Ultimate NES Remix – 3DS

Uh...I don't think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Uh…I don’t think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Question: If you could go back and fix or improve a classic video game, what would you change? Would you add save points to Castlevania? Give more experience per battle and an MP magic system in Final Fantasy? Extra stages in Super Mario World? Put Mega Man in the Adventure of Link? Or would you instead chop the game up into tiny bits so as to focus on minute, mundane tasks that have no relevance without the context of the full game, making them so pathetically easy that a comatose lemur could earn a 3-star rating for each challenge? I’ll give you one guess which option Nintendo chose for their Ultimate NES Remix.

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

With every new significant advance in video game technology comes an inevitable onslaught of ports from systems that had less computing power than my living room carpet. Nintendo develops the SNES and gives us Mario All Stars, Playstation devises a 32-bit disc based console and Namco immediately releases Pac Man for it, a move later followed by Midway Arcade Treasures for the PS2, and now that we have an awesome hand-held system with WiFi communications and 3-D technology without the need for glasses, Nintendo has decided that among all it’s remakes and ports of N64 games, it would give us the option of regressing all the way to the 1980s, but only in 30-second intervals with challenges less entertaining than most tutorial stages. No, If you must know, I didn’t exactly fall in love with this game. In fact, this sort of regressive nostalgia and half-assed attempt at creativity merely reinforces my decision not to buy a PS4 and comes dangerously close to forcing me to get up off the couch and go outside. But that would take too much effort, so let’s see what the game has to offer.

NES5Ultimate NES Remix contains selections from 15 well-loved Nintendo masterpieces and also Balloon Fight (a game that forces me to retract my statement about Joust from a few weeks ago: it didn’t need more variations of game play to make it worth playing for more than five minutes. It just needed to not control like a stack of Kleenex in a hurricane). Each game has between 6 and 25 miniature challenges, such as asking Samus to cross a room without taking damage, having Pit battle Medusa, or Link to find a secret entrance. However, while challenges sound like a lot of fun, Ultimate NES Remix hits their target about as well as a dart player on a carousel.

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

First, no matter what challenge you undertake, your score (from one to three stars, and on random occasions for no apparent reason, stars with rainbow outlines) depends entirely on your time. If Samus has to cross a room and enter a door, for example, you could opt to deftly weave through a crowd of monsters like a high-class thief stealing a diamond in a room full of lasers, but that might take time, and even if you got to that door, you’d probably get a lower score than the player who imagined themselves as Mongo from Blazing Saddles and just hopped in the pool of lava and waded across, hitting the goal on the verge of death. I enjoy timed challenges once in a while, but games that constantly hold me to a tight schedule just takes away the option to stop and smell the fire flowers. (an act I imagine would bear a strong similarity to snorting Tobasco) Dead Rising 2 timed everything, and that game completely took the fun out of beating heads and hacking limbs off zombies.

Second, who cares if Mario picks up the fire flower? If the challenge ends before you get to indulge in some freelance arson, the goal could have just as easily asked Mario to jump to a block, or walk forward, and it would have entertained just as much. One challenge put Link in the 2nd Quest dungeon room with the old man who offers, “Leave your money or your life,” with the instructions that you need to choose the latter and sacrifice one of your heart containers. The entire point of forcing a player into that decision depends on living with the consequences, but the game doesn’t ask Link to do anything afterwards, so we don’t have to consider our sacrifice, and whether or not we’d rather give up that blue ring we’ve saved up for, or if we want to bleed a little and tough our way through the rest of the game. And we didn’t have to go through an entire game to get to that heart container, or Samus’s screw attack, or Mario’s frog suit, so when you get these items, the level of satisfaction you receive almost reaches that of a hand job while under the effects of sodium pentothal.

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Finally, I may have employed an undue level of generosity by using the term “challenge” to describe the tasks Ultimate NES Remix asks of you. If you’ve ever learned to ride a bike, at one point an adult probably touted their implicit level of trust, claiming they would never consider letting go of the bike while you pedaled, and–of course–let go, thereby shattering your eternal trust in them in exchange for the knowledge of how to balance precariously by your genitals on a knob of hard rubber moving at thirty miles an hour. Well, Nintendo, rather than letting go of the bike like most parents would to prove that you won’t fall over, instead puts on an extra pair of training wheels, then straps you to their back and rides the bike for you. As the challenges rarely last more than 30 seconds, they have a difficulty akin to poking a dead raccoon with a stick. In fact, a few of Link’s challenges, such as “find the secret entrance!” begin mere moments after he has set the bomb or cast the fire that will reveal said entrance, and if the game feels you can handle it, you only have to walk him into the newly revealed secret. Sound too hard? Don’t worry. The game imposes a bright yellow circle over the goal and often includes a yellow arrow pointing to it.

