Here in Duckburg
Race cars, lasers, aeroplanes
It's a duck-blur
Might solve a mystery
Or rewrite history
The 1980’s. What a fantastic time to be growing up as a kid if you had any interest in televisual entertainment. From Knightmare to Scooby-Doo; Transformers to MASK; The Muppet Babies to DuckTales. DuckTales was perhaps one of the finest cartoons shown during that heady period for any fan of kid’s TV. Huey, Dewey and Louie. Unca Scrooge McDuck, his Moneybin and Launchpad. The distinct and always peculiar lack of Donald Duck the absent father of these three boys, and of course Webby. Mrs Beasley who was like a slightly smaller Nanny from Count Duckula, with a few extra marbles thanks to the healthcare afforded by Scrooge’s first dime as opposed to the opulent Transylvanian castle where green vampire ducks were born. That theme tune. Making you believe life was like a hurricane, or that you could solve a mystery. Now, with WayForward and Capcom’s DuckTales: Remastered you can rewrite history (and hopefully forgive this most laboured and indulgent of introductions).
DuckTales is a classic platformer released for the NES in 1989 in the US with the follow-up European release coming in 1990. It sees Scrooge McDuck - the richest Duck in the world despite Goldglum, another Scottish duck, trying to displace him - chasing around various locations in and out of this world in order to enhance his fortune with such fantastic treasures as the Green Cheese of Longevity. It was Capcom’s first proper Disney-licensed creation and was received fantastically by player and critic-alike, ensuring its status as a classic of the genre to the present day. It managed this not only thanks to the wonderful character design (helped by Keiji Inafune of Megaman and Dead Rising fame amongst others) mirroring that of the cartoon as best it could with 8-bit hardware alongside chiptune-tastic audio, but also a tight mechanic involving Scrooge pogoing around the world and moving from platform to platform via various baddies’ heads. To top it all off there were boss fights, hidden treasures and a final showdown leading to one of three possible endings. It was always ripe for a revisit in this modern age of HD remasters, and it succeeds overall despite one or two failures of Scrooge’s pogo along the way.
Which way is the Moneybin?
What we have here is a loving remaster and re-envisioning of the original game. It’s clear that Capcom, Disney and WayForward all felt an affinity with the original and wanted to do things properly. From the moment the game is booted up this is clear thanks to the significant production values on show for what is a digital-only download rather than a tentpole, triple-A release. The title screen shows Duckberg and is accompanied by a high-fidelity version of the theme tune (instrumental only dammit!). From here you start the game up and it begins with an all-new opening level in Scrooge’s Moneybin where you get to learn the ropes of the game and save the triplets before using the place as a base from which to go on an expedition to each of the original game’s five areas. So far all good, right? Pretty much. The smile on your face will be miles wide thanks to the glory of getting to replay this game (or play for the first time if of a younger persuasion) with all the jolly good fun it brings with it. But. But this will be tempered by a few immediately apparent frustrations with the control scheme and tightness of the platforming mechanic. This is important given any platform game anywhere lives and dies ultimately by how well it does the platforming.
The control scheme seems logical enough but doesn’t work. You control a 2D model of Scrooge (sprites!) as he moves through the 3D worlds (like Street Fighter IV rather than Super Mario 64 in terms of the 3D) using either the D-pad or the left analogue stick and X is your jump button. To start pogoing however requires you to press Square or Circle and keep holding it if you want to pogo, pogo, pogo. This would be fine except it seems hit or miss how well received the press of either button is. Whether it is because you slide from the X to either of the other buttons, or that you don’t initiate the pogo early enough - or too late even depending on where in the curve of the jump Scrooge is, it sometimes will cause you to just land and not pogo. Or worse, fall into that water because you didn’t bounce off the animal’s head. Or maybe you just lose hit points because the enemy hurt you rather than you killing it. This isn’t something that you can learn to avoid either, seemingly. No matter what we tried to do to gain some greater consistency it didn’t help.
The moon? Green cheese!!!
The other - perhaps even more - frustrating thing you encounter early and just gets more annoying as time goes on, is the dodgy collision detection. Even when visibly you have cleared something above you, for example, it can block your way. It’s as if the development team checked the original game and it had set, say, one pixel as the error for any collision or otherwise and instead of keeping it at one pixel with the jump in resolution, they kept the proportion of horizontal or vertical space this equated to. So it’s bigger, and more obvious, and far less acceptable today with all the glorious platformers that have gone before. It’s disappointing because this and the pogo mechanic implementation spoil the otherwise swift, responsive and fluid platforming action.
As you go on each quest for the five pieces of treasure you’re treated to expanded levels compared to the original game. Everything that was there first time round remains, but there’s around thirty percent more per level, either to add something extra in or in many cases to better explain and rationalise this on-paper mad Duck cum Indiana Jones adventure. This doesn’t do anything different in terms of gameplay but it adds a bit more to the length of the game and it’s well received thanks to the gloriously drawn and animated characters and areas. Not to mention the lovely new voice work, all by the original series’ acting talent where possible. The best bit has to be the chance to go diving and swimming into the Moneybin itself in the hub area. Yes, you can also buy various character art, concept art and so on using all the rubies and diamonds you’ve found on your travels, but this is the big news.
Even back then snow levels in platformers were obligatory
The challenge DuckTales: Remastered offers goes from barely any (easy difficulty) to old school. On easy you have more hit points, you find extra heart containers more regularly and you get all kinds of ice creams and cakes to recover as needed. You also have unlimited lives so you can just keep going to find that you have finished a level in no more than twenty to thirty minutes but it is no less enjoyable by doing so. If you go the more challenging route you’ll find yourself repeating whole areas until you’ve learnt what’s coming and can get to that boss - and beat their attack patterns - before dying too many times and realising there are no continues. It’ll last longer and will give you more trophies when you beat the game but be ready for some very frustrating and rage-inducing moments. However, whichever way you do go about playing the game the reward for beating it is worthwhile for sure.
DuckTales: Remastered is a renovated and revitalised golden child which when all is said and done shows its age regardless of the effort imparted to hide such truths. The characters are wonderfully entertaining, the music eminently hummable and easy to listen to hundreds of times over. The straight from Disney artwork deserves praise and the level design itself is somewhere between standard and unique when referenced versus today’s catalogue of games - all the more staggering when considering its age. But this is all tempered with frustrations with the fundamental mechanics which stop you from ever considering it as a challenger to Italian plumbers or even the tier of jumping games situated directly beneath that topmost selection. Combined with the fact that most newcomers will not have any familiarity with the TV series from whence this all came and DuckTales: Remastered has to be seen for what it is - an entertaining diversion for all with an extra helping of sentiment for others.