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NES Remix review: Please rewind

The content of NES Remix feels like the sort of challenges players make up for themselves when they've cleared a game's traditional obstacles but still want to keep playing. This Wii U eShop game's focus isn't on telling a story or layering game mechanics over a linear set of levels – it's about making more tangible victories out of short-term goals that are comparable to self-assigned targets, like besting ten enemies without being hit or finishing a stage in a certain amount of time.

Unfortunately, NES Remix pulls from an underwhelming pool of games and almost never pitches ideas that ascend above the creativity that players have been imposing on themselves for years.

Gallery: NES Remix | 7 Photos

NES Remix builds its tests upon preexisting stages pulled from 16 different NES games, but there are also moments it alters significant mechanics to construct challenges that never could have existed in a game's original state; spawning decoy Koopas in the Super Mario Bros. arcade game, for example, requires more than personal restrictions to experience.

There are dozens of stages, the majority of which are grouped in sections dedicated to one of 12 NES titles like Ice Climber, Excitebike or the three Donkey Kong games. Stages are glimpses of levels from these games and offer the same characters and controls as their original versions. Players are awarded up to three stars based on how swiftly they overcome each challenge, which can range from sprinting through a level to popping every balloon in a round of Balloon Fight.

Many stages have multiple sections to them, with one chunk of time alloted for the entire effort. In one Donkey Kong level, players may have to fetch Pauline's umbrella in one section, hop over two barrels at once in another, and finally climb up to rescue Pauline for the stage's conclusion. Those that struggle with the time limit will be offered a continue, but using it will only award one star for the stage. While finishing a stage in a game's section unlocks the next one regardless of your score, earning stars will unlock stages for new NES games that are initially hidden. Hoarding stars is also the key to unlocking Remix stages.

While stages grouped underneath NES games use their assets conservatively, Remix stages play a bit more freely with their source material. Having players simultaneously control two Popos during an ascent in Ice Climber quickly complicates things, as does limiting a player's field of vision to a spotlight on their character in Balloon Fight. Forcing players to maneuver Mario when his run button has been glued down for a level dramatically changes the experience, and stages that tweak central game mechanics succeed in feeling unique and clever. Remix stages are where NES Remix gets the most comfortable with the idea of making new, interesting challenges upon well-tread ground.

That's where it falls apart, though. NES Remix's portfolio of ideas feels as tired and uninteresting as the foundation of games it's built upon. The goals in normal stages become grating lessons in repetition by asking for five more enemies to be stomped down without being hit, for 5,000 more points to be scored while only doing X, for Y to be accomplished in Z seconds. Even the Remix stages wear out their welcome quickly, commonly resorting to mirroring stages and obstructing the player's view with panning cameras or pixelated screens.

The potential to display unrestrained creativity with modified emulations of these classic games is grated away by a shallow depth of variety. NES Remix's immensely formulaic approach goes stale within 30 minutes, but pursuing every stage that's locked behind star gates takes closer to eight hours. That's made worse when the presence of Golf, Pinball and the smaller contributions from Tennis and Baseball are considered. As I plowed through torturous stage sets built on dated, clunky sports mechanics from the '80s, I longed to unlock sections dedicated to Kid Icarus, Metroid or Super Mario Bros 3, none of which are featured in NES Remix. Then I earned enough stars to reveal a stage from Urban Champion, the clunky street brawler that's better left alone in a dark alley.

If NES Remix's poor selection of games can be explained by its entire roster being individually available on the Wii U eShop, then the project should have been held back until a better selection was available. As if getting excited for the involved games wasn't difficult enough, NES Remix's ideas for challenges are repetitive and widely underwhelming. The arbitrary goals friends assign each other for games they've mastered are better than all but NES Remix's few fleeting moments of greatness, and that's genuinely disappointing when considering Nintendo's usual brilliance at reworking its history in enjoyable ways.

This review is based on an eShop download of NES Remix, purchased by the reviewer.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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