January 31, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of a fantastic Sunsoft platformer known as Gimmick, released for the Famicom all the way back in 1992. Excuse me while I spend a few paragraphs gushing about it.
Gimmick arrived in an era of transition. Global video game development was quickly moving on from the Famicom (known elsewhere as the Nintendo Entertainment System) generation in favor of the 16-bit power of the Super Famicom (aka the Super Nintendo). As such, Gimmick director Tomomi Sakai and his team streamlined the Famicom’s graphics processing and included a separate sound chip in the cartridge so that the project could compete with the better-looking and -sounding games on the latest hardware.
With its complex visuals, animations, and soundtrack, Gimmick is the perfect example of the work that can be produced when devs avoid the allure of a new console generation and instead fire on all cylinders implementing everything they’ve learned while working on a now older, less-powerful platform. This added work wasn’t much appreciated at the time—its only distribution outside Japan was limited to a small batch localization for the Scandinavian market—but Gimmick has since achieved cult classic status.
“The game took 10 years for people to appreciate it,” Sakai joked during a 2011 interview with Japanese entertainment magazine Cyzo before noting that Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto praised Gimmick while speaking with a shared acquaintance shortly after its release. “Considering I’d always wanted to make a game that outdid every other action game out there, including Mario, that made me really happy.”
I first learned about Gimmick thanks to a speedrunner named cyghfer, who showcased the intricacies of the game’s movement at a couple Games Done Quick events. And while I’m not even close to being able to perform the same advanced techniques, all it takes is a few minutes with the game to understand its legacy. Gimmick employs a fantastic sense of flow—aided by mechanics like being able to ride the bouncing star projectile your character creates and speed-boosting slopes—that makes the simple act of traversing its colorful, dream-like world almost immediately feel smooth and second-nature.
Sadly, playing Gimmick legitimately remains a difficult prospect as both versions sell for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on auction sites like eBay. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The game was re-released in Japan as part of 2010’s Sunsoft Memorial Collection: Volume 6, a PlayStation Network package that bundled it with Super Spy Hunter. More recently, it found its way to arcades in 2020 via Gimmick! Exact Mix, a high-res port for the exA-Arcadia platform. Sunsoft even acknowledged the anniversary earlier today on Twitter while also apologizing for a lack of updates on Gimmick’s future.
In any case, I’m now going to do the cliched thing of saying you should do yourself a favor and check out Gimmick as soon as you can, if only because the world could use a little more of its charm. Happy birthday, you lovely little game.