Mr. Gimmick is a game as impressive as it is rare. It was only released in Japan and Scandinavia for some reason, in very limited quantities. There was originally a U.S. release planned but it never came, although it has seen the light of day. A rare prototype of the NTSC release was found and the ROM ripped and distributed. As for the regular PAL release at the time of writing, there is only one copy of it for sale on eBay, and it’s priced at $1,876.53. So if you want to play it, you’re probably going to have to emulate, but it is well worth your time. It was released by Sunsoft in 1992 when a lot of developers had already transitioned to the Super Famicom, and as such you can clearly see that it is Sunsoft, one of the premier developers for the Famicom in peak form.
The technical prowess on display in Mr. Gimmick is something to marvel at. First off your attack is a star that you must charge and then release. When you release the star, it will bounce around based on what appears to be a physics system. It never bounces in exactly the same way, and as a result, learning to aim your star becomes one of the main focuses of the gameplay. It feels incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull off a specific bounce in just the right spot to hit an enemy, and by the end of the game, you will become a master manipulator of your star, due in no small part to Mr. Gimmick‘s brutal difficulty. There are also bombs and fireballs that you can pick up and use once, extending your moveset further. Another impressive technical feat that left me scratching my head at just how it was accomplished is the AI. Yes. the enemies in Mr. Gimmick do seem to have some sort of A.I. in a simple form. Bosses will try and bait attacks out of you to create an opening for their own ripostes, and smaller enemies will track your position and behave accordingly. Just with these two features alone, Mr. Gimmick feels light years ahead of its time.
Mr. Gimmick‘s soundtrack is also one of the finest on the Famicom, with some credit going towards the sound chip installed in the cartridge giving the sound palette more varied bass tones. Unfortunately, my favorite song on the soundtrack didn’t actually make it into the final game. It was a track for a different version of the final level that ended up being scrapped and completely changed. You can still listen to it below.
Every song on the OST is an earworm that completely fits what is supposed to be going on, so special props are in order for Masashi Kageyama, the game’s composer, who created the soundtracks for a small handful of Sunsoft games and doesn’t have any credits beyond that.
Mr. Gimmick does have a story, however thin it may be, that is introduced through a brief cutscene at the beginning. Mr. Gimmick is a toy that is given to a young girl for her birthday. He quickly becomes her favorite toy, and her other toys become jealous and drag the girl into a dream world as Mr. Gimmick follows to rescue her. It’s not exactly Hemingway, but it has no intentions of being so. From the toy-themed story to the colorful aesthetic and cheerful music, it’s pretty obvious that Mr. Gimmick is a game for children, and a damn good one. On the subject of visuals, there are several impressive technical feats here too. The backgrounds are detailed and often have multiple moving objects in them, like seagulls in the sky or fish in the water. There are certain backgrounds that have scrolling effects that most games didn’t implement until the Super Famicom. The character sprites also look smooth, and you are easily able to tell what they are supposed to be at a glance.
If you want to actually complete Mr. Gimmick, you are in for a ride. The final level can only be unlocked if you collect 4 very well-hidden items throughout the game and get to the end without using a single continue. For a frame of reference, I probably used about 30 continues in my playthrough of the game. This means you are either going to have to play through the game several times and get exceedingly good at it or save scum on an emulator if you want to see the real ending. Alternatively, you could just look it up on YouTube if you have better things to do, which you probably should.
Overall, Mr. Gimmick is an extremely overlooked title for the Famicom, and I have no doubt that had Nintendo been the ones to develop it and release it in North America, we would be talking about it in the same breath as Castlevania and Mega Man. Absolutely play it if you get a chance.