Mr. Gimmick
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Sunsoft
  • Publisher:
    • Sunsoft
  • Released:
    • JP 01/31/1992
    • UK 05/19/1993
Score: 80%

This review was published on 10/30/2016.

Mr. Gimmick, known as Gimmick! in Japan, is a side-scrolling platform video game published and developed by Sunsoft for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on January 31, 1992, Scandinavia on May 19, 1993, and Asia in 1994. The game was going to be released in North America, but like U-four-ia: The Saga, Sunsoft's American division did not approve of its release due to the quirky character designs. However, the Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine still reviewed the game in the United States, and a prototype of the North American version eventually leaked online many years later. The sole company to import the game at the time of its release was a Swedish distributor named Bergsala, and even then, they only sold a small quantity of it to the Scandinavian market. Back then, 16-bit systems like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo had already been out for a few years, so companies had little interest in distributing 8-bit NES games. Further adding insult to injury, this game had a negative critical reception, as most magazines at the time were fairly dismissive towards 8-bit games in favor of the more attractive 16-bit titles. All this resulted in poor sales. That's a tragedy, because this is easily one of the best NES games.

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When you boot the game up, you'll get a glimpse of its story. It was a young girl's birthday, and as most parents would, they gave her a gift. She opened the present to reveal a small, cute, green toy named Yumetaro. This new toy quickly became the girl's favorite, causing her to neglect her other toys. Feeling unloved and abandoned, the girl's other toys decide to kidnap her in the middle of the night, whisking her away to some other dimension. Yumetaro witnesses this horrible act and embarks on an adventure to rescue his new owner. The story is presented in beautifully drawn still images. There's no text to be had here, so you don't have to worry about any language barriers. In the event that you don't care about the story, the whole sequence can be skipped with the press of a single button. The story is short, simple, and wastes little time in conveying the player's objective; exactly as it should be for a platform game.

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This is easily one of the best looking games on the NES. The sprites are small but detailed and well animated, the foreground graphics are sophisticated, and the backgrounds are varied. Many of the backgrounds also contain animated segments, like rotating gears. The color palette is so vibrant that this almost looks like a 16-bit game. This visual style is very reminiscent of another amazing looking NES title released in 1993 called Kirby's Adventure, but this game came first. Speaking of comparisons, your death animation looks awfully similar to Mega Man's. Is it a reference or a coincidence? You decide. There's also plenty of variety to the environments: you've got forests, beaches, caves, deserts, castles, ruins, and more. The artists really outdid themselves with this one.

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The music of this game is also outstanding. The soundtrack is comprised of many different genres, like pop, acid jazz, fantasia, dramatic hard rock, and jazz fusion. Many of these musical styles weren't commonly heard in NES and Famicom games. Masashi Kageyama, the composer for the game, described the soundtrack as a "compilation of game music," and he wanted to "take what people generally considered to be the sound of the Famicom, and kick it up a notch." That he certainly did. Naohisa Morota was responsible for the sound programming, and Kageyama referred to Morota's work as "profound," as it helped in making the music sound more like a live performance. The Famicom version of the game uses a custom Sunsoft chip within the cartridge to provide three additional channels for music and sound. However, if you're playing the Scandinavian version of the game, the music will be slightly downgraded, because the European NES lacks the necessary hardware to utilize the special audio chip within the game's cartridge. Either way, the music's awesome.

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As with most NES games, the d-pad moves the little green guy around and the A button makes him jump. Holding down the B button for a bit will cause him to form a star above his head. Once formed, releasing the B button will toss the star forward, causing it to bounce around the environment. This is his primary means of attack, as the star will harm most enemies it comes into contact with. However, if you're skilled enough, you can also use the star to reach higher ground. Accomplishing this requires that you jump onto the star while it's in motion, which is much harder than it sounds. Mastering the trajectory of Yumetaro's star attack is a big part of the game's challenge. Other than that, the controls are fairly precise, so whenever you die, it's usually your fault. And die you shall, because despite its cutesy graphics, this game is rock hard. The European version of the game starts you off with eight lives instead of four, though, so it's slightly easier.

