Review: DuckTales: Remastered

DuckTalesRemastered

I think that Capcom’s 1989 DuckTales might have ruined me as a child. Like many a kid at that time, I was captivated by Disney’s cartoon featuring the miserly but goodhearted duck billionaire, Scrooge McDuck. Originally created and fleshed out by Carl Banks, starring in the surprisingly-still-readable comic series Uncle Scrooge, DuckTales was a high quality animation show, retelling many of the stories in the old comics. (I think the only people aware of similarities between these stories were grandparents who read the funny books in the ’50s and were babysitting their grand children.) It had a classic theme song, memorable heroes and villains and had a lot of great adventure yarns. So when I read in Nintendo Power that there was a DuckTales game available for the purchasing, I pestered my parents to get it. Whenever that happened, the ruining started. I was ruined because DuckTales for the Nintendo Entertainment System was, and is, a good game, but it is a licensed one. It would take many a future disappointment to learn by and large when a game has to lean into its source material, it is not very fun to play.

DuckTales Remastered is exactly that, a graphically updated version of the old DuckTales title which may be too simple to grab anyone who has never read the word “Duckburg” until now.

The game begins with longtime antagonists the Beagle Boys trying, again, to steal all three cubic acres of money in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. One would think that anyone with the business sense required to acquire untold trillions of dollars, in cash, would not keep it all in the same place, but the saying about eggs and baskets traditionally only applies to chickens, not ducks. A short tutorial section will have Scrooge tangle with the recurrent criminals as well as his own mallet-based security system to eventually reclaim his office and kick the crooks out of the home of his Number One Dime, and the aforementioned billions of billions of dollars. Their escape from the miser’s wrath knocks over a painting which has the locations to several unordinary treasures on the back of it. (“Only Uncle Scrooge could think of treasure as ‘ordinary’,” quips one of his nephews.) From there players can choose one of about half a dozen levels to seek these treasures, including some infested African Mines, a haunted Transylvanian castle, and, of course, the Moon. One of the touches added in the remastered edition is this entire introductory section which supplies the context for what happens in the rest of the game.

Scrooge looks like a cranky old duck, and he is, but he is also surprisingly spry. In the search of treasure he can run and jump like any classic platformer character, and he can also use his cane like a golf club to whack stationary objects to break them or strike them into other things, or use it like a pogo stick to bounce around. Pogoing is the primary way to travel and hurt enemies. While springing up and down Scrooge is immune to the many spiked pits placed throughout all of the levels — though bottomless ones are still deadly — and can also sproing upon the tops of enemies. As this is only a two button game, it is fairly easy to start pogoing–just hold down the button that is not jump to start, and then it is only a matter of directing where Scrooge will bound. It was hallmark of the gameplay in the original cart and its mechanics are fundamentally unaltered here. However, the handling is sadly more clunky than the original. The original DuckTales had handling as sharp as the early Mega Man games, but this remake is a little mushy. This lack of immediate response is most noticeable when trying to grab onto ropes to climb. As several of these require Scrooge hit the rope at just the last split second, not being able to have immediate control makes the game hard to play. For the most part the controls are not an issue, but there are a few times when it is very easy to die again and again because the duck will not go up when you press up.

Like any old platformer game, here the goal primarily is to reach the end of the level. At the end of any stage Scrooge will square off against a boss whose defeat will reward him with one of the unique treasures. Once faced for the first time and their attack patterns are learned, these foes are painfully easy and it is just a matter of avoiding their attacks and bouncing on their heads. Some of them require careful timing of whacking a small rock to hit something else before they are vulnerable, but mostly pogoing will rule the day. Getting to the end of the stage, like the bosses, can be difficult the first time around as it is impossible to know where everything is and many enemies populate the world and health power-ups are irregular in their placement. Similarly to the boss patterns, once the layout is down it is simple to blast through most of the levels easily (except for the last stage which is difficult and long). The stages are not simple left to right affairs and many of them will require Scrooge to gather a certain number of random doodads to advance to the end of the stage. Whether it is a homage to the original or a way to inject difficulty, Scrooge only has a limited number of lives with which to complete a stage. Like in many, many old games, if you fall into the same pit a couple times and then hit too many enemies, there is no checkpoint and you will have to completely restart the level or pick another one. Bumping the game down to the Easy difficulty will effectively double Scrooge’s health and converts the lives system to a more modern amount of unlimited tries to get from checkpoint to checkpoint.

