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Mr. Gimmick (NES) artwork

Mr. Gimmick (NES) review

"I've played some mighty weird games in my tenure here as a reviewer. One allowed you to swim through a sea of milk and featured an evil tapir as the final boss. Another placed you in the role of a blue blob whose primary line of offense consisted of projectile vomiting his nucleus at his aggressors. Still another game allowed you to grow a raccoon's tail and use it as a flying implement whenever you collected something so simple as a leaf. Granted, that last one turned out to be massively popula..."

I've played some mighty weird games in my tenure here as a reviewer. One allowed you to swim through a sea of milk and featured an evil tapir as the final boss. Another placed you in the role of a blue blob whose primary line of offense consisted of projectile vomiting his nucleus at his aggressors. Still another game allowed you to grow a raccoon's tail and use it as a flying implement whenever you collected something so simple as a leaf. Granted, that last one turned out to be massively popular on the worldwide scale, but I digress. I must admit that in my gaming travels, amid Flipulling orange blobs and ceiling-crawling Buzzy Beetles, I have not found a stranger experience than Gimmick, the crazy title of which is only the tip of a very spunky, exuberant, and energetic iceberg of trademark Japanese insanity.

Despite hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun, there is nary a pictorial symbol to be found anywhere within the confines of the game. The silent opening cinema tells all, revealing a story best described as a marriage between Toy Story and an alien abduction. It is a young girl's birthday, and she has just blown out her candles, made her wish, and received a squatty new green toy for her birthday. Night falls, and she is slumbering peacefully in bed. Her new green toy rests atop a secure shelf and away from the rest of her toys, which are crammed in a tight bin down below. All of a sudden, the old toys, already tired of playing second fiddle to the new birthday gift, revolt and whisk the girl away to a far-off floating fantasy island. Sensing danger, the new green toy on the shelf (to be referred to hereafter as Gimmick), waddles off his perch and transports himself to the island in order to save her.

One thing's for sure: if the girl's wish was for her old toys to riot and carry her away to Never-Never-Land and for her new toy to brave platforming exercises of insane difficulty in order to save her, she got it! (Apparently she was operating under the concession that it was more exciting than getting a pony.)

Whatever the ulterior motive, Gimmick is certainly not your everyday action game. The action begins on a floating island in an area lined with tubes designed to take you to new areas sheltered farther and farther below ground as you go on. You soon realize that holding the B button causes a star to charge up above Gimmick's head, and releasing B bounces it along the ground. This will serve as the only way to protect yourself throughout the entire game, although other more powerful variants come along here and there.

Gimmick's ultimate goal seems more like an afterthought than anything else. After a while, I forgot what the end result of all my efforts would be, and I started immersing myself in the journey and the characters themselves. Gimmick hosts an interesting melange of enemies, most of whom can be trod upon with no damage to either party, but who have a slew of attacks to injure your plush protagonist with. They hide in the most strategic of places, and even very early in, knowing how to guide the bounce of your star weapon and calculate the spring it needs to land a direct hit is vital. Enemies can often outmaneuver you and have new, stunning surprises up their sleeves, and you'll have to know how to combat this mixed bag if you want to get anywhere and have any fun with this game.

More than anything, though - more than the graphics, the sound, the slippery control, the fact that the character I was controlling looked like a melted jelly bean - I found myself paying a lot of attention to the way the levels were laid out. Uncommon, I know, but it bears worth saying that this is both the crowning achievement and the downfall of this game.

On the one hand, Gimmick's levels were obviously given a lot of thought. This much is apparent in the way they demand that you use Gimmick's methods of movement and odd little unique quirks to your advantage. Gimmick has a hard time on hills and often slips to the bottom of them before you can say ''caution wet floor''; naturally, there will be times when you must gain momentum using slick inclines to make longer leaps than normal. Gimmick also has the ability to push objects around; in the second level, he must ride a cannonball through the sky to a ledge that, if it were somehow possible to measure the distance in real-world increments, might be well over a mile away. It's not just a matter of hopping on the cannonball, buckling your seat belt, and preparing for a smooth ride; the obstacles you must first work around for the trip through the air to be a success resemble brain-busting puzzles more reserved for graphic adventures. Gimmick is a rare platformer in that it makes you think hard and long about not about what you're doing, but what you're about to do, and rewards those who consider the future consequences of their actions rather than operating and behaving in the moment.

