gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Gimmick! Special Edition Steam Reviewed

In my quest to review more games so my Steam Deck isn’t lost and forgotten, I’ve been a little enthusiastic about saying yes. Gimmick! is one such case. I thought “hey, that’s a cute little platformer I could spend an evening playing.” I had no idea what I was getting myself in for.

Gimmick! – also known as Mr Gimmick for its Scandinavian release – is a rare 1992 Japenese Famicom (Can I just call it NES?) game that pushed the NES to its limit in order to compete with the Super NES (or Super Famicom) which had been released just over a year prior. Well, to be fair it replaced parts of the NES with custom on-cart chips to make its detailed graphics and music possible. It’s not like whacky co-processors weren’t a hallmark of games pushing the limits of Nintendo’s early consoles. The result is a brilliant little physics-based NES action platformer that is – you’ll well know if you’ve played any such games from the era – as hard as nails.

Title screen for the game Gimmick! It’s very busy. A heart-shaped island is just visible on the left. The game cover art in the middle and the main menu on the right.

I’ve been discovering Gimmick! A NES title that feels like it was made yesterday 🤣


Gimmick! looks and sounds so good that I had mistaken the trailer for showing off a retro-styled modern game. While I’m not a huge fan of retro re-releases – sheesh these things should be public domain by now – it’s easy to see why this particular title is deserving of some special attention.

The Special Edition release of Gimmick! wraps this rare classic up into a basic emulator with support for saves and – crucially – the ability to rewind your gameplay. If you’re a hopeless butterfingers like me, you’ll need this. And when I say “basic emulator,” I mean it. There’s precious little to tweak or configure. Gimmick! doesn’t even afford you the luxury of video filters. Even if it did you’ll probably keep them off because this game demands a serious amount of precision and speed.

For scaling you can choose “Original” or “Zoom” options. On the Steam Deck I’m pretty sure zoom was scaled 3x, to 768×720, occupying a reasonable amount of the Deck’s 1280×800 pixel screen and being very comfortable to play. I’m not sure what size “Original” sits at, but it’s a fair chunk less than this and might simply be 2x. Both look fine, but “Zoom” is definitely better.

You can opt to turn on/off a background image that surrounds this window into the world of Gimmick! You can also pick from a variety of backgrounds, though I’m definitely a fan of setting scaling to “zoom” and leaving the background off (black) for distraction-free gaming. Around the screen edges you’ll find some helpful control hints, your score, the current high score and the current mode. As far as window-boxed emulators go, it’s not offensive.

The first time I launched Gimmick! on my Steam Deck I was greeted with a stuttery, unplayable mess. “Okay, it’s a Windows game and it’s unrated for Steam Deck compatibility; maybe I’ll have to switch to a Windows PC,” I thought.

I did not. A little dive into the Deck’s performance menu revealed my global settings of 40Hz/40FPS were playing havoc with the emulator timings. Unlocking my FPS and setting the screen refresh rate to 60Hz got everything working perfectly. I couldn’t even enable a custom TDP to try and save power- the emulator didn’t like this either.

Gimmick! Sat on a platform in a secret area. It’s all very bright and vibrant and busy though the backdrop is pretty plain. I like it.
Mostly blue backdrop with some pink and blue stripy platforms. The main character is sat on the middle looking unphased.
A later level. Spikes all over the ground, a great dank brickwork tile set in the background and some moving platforms on conveyor belts.

It’s a hard as nails precision physics platformer that- if it weren’t for hitting the per scanline sprite limit - you’d be forgiven for thinking was a modern take on the genre.


My first play-throughs of the game were met with limited success. That’s to say I died an awful, awful lot. Beneath the very basic conceit of Gimmick! lies a surprising amount of depth and complexity. It’s a platformer, that much is clear, and you shoot a projectile. Just one. A star that needs a second or so to charge up before you can fire it. Once fired you’ll have to wait for it to hit something or bounce to a stop and disappear to fire another. This projectile can do anything from taking out groups of enemies to bouncing harmlessly off shield. You really need to master its trajectory – a sort of semi-unpredictable chaotic bounce that I’m sure better gamers than me will understand – to make the best use of it. But that’s not all. You can jump on enemies heads to reach higher locations or secret areas, or just platforms where you can cheese attack them with impunity. You can also – if you’re really quick on the mark – jump off your own projectile to reach places you couldn’t otherwise. The very first level entices you to figure this out.

