The title of the game the lead character can be seen riding on a star

Gimmick! Special Edition Review

Game: Gimmick! Special Edition
Genre: Action, Platformer
System: Steam (Windows & Linux) (Also available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: CITY CONNECTION | Bitwave Games
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £12.99 | US $ 14.99| EU € 14.99
Release Date: July 6th, 2023

Review code provided with many thanks to Embracer Free Mode.

Back From The Past

Gimmick! is a unique 2D platformer that holds up pretty well today, thanks to its unique spin on the genre. This is a long-lost relic from the retro era that was released late in the Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES) life cycle. It was only released in Japan and Scandinavia but still held quite the cult following in the retro community despite its rarity.

It even had repro carts produced to allow players to still enjoy the game on original hardware. However, not everyone holds onto their beloved NES, and many don’t want to fork out silly money either. Now Gimmick! has been released to modern systems for a much more reasonable price and with a few extra features. If you’re a fan of retro gaming or platformers, this is well worth picking up. 

Yumetaro riding on a ostrich like bird in a desert
One way to get about

When Cuddly Toys Turn Bad

The story is an interesting one. It’s a young girl’s birthday, and she is gifted what appears to be a green squishy cuddle toy called Yumetaro. Turns out the other cuddly toys in the girl’s collection are not too fond of this new addition. So they do what angry toys do and kidnap the girl and transport her to a different dimension. It’s up to Yumetaro to hop dimensions and save the day. The opening narrative is displayed without text which was a pretty standard affair for games of this era. It gets its point across before jumping straight into the gameplay. All I’ll add to the story is I will never look at my sons’ cuddly toys the same way again.

A image of Yumetaro the hero of the game being unwrapped from a box
A special birthday gift

A Unique Gimmick

Gimmick! follows a standard template for a 2D platformer of the retro era. There are six levels to explore, each with an ending boss. What makes the game stand out from the crowd is the ability to create a star which doubles as a weapon to dispatch enemies and a platform. By holding down a button, you charge it up above your head and then fling it in the desired direction. The star will then rebound off platforms, and if you’re creative and skilful, you can hop on it to reach higher platforms and secrets. This is then mixed in with some precision platforming. 

Another unique feature is the enemy AI. The enemies will not simply walk left to right on platforms. They will actually pursue you across platforms, sometimes in large groups, which is pretty terrifying at times. Bosses will also monitor your movements so you can’t simply fling stars and win the battle. The game keeps you on your toes, feeling more advanced than even some modern 2D platformers.

Graphics are colourful and vibrant, with various environments to explore, from pirate ships to forests. The soundtrack is excellent. Cheerful and upbeat and going above the usual NES sounds, helped by the game’s expanded sound chip back when it was originally released. Each level has a diverse range of enemies that will make you question how many toys the kidnapped girl owned. The only issue I encountered is the enemy sprites sometimes flickered oddly, but this didn’t affect performance. It all gives off a cute family-friendly feel. But make no mistake; this is not an easy game to play.

Yumetaro facing off against a pirate boss
Bosses are no pushover

Hard to Master

Gimmick! is a title that will test your precision platform skills. Controls are easy to pick up, but the star power does take some getting used to before it starts to click. In a way this design makes sense for the retro era it’s created in. You get better at the game by playing it and learning from your mistakes over time. If you have the patience to put up with the repetition, you will actually find a highly rewarding gameplay experience. But I can also see many being turned off by its high barrier to entry, mistaking its cute graphics for something more casual.

Since this is a modern release, it does come with quality-of-life improvements to make things more manageable. You have save states and a rewind feature that can be quickly accessed. To fully master the game and get the true ending, you need to locate a hidden item in each level. Something much easier to achieve with these features. Additional modes have been added, including a serious mode which removes all the above perks and plays the game in its raw retro form.

There’s also a speedrun mode for those fast-fingered players or streamers. The game also features the original printed manuals, but sadly, none are translated into English. It would have been helpful if the game did a better job of indicating the controls and some mechanics, like how to use potions and collected items. It feels like buying the cart without a manual, just leaving the player to guess and figure it out independently. No opportunity is given to educate the player on the game’s history, which is a shame. For a special addition, it feels lacking in extra content.

Yumetaro charging up star power to throw at a enemy
Star power

Conclusion: Satisfying Retro Fix

I’m always pleased to see any retro game get a second chance at life on modern systems. Since Gimmick! Special Edition really didn’t get much attention this is a great opportunity to hop on a retro gem. Gimmicks approach to 2D platforming feels fresh and different even all these years later. Its only barrier to entry is its tough difficulty which will not play well with some. Far from a gimmick, this is a gem well worth playing.

Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot

I like it a lot

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