Japanese Family Computer box art
Gimmick! (ギミック! Gimikku!?), known as Mr. Gimmick outside Japan, is a platform video game developed and published by Sunsoft, and originally released in Japan for the Family Computer on January 31, 1992. It was later released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in Scandinavia on May 5, 1993. The game was originally intended to be released internationally, however, like Ufouria: The Saga, Sunsoft of America did not approve of the game for a North American release due to its quirky character design. The only distributor that imported the NES version was Swedish distributor Bergsala, which sold it to the Scandinavian market in small quantities.
In order for Gimmick! to surpass the quality of games on the new Super Nintendo system, the developers used innovative techniques to create high quality graphics and sound. Lead designer Tomomi Sakai required a large staff to develop the game, and even outsourced the sound programming to former Sunsoft employee Naohisa Morota. The soundtrack crosses multiple genres, with composer Masashi Kageyama describing it as a "compilation of game music". The Famicom version makes use of Sunsoft's proprietary sound chip which provides additional functionality and sound channels.
Sakai noted difficulty in marketing Gimmick!, as distributors were more interested in those for the new 16-bit video game systems. These sentiments were also reflected in reviews from various publications. In addition, reviewers both praised and criticized the game for its challenging difficulty, and some thought the game was designed for children due to its characters. Overall, the mixed critical reception and low distribution resulted in little success for the title. Gimmick! eventually saw a re-release in Japan on the Sunsoft Memorial Collection: Volume 6 for PlayStation in 2002.
A young girl is given a small green blob named Yumetarō (ゆめたろー?) by her father. The girl quickly favors Yumetarō over her other toys, which now feel abandoned and unloved. They decide to kidnap the girl while she is sleeping, whisking her to another dimension. The player, as Yumetarō, must venture into the alternate dimension to rescue his new owner. The character can jump and spawn stars above the horn on his head, which are a central mechanic to the game, being necessary to defeat enemies found in the game while also doubling as a functional utility, capable of being rode on to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. The player must make their way through six stages and six bosses to complete the game. Once the sixth boss is defeated, it is revealed that the girl is still missing and the game restarts from the beginning. To truly complete the game, the player must find a hidden area in each stage where a magic item resides. If one can obtain each stage's magic item without losing all their lives (i.e. no continues), a secret stage will appear in which an extra boss must be beaten. Only after these conditions are met is the game completed in full, with an animation sequence showing Yumetarō rescuing the girl and leading her back to the real world.
Gimmick! was conceived by lead designer Tomomi Sakai, who put a variety of ideas into the programming of the game. He has said that he might've developed the game using a MicroVAX minicomputer or a Sophia In-III, but said that he could've made the game how he wanted to make it regardless of what equipment he used. Requiring a huge staff in order for the game to surpass the quality of SNES games, he had always thought about developing his own game with Yoshiaki Iwata and Hiroyuki Kagoya, who were involved in designing Blaster Master, a previous Sunsoft title. The two, however, were paid very little for their involvement in making the game. Sound programmer Naohisa Morota, who had left Sunsoft shortly before development of Gimmick!, would work for Sakai as an "outsourcer". In addition to having a big team, the process of using the 256 tiles that were used on the NES was also regarded for the quality: “Switching them all out at once was a waste. We streamlined the process by dividing the number of tiles into 2 groups of 128 and separating them into, say, enemy characters and protagonists. By further dividing the tiles into 4 groups of 64, not only were we able to reduce waste, we also decided on the chip specs by keeping in mind the fact that we’d be able to switch out tilesets to use as background cogs and floor animations.”
Sakai and Gimmick!'s composer Masashi Kageyama held meetings over telephone regarding the music, the latter being in Tokyo and the former in Nagoya at the time. With the two having similar musical interests, and Kageyama being able to plug his Macintosh synthesizer into the phone, it was easy for Kageyama to share with Sakai how he was designing the tracks for the game. Even though Kageyama had already felt comfortable with the musical layout and controls he used for two PC Engine games, OUT LIVE and Benkei Gaiden, Sakai provided him with extended sound sources. Sakai was very picky with every single aspect of the game, so Kageyama had to do the best he can using the maximum amount of sound channels possible. He jokingly described composing the music for Gimmick! as "putting a puzzle together than actual music composition."