The Special Edition also has three play modes- Normal, Serious and Speedrun. In Normal you get rewind and save states- that’s the casual mode for people like me. In Serious you lose this convenience and play like it’s 1992 all over again. In Speedrun… well… you do that, but faster. Once you finish your time is registered in the rankings. I’m going to have to admit that I’m not even going to try, sorry, I just don’t have it in me.

A list of achievements in front of a forest backdrop. Mostly involving finding hidden items.
A very colourful speedrun rankings table. It’s rather empty and waiting to be filled up with times. Currently the top is HQ_H with a total time of 20:45.70.

Speed run ranking tables and achievements bring a whole new motivation to master the game!


Which is a shame because Gimmick! feels almost made for speedrunning. There’s a palpable flow and rhythm to the game and a delicate balance between charging headlong through an area versus just the right amount of hesitation or slight change of tactic. I’ve played my share of 90s platformers but haven’t, until now, played something from the era that feels quite like this. Gimmick! reminds me of how I felt playing the pico8 version of Celeste- challenged, but confident I could, with practise, master the mechanics and achieve the right flow. The game doesn’t like to let you stand still, and you’ll be chased by all manner of things to keep you on your toes. It even gets a little Indiana Jones at times.

Bundled along with the game and accessible through the in-game menu are digital copies of the original manuals and packaging for both the Japanese and Scandinavian releases. This is a nice touch though, uh, am I going to offend someone for wanting an English translation in there too?

Japanese box art for Gimmick!. The titular character is a cute green blob. The Gimmick! Title text is very heavily stylised. The back of the pack looks hand drawn with an illustration of the level select island.
The Gimmick! cartridge. It’s a lot less busy than everything else, just the title on a light blue background with some accompanying info and publisher logo.

The Special Edition tries to be a sort of archival effort of the originals. Including cartridge and box art.


Gimmick! feels very much like a retro-revival modern platformer, which is a heck of an achievement for a 30 year old game. Some visual quirks betray its heritage, however, you’ll quite often see it hit the limit of sprites-per-scanline, causing bits of your character or enemies to disappear periodically. If you’re deeply nostalgic you’ll probably love this. If you’re not, it’s relatively innocuous and you’ll be too busy dying from things you can see to care. The game is unforgiving in a way modern takes often aren’t, but to its credit you effectively have a health bar so hits aren’t always game over. Just, uh, don’t fall.

Gimmick! is bright, colourful, full of great music, devilishly difficult and always has something new to chuck at you. It’s more often than not completely absurd in that way that 90s era games so eloquently captured- whether this is whacky character design or level hazards you need to be clairvoyant to avoid. It’s also short, if you rewind or save to avoid losing progress, but does have secrets dotted around for replay value and completionism.

A heart-shaped island floating in a blue sky. There’s a brown mountain, blue ice, water, a green jungle, a tall tower and a pirate ship. All playable zones.

The level select island is cute as heck!


Would I recommend it? Well, the Switch and PS4 physical releases are priced for superfans of the original, and not a casual dabbler, but if you’re the latter and see it discounted- it’s well worth a play! The Steam release is only £12.99 though, so it’s not outrageous. Despite being objectively terrible at the game, I enjoyed the 90 or so minutes it took to rewind my way through it. I’m a country mile from having found all the secrets or mastered the game’s mechanics, but starting afresh I already feel more competent. Maybe I could even git gud. Gimmick! Special Edition is available on Steam now and on introductory sale for £11.69 and the Nintendo Switch e-Shop for the same.

Thursday, July 6th, 2023, Computer Gaming, Steam Deck.