In the same level, after toodling around on a moving raft and trying to dodge a parade of cannonballs raining down on you from the pirate ship's many portholes, you finally reach land. Although the situation requires that you make your little amorphous blob upwardly mobile, you can also go right to the edge of the island, which offers a splendid view of the shimmering waters past the ship.

Eventually, you break the trance induced by this singularly sublime moment and move on through the level. You've conquered the conundrum posed by the cannon and the wall, and worked your way around the level, and now you face a pirate boss who's eager to ensure that you walk the plank, ye scurvy squishy scallywag. The battle rages on, and the pirate, who is unusually relentless and aggressive for a boss at the end of the second level, pushes you ever closer to the tip, until finally you drown, mourned by no one, in the very body of water that just before moved you to pause your journey and contemplate the wonder of it all.

What goes around in Gimmick comes around. Everything comes full circle, albeit in a rather twisted manner, and it is both something to marvel at and retch at simultaneously.

Marvel at, for the reasons and examples I've already been bothered to provide. Retch at, because while seemingly ingenious, the design of it is also rather flawed. As you dig farther in, later levels are next to, if not downright, impossible. No amount of marathon Contra, Castlevania, and Mega Man sessions can prepare you for the sheer difficulty in Gimmick. You know by now and will learn for yourself early on that Gimmick does not handle well on sloped surfaces. Wait until you have to fight the third boss, a snail who crawls up out of the water onto the hill you must constantly keep at the top of so that he can shoot a highly injurious beam of light at you. Between jumping over or getting under that beam, measuring out the bounce of and determining where you will fire your shooting star weapon, and struggling to remain king of the hill, you could die a good 100 or so times in the thick of it.

And of course, repeat in heavier and heavier doses until your brain is fried. Action platformers are my main niche, and Gimmick almost made me embarrassed to consider myself good at them. I was thoroughly humiliated not only by bosses, but by brigades of nameless, faceless blobs flooding in from numerous directions. Enemies whose height would in real life not even extend to my knees gave me a senseless beating across all parts of my delicate green body. Needless to say, I didn't bother with beating the game, as it had already done the same to me tenfold.

Technically, Gimmick is as passable an 8-bit achievement as any other game out there, and actually has moments when you just want to pause the game, sit back, and look at it, as on the world map or on that tiny peninsula in the second level that looks out on the true blue ocean. The animé inflections don't seem so apparent as in many other Japanese games, but playing it, you can see where they got the impression that we weren't hardcore enough to sample their wares. Control is the worst part of the game by far; when you think you truly know what a struggle it is to hop between thin surfaces that require excellent reflexes and an unholy amount of mental willpower, you still don't know. All manners of surface seem to have an agenda against you, and the D-pad stands by it and laughs the laugh of the damned at you all the way.

I had fun with Gimmick for the short time that I played it, as it was reasonably original with that spark of genius there to keep me going for a little while. Unfortunately, Gimmick doesn't have the fun factor required to support the initial impression you get from it once the quest kicks off. I stated earlier that the game is basically an amalgamation of Toy Story and the hilarious tabloidesque articles about those crazy extraterrestrials, but the game has neither the charm of the former nor the tacky faux glitz of the latter. It's cute, but that outward façade belies the dark malevolence within. I've sweated my fair share of bullets fighting off alien hordes with a spread gun, but it confuses me and loses the thrill when I'm a green beanbag telepathically channeling a shooting star being bombarded by little black circles.

If the blinding sheen of the 8-bit glory days has (for you) been reduced to a dull, rusty stain, you might want to look into this idiosyncratic platformer for blessed assurance. It starts out with a warm feeling like a bowl of oatmeal or the side of the pillow your face stays rooted in all night, and it's a lie to say that it's not at least a mildly pleasant feeling. When it wears off and starts to take on the tepidity of bath water though, stop playing immediately and file it in the part of your brain that archives so-so gaming experiences.

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Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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