Additional challenge comes from trying to get the most money in the form of diamonds and rubies which have a pesky habit of only appearing in a place Scrooge just walked or jumped over. He will be bouncing away over a spike pit, avoiding giant spiders, and if he happens to cross the right area, a giant gem will pop out of nothing and hit the floor. Then, the internal calculus of whether it is worth risking health, and possibly have to repeat the stage, in order to get more money and a higher score will begin whenever any of these hard assets pop up. These hidden goodies are in the same place every time, so there is some incentive to replay the levels to get the ultimate score for each level, which appear to have a finite amount of treasure. Other than the thrill of the hunt, the money found in a level can be used to unlock concept art in a gallery. Most of this is unimpressive, but there are some pieces which show the new character models next to their old sprites, which is a marked contrast and shows a dramatic change in fidelity.

The characters appear to be all hand drawn in a style that is completely consistent with the cartoon. Scrooge is optimistic, wide-eyed and treasure hungry one moment as he is going through the levels making money and then scornful and squinting at Launchpad when he crashes his boss’s plane, again. The backgrounds are colored and softened in a way that does not call too much attention to the fact that they are 3D and the action is taking place entirely in 2D. The remastering of the graphics is outstanding and shows a genuine love for the original designs. I was expecting the hand drawn elements to painfully stick out and was pleasantly surprised with how well it all works to look like a cohesive environment.

In addition to the visuals, WayForward has added short story segments to the beginning, middle and end of each stage which involve plenty of characters from the show along with their classic chemistry. Huey, Dewey and Louie get into trouble, Webby is a tag-along who loves animals no matter how dangerous they are, and financial nemesis Flintheart Glomgold is somehow even more of a Scottish stereotype than Scrooge. I could tell you that the game features the surviving members of the original cast of the TV show, but that is more neat than necessary information. All of the dialogue is voiced and sounds like the cartoon, if a little repetitive when Scrooge says “bless me bagpipes” for the twentieth time. The down side of these bits of story is that no one moves around. Almost universally everyone stands on their side of the screen and takes turns speaking and then reacting to what the duck on the other side of the screen said. These little nuggets of context are a welcome addition and are usually short enough to prod the nostalgia gland but not become boring.

Depending on how many times one has to repeat a level, this is a short story that could probably be completed in an afternoon by an expert. The same exact thing that could have been said for the original, as I can attest to having spent several afternoons in the early ’90s beating and re-beating that game. For fans of the old show who never played the game, this Remastered version is a completely legitimate entry point that has the same basic gameplay and even repurposes most of the old sound effects. If nothing else, it is nice to know why Gizmoduck is on the Moon waiting for Scrooge to find him. For fans of the old game, this is a great excuse to walk down a spruced-up memory lane. However, given the simple mechanics and punishing limited life system, it may be of limited appeal for the average gamer who never played the old game and isn’t susceptible to the allure of nostalgia. Even if players choose to play on the lowest setting, the basic platforming can be clunky in spots and embarrassingly easy in others as it is possible to clear large sections of a level without attacking any enemy.

In addition to the lessons of licensing, DuckTales of 1989 may have also ruined my objectivity. I really liked this game, but have to admit if it were not tied to an old game and cartoon I love, I wouldn’t give it the time of day.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Looks and sounds like the cartoon
+ Successfully remixes and contextualizes the sounds and events of the original game

Cons:
– Controls are not as tight as the NES title
– Relatively short with little reason to replay

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available on Steam, XBLA and Wii U eShop
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Release Date: PC/PSN/Wii U – 8/13/2013, XBLA – 9/11/2013
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.