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Mr. Gimmick (NES) artwork

Mr. Gimmick (NES) review


"Mr. Gimmick (also known as Gimmick! in the original Japanese version) is a creative NES platformer that few people have ever heard of. Strangely enough, the only place outside of Japan where the game saw release was Scandinavia."



Mr. Gimmick (also known as Gimmick! in the original Japanese version) is a creative NES platformer that few people have ever heard of. Strangely enough, the only place outside of Japan where the game saw release was Scandinavia. Who knows why North America and the rest of Europe were skipped over entirely? As if that weren’t odd enough, the game also came out in 1992, at a time when the Super Famicom had already been available for two years. Judging by the overall quality of the game, I suspect a combination of ambitious development and licensing issues prevented wider availability for Mr. Gimmick.

The game’s storyline is simple enough. A green doll (who looks a bit like Bub the dragon from the Bust-A-Move franchise) is given to some little girl as a present. Her other toys become jealous of all the attention the new toy is getting and, somehow, create an entire fantasy world before trapping her inside of it. I like to call that one the “Reverse Narnia.”

Mr. Gimmick’s main, er… gimmick, is the star that you use as a weapon. The player-controlled character can summon a star out of thin air and then hurl it toward the ground at a set angle. For most of the game, this is your only means to attack enemies, a fact which sharply distinguishes Mr. Gimmick from many other NES platformers. This game does NOT let you overcome obstacles by randomly firing bullets; each attack must be calculated, and sometimes, outright evasion is the wiser choice. The star’s set trajectory forces you to think carefully about how to dodge, manipulate, or defeat the hordes of enemies the game throws at you.

Mr. Gimmick asset


Pesky monsters aren’t nearly as challenging as the levels themselves, however. There aren’t very many stages in Mr. Gimmick, but each one is intelligently laid out and lots of fun to navigate. Most levels offer an alternate path or two, with all of those paths converging at the same endpoint. For instance, the desert-themed section has a large antlion at the bottom of a quicksand trap with platforms above it, making it seem as though the creature is only there to punish players for falling. Destroy the antlion, though, and you’ll reveal a whole new section of the stage waiting beneath it.

Each level boasts a few secret areas, many of which require a certain trick to access. There’s more to the star’s angular bounciness than its use as a weapon: you can also ride it as a vehicle. If released after a jump, a star will deflect even farther upward, allowing the player to control how high and far the star bounces. In other words, anytime there’s a spot that seems impossible to reach, the solution is probably to jump onto a moving star. This technique can also be used to bypass some of the more annoying enemies and, with some practice, to complete sections of the levels outside of the intended order.

At the end of every stage is an equally creative boss. These are all of the toys that kidnapped that little girl in the first place. The battles with these enemies feature some refreshingly quirky elements: one boss is napping and will attack as you approach, but if you reach him quickly enough, his alarm clock won’t have gone off yet and he’ll still be asleep. Some of the bosses can also be frustratingly difficult, at least until you learn their patterns.

The final stage, for some reason, is by far the least interesting. Collecting all of the hidden items (one per level) will unlock a new location that occurs after the area that otherwise serves as the “last” one. The secret area features a different final boss and you’ll be rewarded with the “true” ending when you complete it. Unfortunately, this stage is uninspired and flat, especially compared to everything else in Mr. Gimmick. The boss is some sort of miscellaneous sword-wielding guy, totally out of place with the rest of the game’s cutesy animals and toys. His inclusion might have made sense if he were supposed to be an action figure, but there isn’t any indication of that. It’s strange that the developers saved the worst for last, but on the plus side, this is the only place you aren’t required to play through in order to finish the game.

Mr. Gimmick asset


In any case, beating all the required stages is still a significant achievement, because this game is HARD. Don’t let the adorable graphics and cheerful soundtrack fool you. Mr. Gimmick is not for people who lack dexterity or who have a history of anger management problems. It might seem like a weird comparison, but in some ways, this game feels a lot like the first Castlevania. In both cases, trying to brute force your way through a stage leads only to humiliating defeat. All of the enemies are positioned in ways that exploit the character’s weaknesses and require a level head to overcome. Unlike Castlevania, however, Mr. Gimmick features smooth and responsive controls that give you more than enough maneuverability to deal with its challenges.

Unfortunately, as with many NES titles, Mr. Gimmick’s high difficulty level is also a tool for masking its length. The game is quite short if you know exactly what to do and where to go. Its diminutive length is definitely its worst aspect, but the developers clearly prioritized quality over quantity. Each level is packed full of content, and the small amount of total gameplay doesn’t detract from the game’s outstanding visuals and music (for the NES).

Speaking of which, it’s not hard to believe Mr. Gimmick was released at a time when the focus was on SNES titles, because it sure feels like one. Visually and aurally, this game pushes the NES to its limits. The graphics are sharper and more detailed than is probably necessary to depict the adventures of a little green doll in a fantasy toy land. Mr. Gimmick’s soundtrack is well-composed and suited to each area’s mood, but on top of that, it actually has an enhanced audio chip. The game’s modified cartridge allows for higher sound quality than nearly all other NES titles. Unfortunately, non-Japanese NES consoles aren’t equipped to read this extra data set, so the soundtrack on the Scandinavian version is less impressive.

One final note about just how much attention to detail went into Mr. Gimmick: accumulated points actually matter in this game. Killing enemies sometimes yields bombs or health potions, but this doesn’t happen randomly. Item drops are triggered when the tens and hundreds digits of your point score are the same. Also, certain actions build up your points in predictable ways, such as jumping on a pterodactyl’s head over and over, so if you’re paying enough attention you can actually manipulate which enemies will drop what, and when. It’s this sort of thorough, inventive spirit that allows games like Mr. Gimmick to retain their appeal 21 years after they’re released. I think it’s aged very well.

Rating: 8/10

Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (March 02, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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