Gimmick!'s soundtrack ranges in several different genres, from pop music to bass-driven acid jazz, fantasia, dramatic hard rock and jazz fusion, a style not commonly heard in games released for the NES or Famicom. With the designers asking Kageyama to have a pop sound for the music of Gimmick!, the most influential aspect of him making the soundtrack was that they loved music, ranging from a designer who was a fan of techno and minimalist music to a programmer who enjoyed classical music. As players will have to listen to compositions of a game more than once, he was attempting for the stage tracks to not be become grating and the opening and ending compositions to sound dramatic, overall being "careful to make sure I was writing music that just felt good." Sakai's goal in making the perfect controls for Gimmick!, how floaty the jumps should feel, also came into influence of Kageyama developing the score.
Describing the game's soundtrack as a "compilation of game music", Kageyama said that making it was a test in trying to "take what people generally considered to be the sound of the Famicom, and kick it up a notch." Naohisa Morota handled the sound programming, and Kageyama described his contributions as "profound" and helpful in one of his goals in making the tracks sound more like a live performance than just compositions. The Famicom version uses a variation of Sunsoft's FME-7 memory management controller known as "SUNSOFT 5B", which, in addition to the functionality provided by the stock FME-7, features a Yamaha YM2149 PSG audio chip to provide three additional channels for music and sound. Since the NES only uses five sound channels, the extra sound channels were left out of the European version.
Sunsoft originally planned to give Gimmick! an international release. The game was reviewed by Electronic Gaming Monthly in the United States, but soon plans for localization were canceled. In a 2014 retrospective interview, Sunsoft of America's former vice president of development, David Siller, reasoned that, along with Ufouria: The Saga, the company's managers didn't support Gimmick!, finding the characters too quirky or weird compared to cartoons by The Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers. However, Siller said that the two titles most likely could've been commercial successes, his rationale being that consumers aren't really sure if they want to buy a game until they play it.
However, the international version was released in very small amounts in Scandinavian countries as Mr. Gimmick. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, this version features nine lives instead of four to counter the game's extreme difficulty. The game also contains slightly downgraded music. Since the European cartridge is encoded for PAL region, it will not work in a North American NTSC NES, but the NTSC prototype ROM has been leaked online. Gimmick! was also ported to the PlayStation in Japan as a part of Sunsoft Memorial Collection: Volume 6. This version contains some sound differences from its Famicom counterpart.
Garnering negative reviews from publications like Famitsu, the game's lack of popularity has been analyzed to be due to the fact that casual gamers weren’t able to beat it due to the difficulty, and gamers transitioning into titles on 16-bit consoles like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. When the game was exhibited at places like the Tokyo Toy Show, Sakai recalled that he was hoping a dealer would find Gimmick! as a next-generation title developed for the original Nintendo and distribute it, only for them to lose interest once they learned it was an NES game. He joked that "The game took 10 years for people to appreciate it.”
Reviews published outside Japan were mixed. Swedish gaming magazine Nintendomagasinet gave the game six out of ten. Electronic Gaming Monthly reviewed the game in their July 1992 issue, providing a release window of "2nd half" of 1992, although the release was canceled. Three reviewers gave the game scores of 5, 5, and 4 (out of 10). These reviewers overwhelmingly noted that the game seemed geared towards children, and generally found it mediocre. A fourth reviewer gave the game an 8 out of 10, stating "you get a very challenging game that requires a great deal of technique. It starts off easy, but that is only practice. Get farther into the game and you'll have quite a challenge. Definitely a sleeper. Give this one a try!." The most favorable review at the time came from Nintendo Magazine System, where the magazine called it "one of the hottest titles for the NES in a long while." The reviewers highly praised the visuals, sound and difficulty of the game, with one reviewer saying that "the craving to beat this crazy game wins any such problems over convincingly."
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