My thoughts go out to all those Nordic kids who found Gimmick! under the tree on Juldagen (eh, Christmas) back in 1993. All these kids probably circled this new NES platformer in the toy shop’s Christmas catalogue. It came so late in the life cycle of the console that kids who were still playing the NES must have been attracted to it. Little did they know that this game, with the incredibly cute, green, and wholesome character on the box art, would provide them with a real challenge.
Sunsoft Japan, the developer and publisher of Gimmick!, had a hard time convincing its regional branches to publish the game outside of Japan. Sunsoft of America found the main character too weird and scrapped it from its publishing calendar. Not many distributors in Europe felt the need to publish it either, except for Bergsala, the Scandinavian distributor for Nintendo and its publishing partners like Sunsoft.
They released the game as Mr. Gimmick in small quantities across the Nordic countries, making it an obscure and sought-after holy grail for retro game collectors in the PAL area. A quick check at Video Game Price Chart confirms that the current price of this game in the PAL collectors market is still around €1000. As an avid collector myself, I’ve only seen the game at collector fairs, most of the time locked behind glass cases.
Now, Bitwave Studio has acquired the rights to publish the game on current-day consoles, partnering with City Connection, known for their porting of Cave and Psykio shooters, to handle the port and additional features.
The original NES version of Gimmick! truly embodies the trademark Sunsoft qualities that I adore in their late NES era releases. The controls are excellent, the sound is amazing, and Tomomi Sakai, along with his fairly large development team, implemented some very interesting mechanics into the game.
Technically, Sunsoft and the team went all out with Gimmick! and its cartridge in order to provide a reason for the vast Famicom install base in Japan to continue buying 8-bit games, even as the 16-bit Super Famicom was three years on the market already. The game introduced a new tile placing algorithm that freed up memory to allow for more sprites, granting level designers greater creative freedom. The cartridge also featured an additional sound chip, empowering composer Masashi Kageyama to make full use of Sunsoft’s exceptional in-house composer tools. Thanks to the additional chip, the game’s score reached a level on par with early 16-bit video game music.
Horned little monster
In Gimmick!, you play as Yumetaro, an adorable little green monster with a yellow horn on its head. The story unfolds on an unnamed young girl’s birthday, a special occasion when her usually busy father can finally spend time with the family. Earlier, he had gone to the store to buy a new toy for his daughter. Meanwhile, Yumetaro had been wandering around the toy store and got startled when the girl’s father entered. Seeking shelter, Yumetaro hid among stuffed toys that resembled itself but ended up being chosen by the girl’s father.
When the girl unwraps the gift and discovers Yumetaro, she becomes absolutely delighted. Yumetaro becomes her favorite toy, causing the other toys to feel neglected and unloved. One fateful night, the toys magically come to life and whisk the girl away to another dimension. Among the toys, only Yumetaro remains, and determined to find her, it embarks on a journey to follow them.
In this dimension, Yumetaro has the ability to cast a star with the help of its horn. This star bounces around the screen, and the game’s physics allow you to manipulate the bounce by how you throw the star. This is integral to defeating bosses and reaching hard-to-reach power-ups. Yumetaro can use the star to attack enemies, use it as a platform, or ride it to reach normally inaccessible places. Additionally, Yumetaro can pick up vales of a certain color, which can be used to cast a bomb or ball or restore health.
Tough as nails
Gimmick! has a reputation for being extremely difficult, and man, I certainly had moments of a borderline nervous breakdown. The stages themselves are relatively manageable once you invest enough time to train yourself. You need to take it easy and execute the necessary plan for each platforming section and not rush. However, the difficulty ramps up significantly with the bosses. These cute creatures are relentless, showing no remorse as they shoot at you. They are out to kill you, preferably as fast as possible. And if that isn’t enough, the boss stage environments often present additional threats as well. Such as slippery slopes or pits, further intensifying the challenge.
Ninety percent of casual gamers would call it quits right at the first boss. luckily, the additional features City Connection added to this package, makes it way more accessible. You have three save slots at your disposal, allowing you to save your game freely at any moment. Additionally, you can rewind the game using the left trigger. These features provide the option to train yourself to overcome the challenging parts or correct mistakes that deplete your life bar, enabling you to face the boss at full strength. After completing the game, the next goal is to challenge myself not to use the rewind button. For my third run, I want to disallow myself from using the save states as checkpoints. Once you grasp the game’s mechanics, it becomes more manageable. However, even with these features, the game still becomes excruciatingly difficult at certain moments. It’s driving me to near insanity.
Polish your Swedish
Along with these nice added features, the game also includes scans of the original manuals. However, since the game was only released in Japan and Scandinavia, these scans are not very useful for providing actual gameplay information if you can’t read the languages. To understand the mechanics, I had to do quite a bit of Googling. Additionally, City Connection added achievements and a Time Attack mode with leaderboards, making it a nice complete package overall.
Despite the great port and the added extras, it feels like the core game is struggling under the weight of the Sunsoft legacy and its status as a collector’s holy grail. It seems like the difficulty was significantly increased in a later stage of development to compensate for its lack of levels and short playthrough time. A well-experienced player can complete a run in 20 minutes once they’re trained. This unbalanced difficulty feels very uncharacteristic of Sunsoft. In my humble opinion, Gimmick! falls short compared to other Sunsoft classics like the Batman games, Blaster Master, and Journey to Silius. It’s certainly still an above average game. It is bursting with technical 8-bit feats and creativity, but I would rather scale it with Sunsoft games like Gremlins 2.
The great port and added features can't hide that Gimmick! itself is a nice, but fairly unbalanced game with some excruciatingly hard platforming and boss battles. The game becomes playable for mere mortals, thanks to these added features. Gimmick! deserves a remaster based on it's status in the retro gaming scene alone, but the gameplay just doesn't hold up that well, compared to the great games Sunsoft released in that era.