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

So knocking out three stars in each category didn’t take a whole lot of effort, so I thought, “Why not?” Well, I suppose I also had to consider Anne’s family reunion happening around me, and thought the game would give me an excuse not to talk to anyone. but still, I took a few days and earned each star in each challenge. I believe–although don’t quote me on this–that earning stars opens up more challenges for play, and that you also open up the truly remixed levels, but once I received all stars in each category, I opened up a new mode of play, the “Ultimate Famicom Remix”! Awesome! I know they made major changes when they brought these games to the US, so maybe I’ll get to experience their original difficulty levels, or play Doki Doki Panic instead of Super Mario Bros. 2.

Instead, I can sum up all the noticeable differences as follows:
1. Text in The Legend of Zelda reverts to original Japanese.
2. You can only pick up the trophy in the Adventure of Link by stabbing it.
3. Pit doesn’t fly automatically during his fight with Medusa
4. At the end of Kid Icarus, Pit no longer stands against a Grecian backdrop.

…”Congratulations! You’ve just mastered the art of classical piano and performed at all the major world concert halls. History will revere you as a virtuoso musician…now this note here sitting between the lines? We call that ‘C’…”

Exploit the glitch!

Exploit the glitch!

So I bought the game because the back of the box looked interesting, showing a stage in Super Mario Bros that ran from right to left instead of left to right, and Link climbing Donkey Kong’s scaffolding. I should, in all fairness, point out that Ultimate NES Remix does include three unlockable categories of actual remixes, for a total of 75 challenges, but like the rest of the game, you can’t play any of these long enough to enjoy them. Seriously, Nintendo…I have an SD card the size of a toenail clipping that stores 32GB of memory. If you want to swap out some graphics and data in a handful of 300KB roms, at least have the decency to give us the option of playing the entire fucking game. And that full version of SMB you gave us that plays at double speed? Yeah…I’d rather just go play Sonic the Hedgehog.
For my money, the true “Ultimate NES Remix” remains Super Mario Crossover, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Go play that.

(If they change the link…you can still Google the name)

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Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out – NES

11 Seconds and not dead. A personal best.

11 Seconds and not dead. A personal best.

This week, my Intro to College students turned in a paper on racial assumptions, proving that after drawing specific attention to a problem, a small minority of people will run to the nearest construction site and jam their head into the wet cement just for the extra layer of thickness it provides them. The pride they take in sticking to even the most backwards, offensive beliefs inspired me to write about my own favorite piece of unintentional racism: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.

A rose in his teeth. Because he's from Spain, see?

A rose in his teeth. Because he’s from Spain, see?

Now, when I say “unintentional racism,” understand that I may exaggerate that somewhat.  Sure, we can attribute the Spanish guy’s flamenco dance to a cultural flavor. And when the Indian fighter warps in and out of the ring like a fakir, I can even chalk that up to an accidental stereotype put in the game by people who probably don’t believe that all Indians charms snakes and breathe fire.  However, the French boxer goes down without a fight.  The French guy. Someone had to have thought that one through.  But hey, props for having the foresight to change the name “Vodka Drunkenski” to “Soda Popinski.”

Pseudo-Japanese Gibberish at its finest.

Pseudo-Japanese Gibberish at its finest.

But I can more effectively fight racism by ridiculing it than raging against it, so I can’t help but laugh at Punch-Out’s lack of political correctness.  So while I can enjoy its horribly offensive racial overtones, I can also admit that I actually really enjoy the game.  This NES remake of the 1984 arcade game tells the story of Little Mac (a pun on McDonald’s “Big Mac” and the fact that the character appears much smaller than his opponents due to the system’s graphical limitations) as he battles his way through the world of championship boxing.  Standing in his way, a host of caricatures riddled with tics, tells, and glaring debilitations gather from around the globe to brutally abuse a guy less than half their size.  Real-life boxer Mike Tyson appears as the final bout and major publicity stunt of the game.

