You may well have seen commentary on how games are preserved gathering steam as of late, in the light of the industry’s move away from physical releases. The risk of losing access to beloved titles forever when they are delisted is a real threat, but at least no one can take your disc collection away from you.
It’s always interesting then, that on the flip side of the argument is the beauty of the digital age; it makes it much easier to re-release old curiosities for a brand new audience. Quite often, these games never made it over the UK shores in the first place. Gimmick! Special Edition is one such example, but as the name suggests it has been enhanced for the occasion.
Cast your minds back to 1992 (if you can) and the SNES was well into its worldwide release cycle. Games were still being developed for the ever popular NES (or Famicom in Japan) but were at risk of being snubbed in favour of their more powerful rivals. This meant the team at Sunsoft looked to rise to the challenge, hoping to rival the look and feel of more advanced games on the market.
Gimmick! Special Edition is a re-release of the original platformer, which sees a young girl kidnapped by her toys. You play as Yumetaro, a little green chap (who looks like one of the dragons from Bubble Bobble) who sets out to save her. As you do.
In terms of the game itself, things are left pretty much unchanged since the original release. However, this highlights just how impressive it was both visually and in terms of its soundtrack back in the early ’90s. It looks sharp and vibrant, and each of the seven levels are very different to each other in terms of their theme. The upbeat soundtrack is equally brilliant, and easily as catchy as some of the mega famous platformers from the same era.
Another factor which raises the bar is how your enemies behave. Not only will they react to your movements, rather than approaching in a uniformed fashion, but they can’t be shaken off by simply advancing to the next screen. That’s right, they will pursue you through the level, clearing jumps and scaling ledges as they try and hunt you down. They pose a genuine threat, and make life much more challenging.
There are a wide range of these pests out to get you, but there are also plenty of boss battles and mid level bosses to deal with too. These foes are equally as clever, often fighting you across a number of phases. I found the key to victory was studying their movement patterns carefully, dying many times in the process. It’s not easy, but perfectly possible despite not feeling it at first.
On the subject of difficulty, Gimmick! Special Edition is hard. I’ll admit, at times I got utterly frustrated, and this fact will definitely put some people off. It’s structured in the typical way in terms of scoring, lives and items you can pick up along the way. However, Yumetaro manages to feel both heavy in the air and incredibly slippy at the same time. Inevitably, you’ll fail to clear jumps due to the small margins for error, and slide to your death after thinking you’ve made a safe landing. You can take a few hits from enemies, but if you fall it will instantly cost you a life.
You may well play through Gimmick! Special Edition and believe there are only six levels. However, there are hidden treasures to find in each. When tracked down, they unlock the “true ending”. Sometimes the route to these are hidden in plain sight, but look totally out of reach. Luckily Yumetaro has a very special star ability.
At any point, he can shoot a star that will bounce around in all directions. It can be used as a weapon, but also as a mode of transportation which is the only way to nab all those secret items. Just be careful not to accidentally whisk yourself off to a premature death, because at times the shooting star can carry you away with it. This ability is crucial in dispatching the crafty enemies who seem to be able to read your every move.
The physics involved with the shooting star mechanic are genuinely impressive and despite being tricky to master, work well; even by today’s standards. Given when this game was originally released, it’s especially remarkable at what the developers achieved here.
All of what I’ve talked about so far is true to the original game, so what’s new in Gimmick! Special Edition? Well, you can play the game in three different ways. Normal Mode is designed to take the edge off the difficulty for the casual gamer, allowing quick saves and a rewind function at any time. I used this as a dry run before attempting Serious Mode, which is how the game was originally meant to be played. It’s here where you can earn your achievements too.
You can also hit up the time attack mode, and post your speed run times to the online leaderboards. However, when I had a little snoop there were only two names up in lights. There is also a virtual gallery and a sound test function, which offers a little extra content for the die-hard fans out there.
In all honesty, the features of this special edition don’t really add much to the overall experience. It feels like a missed opportunity, but thankfully the asking price isn’t too much of a stretch. Gimmick! Special Edition will appeal both to fans of the genre who are looking for a genuinely enjoyable new platformer to blast through and those collectors on the hunt for games thought lost in the realms of time.
Gimmick! Special Edition gives a technically impressive, challenging blast from the past a well deserved second chance.