NES Remix 2 review: Once more, with feeling

Trial gauntlets like the NES Remix series have a tough balance to strike. They need to nail their core concept – in NES Remix's case, slicing classic games into brief, enjoyable challenges – but they also need to be compelling enough to keep players from saying "I wish I was playing the original." That's exactly what I was saying through all of the first NES Remix, which haphazardly chopped a few of my childhood favorites into anguishing mini-game collections and paired its hack job with a mediocre game selection.

NES Remix 2 is different, though. Instead of making me fumble with dated controls and wonder if anyone truly finds the NES version of Pinball enjoyable in the modern age, NES Remix 2 mostly recalls the highlights of the NES. Exchanging the likes of Clu Clu Land and Wrecking Crew for games like Punch-Out!! and Kirby's Adventure feels like a massive upgrade, and even the inclusion of NES Open Tournament Golf doesn't diminish that.
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NES Remix 2 (04/21/14)

Remix 2 pulls 12 games from the NES library and breaks them into brief, sometimes multi-stage challenges. Whether players are gathering 20 coins in Super Mario Bros. 3 or practicing medicine in Dr. Mario, there's always a timer running in the background, waiting to award a star count based on how quickly a stage is conquered. Rainbow-grade ratings return as the highest achievement a player can earn, though they feel a little easier to obtain this time around. The more stars a player amasses, the more content they unlock, ranging from challenges to new games and even extra "Remix" stages.

While the majority of Remix 2's stages present brief, unchanged portions of original games, Remix stages carry twists, which can be as simple as a swapped background or as interesting as blending mechanics from two different games into one challenge. Remix stages in the original NES Remix quickly ran out of ideas, but Remix 2's batch is more creative with its ingredients. Defeating the Whispy Woods tree in Kirby's Adventure feels more stressful with a wall of Mario's gigantic Boos closing in on the pink puff, and using Toad to pluck-n-chuck Zelda 2's Octoroks as if they were vegetables feels strangely natural.

Even ideas shared by both Remix games – like covering a Mario stage in slick ice – seem to have been given more effort in Remix 2. Both carry the same wintry landscape, but Remix 2 adds seasonal bells to Mario's overworld theme and steeps little mounds of snow on the shells of marching Koopa Troopas. It's a subtle change, but it's easy to appreciate and reflective of Remix 2's upgraded offering.

The normal challenges generally feel better this time around, too – aside from initial stages meant to convey each game's controls, there are fewer stages that play like short, jarring blips of classic games and more that emulate genuine portions of that gameplay. Being allowed to clear a full screen of match-3 clutter in Wario's Woods or fight through extensive stretches of Kid Icarus' skies allowed me to properly enjoy the source material. In Remix 2, it feels less like the controller is being slapped out of your hands after three seconds of play, and that irritation's absence is more than welcome.

Your highlights are no longer reduced to a completion time, either: Full replays of the fastest finish for each challenge are available in Remix 2, paired with a display of the exact series of button inputs used to create each moment of glory. It's a nice touch that keeps you from having to sell some of your greatest moments to friends and Miiverse users verbally – now you can simply show them. There are side attractions too, like the Championship Mode that mimics the competition found on the rarest NES game, Nintendo World Championships. A mirrored version of Super Mario Bros. is also available in Super Luigi Bros., which has players take turns running to the left as Luigi, but these feel like short-lived distractions from the main focus.

Remix 2 is more of a fine tuning than a revelation, but its tweaks turn a style of play that used to frustrate into a nostalgia trip that asks to be played both alone and with others. Challenges tend to strike the right balance of brevity, the game library is varied and mostly wears its age well, and the Remix stages offer a much more interesting and enjoyable bag of tricks than before. Dedicating a full round of stages to NES Open Tournament Golf feels a bit much though, and there are occasional stages that feel more like padding than anything worth returning to. Still, NES Remix 2 feels like a step forward on most fronts, which almost seems more like a long jump considering where the series started.

This review is based on an eShop download of NES Remix, provided by Nintendo. Images: Nintendo.

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