The Anatomy of Games: The Game: The Sequel

When the original NES Remix came out, back in December or so, I referred to it as Anatomy of a Game: The Game. It almost felt like Nintendo took all those game design ideas I’d been writing about and turned analysis itself into a game. By breaking down old NES titles into their constituent components and making brief, standalone challenges of them, NES Remix showed why great old games (like Super Mario Bros.) work and why mediocre old games (like Ice Climbers) don’t.

The sequel arrives this week, and it too reveals some of the mysteries of how games work. But maybe not in the way you’d expect. NES Remix 2 shifts from black-box NES games to latter-day titles, and while those games are generally much better than the ones presented in the first Remix, they don’t work as well in this context.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my take on the game. The reality of reviewing games is that it’s a subjective process, and everyone brings their own biases and expectations into that process. When a game cuts so close to someone’s minor obsession, those expectations naturally rise. I loved NES Remix because it basically turned the concept of a tutorial into a game. And the moment I realized NES Remix 2 wasn’t clicking with me came with the “challenges” (that’s challenges, as in more than one) that consisted of sitting passively and watching a game attract mode demo. Suddenly, NES Remix 2 was guilty of the same crime so many contemporary works are: Stumbling over themselves with passive instructions and tutorials. Tutorials are a sign of timid developers… or, to be more fair, of developers who have learned the hard way that many gamers are just too lazy or stupid to bother with things like “discovery” and “paying attention.” Every time someone asks why Metroid can’t crawl, an angel weeps as it plays another protracted forced tutorial sequence.

Don’t misunderstand, here. I don’t have a sociopathic hatred of game tutorials. Sometimes they have a place – some game concepts simply involve such complex concepts that you need a tutorial. But Kirby’s Adventure? Not really. Yet here we have NES Remix 2 teaching you about Kirby’s power-ups not by giving you a string of mini-scenarios in which you have to devour a specific enemy and use the resulting skill to accomplish something, but rather by making you watch the attract mode. It’s boring, and worse, it’s counterproductive. It’s always better to learn by doing, but NES Remix 2 – a game entirely about learning by doing and earning shiny stars for it – can’t stick to its guns.

The attract mode demos weren’t the main reason I found Remix 2 slightly disappointing, though. That would be asinine; we’re talking two events out of hundreds. Rather, they were symptomatic of the game’s main issue, which is that the games it hacks into pieces generally aren’t served well by that approach. The Zelda II and Metroid events that span multiple screens of the game and involve tasks like earning enough experience points to level up just don’t map well to minigames. To trot out the ever-popular games-as-food analogy, some games are like a candy bar, while others feel more like a glorious gourmet meal. You can enjoy the candy bar as a light snack on the go; whereas the six-course feast demands you sit and enjoy it as a luxurious whole. Unfortunately, NES Remix 2 tries to serve six-course meals as if they were candy bars, and it doesn’t do the material any favors.

It’s still a lot of fun, though. I mean, I gave it four stars our of five, and I’m the site’s review curmudgeon. It’s just not on the same tier of quality as the original NES Remix, which I scored higher… and the score disparity would have been even more pronounced if not for Super Luigi Bros., which is a simple idea done brilliantly. But really, it’s the difference between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II – not The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III. One is a slightly less brilliant take on the subject than the other, and neither is a disaster. And I wear my biases on my sleeves.

3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Games: The Game: The Sequel

  1. I’ve been mentioning this around, but in light of Game Boy’s 25th and your new Alleyway video, do you think a Game Boy Remix might work to be more on par with the first NES Remix?

  2. I definitely agree. When it comes to learning how to play a game the fastest way is by doing, not watching the game play itself. Before the days of widespread Internet, GameFAQs, and Miiverse, we had to figure out how to shoot floors, bomb walls, and use missiles on red doors our own damn selves when we were “stuffed & don’t know where to go” in games, and that’s what helped us get better at playing them.

    And of course there are games that really could use in depth tutorials, too. Koei’s simulation games in particular are poor at explaining how to play them. I couldn’t understand half of what was going on in those until I looked up PDFs of the manuals online.

  3. Amusingly enough, I just started playing Kirby Canvas Curse for the first time (thanks again BEAT), and I am just blown away by how much it gives the finger to tutorials. Here I am in a time trial course based on a powerup whose use was never explained, not even in the manual. I’m just being asked to work out how to get around with it efficiently on my own, through virtue of having really limited ways to interact with the game! Brings joy to my heart.

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