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Yumetaro can obtain helpful items while on his quest. Some will be automatically used on the spot, like potions that restore lost health or extend your maximum life meter, but others will be stored in your inventory for later use. You're allowed to hold up to three items at a time and can switch between them by pressing down on the d-pad. Similar to Castlevania, actually using the items is done by pressing up and B at the same time. As for what most of these items are, there's a fireball that travels in a straight trajectory, making it easier to aim than your star attack, and a bomb you can drop onto unsuspecting baddies. Another item, the pink potion, will fully replenish your life when used. All these items add a tiny bit of strategy to the game, which is cool.

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Even though it resembles a Kirby game, the level design is closer to Castlevania. All the stages are intricately designed and incredibly challenging. First timers will definitely die countless times on each stage. Unlike Castlevania, much of the challenge is due to the physics, which are pretty advanced for an NES title. Momentum plays a huge role in this game, as you skid a little whenever landing from a jump, and slopes make you slide around like crazy. Jumping after a long slide will launch you quite far, and this can either help or hinder you. There's also Castlevania-like knockback, so getting hit will often push you into death pits. While the game is insanely difficult, it's never unfair. Even when it pulls something borderline cheap, it'll still make you feel like it's your fault. For instance, stage one has this platform you ride on that places you over a spike pit. When it gets right in the center of the pit, the platform opens from beneath you, dropping you right in. It's hard to see this coming your first time through, but it's almost as if the game was warning you that something devious was about to happen, and you still fell for it, quite literally.

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Most enemies are aggressive and have surprisingly good AI, as they'll chase you around the environment, even going so far as to jump over pits to do so. They rarely miss those jumps, too. While you can't defeat enemies by jumping on them, you can harmlessly stand on the heads of most baddies, riding them around in a silly manner. Signs of the game's polish can be seen from all the little touches put into its enemy design. For example, stage two has these enemies with spiked shells that look similar to the Spinies from the Super Mario Bros. games, and you toss a star into them to flip them over. Once on their backs, they'll wiggle their little feet helplessly in the air, and if you jump onto their feet, they'll gently push you off like a conveyer belt. It's pointless, but adorable.

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At the end of every stage awaits a big boss. If you paid attention to the introductory story sequence, you'll recognize these bosses as the jealous toys that were in the girl's room. Anyway, like most of the game, fighting bosses comes down to properly making use of your star attack. You'll have to carefully calculate the trajectory of your stars to make sure they bounce their way to the boss. Slopes also tend to come into play here: there's a giant snail boss that shoots lasers out of its antennas, and you must knock it down a slope without slipping off yourself. Every fight is different. One boss will challenge you to a sword fight aboard a pirate ship, except you don't have a sword. He can deflect your stars with his sword, so you have to hit him where he's vulnerable. Interestingly, if you get through his stage fast enough, you'll find this boss sleeping on the job, allowing you to push him off the edge to earn an instant victory. Easter eggs like this show that a lot of love and care went into this game.

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In order to reach the true final stage and get a shot at the good ending, you have to acquire special objects hidden all throughout the game. There is one special object per stage, and they're usually extremely difficult to get. Often, you will have to deflect a star off a wall and then quickly get on top of it to reach hard-to-reach areas. Sometimes you'll have to solve basic puzzles, like pushing a cannon and then riding on top of the cannonball it fires. You may even need items like bombs to gain access to some of them. On top of obtaining all the special objects, you have to beat the game without using a single continue. If you beat the game without meeting the requirements, you'll get an unfulfilling ending and be sent right back to the beginning to try again. While this does add replay value, it's honestly expecting too much of the player. Simply completing the game is hard enough.

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Great graphics, majestic music, consistent controls, stunning stages, big bosses, devious difficulty; this game hits all the right marks. The only real issue is that the requirements for the true ending are too unforgiving, plus the game will likely be too hard for most people to bear. Still, this is top quality stuff. While the game went unjustly ignored at the time of its release, it now gets a lot of recognition from those within the retro gaming community. Lead designer, Tomomi Sakai, jokingly remarked that "The game took 10 years for people to appreciate it." Late is better than never, I suppose.

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