Tyson graced the 8-bit ring for three years before his contract expired and Nintendo replaced him with the fictional “Mr. Dream.”  Unfortunately, while his name successfully sold this game to the public, his likeness takes the championship belt in the boring-personality division.  The rest of the game feels like playing through a cartoon (one of those old, 1930s cartoons that embarrass their creators so much that no one shows them on TV anymore).  Introducing a real-life figure just toned back the game for its final fight.

If you've ever played the game, this should offer some catharsis.

If you’ve ever played the game, this should offer some catharsis.

Now stop and think about what that means. Mike fricken’ Tyson made the game less absurd.  If you don’t understand how ridiculous that sounds, flip over to Wikipedia and read just the introduction for Tyson’s page.  Remember when he bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear?  The guy lost a boxing match for being too violent.  And if that doesn’t do it for you, go to youtube and look for a clip of him speaking.  The man practically sweats colored ink.  Still, in 1987 he hadn’t yet done any of the things that made him infamous (well…except speaking like a drawstring doll), so I guess I can forgive his lack of personality compared to the Convention of Racial Misunderstandings.

Nevertheless, I still rank him very high on the list of most challenging boss fights in any video game.   And yes, the NES-era difficulty surfaces in yet another one of my reviews. More on that later.

You might ask by this point, “Jake, why would someone like yourself, with an athletic aptitude to rival Stephen Hawking, want to play a game about boxing?” Easy; for the same reason I want to operate on tumor-ridden patients in Trauma Center.

To everyone of Pacific Island heritage...I'm sorry.

To everyone of Pacific Island heritage…I’m sorry.

It wouldn’t exactly take a call to your psychic friend’s network to realize that this year’s Madden, Fifa, MLB, and NBA games will wind up sitting in Gamestop next year at this time, not selling at an understandably exorbitant price of $0.99.  Sports games sell well, but don’t last.  They’ll never last as long as people can go outside and actually play the sport.  The games feed off the excitement of real-life changes to rosters reflected electronically, but the people who play them rarely feel possessed to archive their old games for scholarly research.

Not nearly as bad as his role in "Captain N: The Gamemaster"

Not nearly as bad as his role in “Captain N: The Gamemaster”

Punch-Out, on the other hand, only displays the skin of a sport game.  When you examine the gameplay mechanics, it actually forces the player to solve puzzles.  Each opponent has a handful of attacks, each with one or two weaknesses to exploit.  Discovering the trick to counterattacking takes repetition and thought, while actual sports rely on speed and perseverance.  You can’t beat a single one of these boxers with luck or button-mashing.  Repeatedly tackling fight after fight forces the player to try new combos, but with the simple moves available–left and right punches either low or high, dodge, and a special attack only available after pulling off a special combo move that the developers arbitrarily chose as worth awarding a star–it doesn’t take too long to figure these out.

The NES-era difficulty does detract from the game slightly. Most opponents have some sort of barrage attack they’ll eventually whip out like a flasher’s penis, and much like the case of the flasher it begins frantic attempt to get away and the shocking realization that I can’t dodge fast enough to save my ass.  Little Mac doesn’t have the freshly-loaded-vending-machine play control that made NES hero Simon Belmont so famous, but I feel that somewhere along the line, someone should have sat down with him, pointed out his diminished reaction time and tendency to move immediately back into the area currently swarming with giant fists, and suggest to him that a career in professional boxing might not actually suit him as well as he thinks it does.

One too many blows to the head, though.

Seriously...for years I thought this is what Turks looked like.

Seriously…for years I thought this is what Turks looked like.

Even using save states, the game took me days to finish, but I hold by my choice to cheat as I honestly wanted to experience full extent of the work people put into it.  I’d never even heard of “Sandman” or “Super Macho Man” as Punch-Out characters before (yet somehow everyone knew the code to warp straight to Tyson), but they added an oddly non-exploitative color and interesting puzzles to the game.  Granted, if I had played it the way they intended, I could fight for years and never get good enough to face off against them.  The game allows two free beat-downs from an opponent before it decides it made a mistake and sends you back to the previous fighter.  Well, good for Little Mac, but he already proved he could beat that guy. He needs to practice pounding the other racial stereotype for a while, but Punch-Out doesn’t give you such an option.

I rather enjoy it, though.  Yes, it makes me a terrible person to find humor in racism, but I do.  Punch-Out came out at a time when intercultural sensitivities hadn’t found their way into mainstream education yet, or maybe they did but no one thought to check something as fringe as a video game for political correctness.   Fortunately, no one would ever think to remake this for a modern system like the Wii.

Oh wait….