Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Ethan looks back on a pair of Wii U games — and a 3DS sibling — which could help curious gamers navigate the Switch Online retro library if they were given a second chance to shine…
With each passing year, the well of Nintendo franchises that haven’t yet graced the Switch runs ever drier — and I couldn’t be happier. Now that juggernauts like Animal Crossing have had their time in the sun, the later years of the hybrid console’s life have made space for the return of all sorts of niche legacy IP, from Another Code to Famicom Detective Club. But while the Switch has proven to be an oasis for the lesser-known properties in Nintendo’s stable, there’s one particular unsung micro-franchise stuck on last-generation hardware that arguably has the most potential for a revival.
NES Remix is a title that may have flown under the radar for many when it was released on the Wii U eShop in 2013. The game does exactly what it says on the tin, taking a bunch of Nintendo-published games from the heyday of the NES and mashing them together into a compilation of bite-sized challenges. In essence, it’s a mixing of the wacky crossover element of Super Smash Bros. with the fast-paced, nostalgic zing of WarioWare’s 9-Volt stages. Suffice it to say, it’s a pretty entertaining premise — and one that we loved the execution of when we reviewed the first NES Remix back at the time of its release.
Despite the positive reception, this year marks a full decade since the last time the series reared its head with the release of Ultimate NES Remix in 2014. That sobering little factoid is enough to make many veteran Nintendo fans’ bones creak. The Remix micro-series currently sits in a complete state of dormancy, and its absence is all the more bizarre considering that it’s better suited for a Switch release than the prior systems. The key to success? Nintendo Switch Online.
Everything is done in service of letting the timeless fun factor of these retro games shine through for an audience that may have otherwise written them off as archaic and obtuse.
On their face, the outward appeal of the NES Remix titles stems from their creative spins on classic Nintendo IP, such as tasking 8-bit Link with scaling the first stage of Donkey Kong. But while these ‘remix’ challenges are undeniably cool, they only represent a thin slice of the package.
The true meat of the experience comes from the level packs constructed for each featured NES title. Every single game has its own series of challenge stages — self-contained gameplay snippets plucked from the original release. Levels can range from tutorial-style tests, such as having to dodge attacks three times as Little Mac in Punch-Out!!, to snapshots of iconic moments like the climactic battle against Wart in Super Mario Bros. 2.
These tiny, minigame-esque stages are where the true beauty of NES Remix lies. Through these levels, modern players are introduced to classic games in a uniquely approachable manner. Each series of challenges not only helps you grasp the fundamental mechanics of the title more than any ratty old instruction manual ever could, but they also showcase all sorts of interesting boss fights, secrets, and other tidbits. Everything is done in service of letting the timeless fun factor of these retro games shine through for an audience that may have otherwise written them off as archaic and obtuse.
As someone born years after the ‘80s Nintendo era, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this system. I never fully understood the mechanics or the appeal of titles like Excitebike and Donkey Kong Jr. until I experienced them through NES Remix. After that, I was eager to play more, and I’m confident that I’m not the only one out there who had such an experience. Unfortunately, that’s where arguably the biggest limitation of the series as it was presented on Wii U and 3DS enters the picture.
Sparking interest in old games is great, but the goodwill generated by the NES Remix games could only go so far when working in tandem with the Virtual Console model. While the option to digitally purchase classic Nintendo games à la carte is sorely missed in the current generation, it was ultimately a double-edged sword. Lesser-known games didn’t always fare well on the service, as they had to compete with far more popular releases like the Game Boy Pokémon titles for user funds. Let’s face it — even for someone who ends up having a ton of fun with Balloon Fight through NES Remix, shelling out five bucks for the full game on VC is a tough sell, especially with so many other big games on offer.
That’s where the Switch comes in. Through the advent of NSO, the barrier to accessing Nintendo’s legacy content is lower than ever. Pay a modest, single subscription fee and you can play a huge number of Nintendo’s legacy offerings, whether it’s something well-known like Metroid or a more niche release like The Mysterious Murasame Castle. Misgivings over the subscription model and lack of ownership aside, it’s a shift that encourages you to experiment with lesser-known titles instead of simply sticking to the big hitters.
Imagine a version of NES Remix … included as part of the NSO line-up with seamless integration for the legacy console applications.
At the same time, aside from save states and the rewind feature, these classic games are presented as they originally were, and the Switch’s NES library in particular might be difficult for newer players to jump into. That’s why a successor to NES Remix could be the perfect companion piece to NSO, operating as a digestible entry point to the world of old-school Nintendo and giving you a chance to familiarize yourself with past releases before trying out the full versions.
This concept could encompass quite a few of the legacy systems included in NSO (the long-awaited SNES Remix, anyone?), but it would undoubtedly be the most impactful with the 8-bit catalog — a slate of games that is often overlooked in favor of more recent consoles like the Nintendo 64.
I’m willing to bet that a new NES Remix would be quite a hit, provided that it’s positioned correctly. Titles like Super Mario Bros. 35 and F-Zero 99 have proven that there is still an audience for revamped takes on some of Nintendo’s earliest titles, so long as they’re intuitive and accessible. Imagine a version of NES Remix that adopts a similar strategy, perhaps being included as part of the NSO line-up with seamless integration for the legacy console applications. Not only would it be a great entry point to the classic library, but it could be yet another feather in Nintendo Switch Online’s cap.
Based on Nintendo’s public statements over the past few years about its account system, it seems likely that NSO is here to stay for the foreseeable future. As that library of old games continues to steadily balloon, the idea of a curated introduction to that wealth of content is a more appealing prospect than ever. Thankfully, Nintendo doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel on this front — the return of NES Remix is all it needs to make those old games shine like new.