloon Fight don’t have quite the same staying power as more established games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda II and Metroid, for instance, as their simpler premises often don’t lend themselves well to being strung out over several different courses. As a result, they quickly become quite repetitive, but even some of the so-called classics fall victim to this as well. The sheer overindulgence of original Super Mario Bros courses, for example, just goes to show how badly that particular entry in the series has aged.

However, Ultimate NES Remix isn’t simply about teaching you the basics at your own pace. This is ultimately a game about speed and high scores, so the faster you complete each task, the more stars you’re awarded at the end of it which lets you unlock more levels at a faster rate. Occasionally stages will give you a single goal (get to the flag pole in World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., for example), but most have three or four objectives threaded together, often following a similar theme. For instance, one level in Metroid asks you to collect a missile upgrade. Then you’ll have to use said missiles on an enemy in the second part before using them on a special door in the third. Others task you with reaching the end of a level without sustaining any damage, while others require you to collect a certain number of items before the clock runs out.

They’re all relatively simple objectives on their own, but when time is of the essence, you really begin to appreciate just how finely crafted some of these old games really are. The arc of each character’s jump will become etched in your brain; you’ll know the pixel limitations of each individual ledge and platform, where you’ll fall and where you can jump, and you’ll be able to trace the perfect through-line of each stage with expert precision.

Ultimate NES Remix screenshot 03^ Both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr stages make an appearance in Ultimate NES Remix

In this sense, Ultimate NES Remix is also a beginner’s guide to speed-running, which is the practice of playing through a game as quickly as possible, with or without cheating through the use of in-game glitches. Naturally, there are no such shortcuts available here (although we were surprised to see a few frame rate issues still persisting in certain stages), but anyone who really wants to test their twitchy fingers will definitely enjoy Ultimate NES Remix’s other main mode: Speed Mario. Bros. This is the original Super Mario Bros sped up to insanely fast speeds, providing a fun, if somewhat throwaway spin on one of Nintendo’s oldest titles.

However, for all its ability to capture Nintendo games in their purest form, Ultimate NES Remix is ultimately a very straight set of mini-games. Even with the added pressure of a time limit, it completely lacks the kind of frantic, nervous energy that powers each WarioWare game and failing to complete a task often left us feeling more frustrated than exhilarated. The fact that some stages feel the need to highlight your particular task in a bright yellow circle also shows just how obtuse some of the solutions were on the NES, as there’s simply no logical way to work them out when they’re presented in isolation.

Ultimate NES Remix screenshot 02^ In one of the Remix stages, you’ll be tasked with completing World 1-1 in silhouette

We also think it’s a shame that the titular Remix stages are so few in number. These are far more inventive than the main game entries, and they present several games in a completely new and more engaging light. Admittedly, Mario tends to hog the limelight in most these Remix stages, which rather restricts the amount of variety on offer, but there are still a fair few featuring other characters to help break things up.

For example, a particular favourite of ours involved swapping Mario for Link in the original Donkey Kong. Link, of course, can’t jump, and taking away this core component of the game completely changes its structure. Those ladders that were once simple shortcuts to reaching your goal suddenly become your entire life line as you try and dodge the incoming barrels, and it presents a clever twist that really makes you think hard about your surroundings.

In the end, though, a large part of Ultimate NES Remix’s appeal will rest on how much you enjoy playing for high scores. For once you’ve got the maximum score of three rainbow stars, there’s little incentive to return to those stages unless you want to earn a place on the new regional leaderboards or beat one of your friend’s records. The game’s over-reliance on Mario also prevents other titles from shining their brightest, as many of these are arguably more interesting (and genuinely better games) than the vast majority of what the red plumber has to offer. If you haven’t played either of the previous NES Remix games, then there’s certainly plenty of content to keep you entertained, but we feel Ultimate NES Remix lacks that extra spark of breadth and imagination to become a true 3DS classic.  

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