Ah, Scrooge McDuck, animation’s best (and perhaps only) avian one-percenter. The unfeasibly wealthy tycoon got his first videogame in 1990 – DuckTales, based on the popular 80s cartoon series of the same name, and it was a classic.
Far more than a swiftly made cash-in, DuckTales was designed by many some of the lead personnel from the Mega Man series, and it showed: with precise controls, pixel-perfect level layouts and catchy music, it was one of the finest platform games available for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Thinking about it, Ducktales came at a brief golden age for Disney-themed platformers; Castle Of Illusion was a much-loved outing for Mickey Mouse, while Quackshot and The Lucky Dime Caper provided Scrooge’s nephew Donald Duck with two fun adventures of his own.
Riding on a crest of fond memories, WayForward Technologies has revived DuckTales for a HD remake, which reintroduces the same side-scrolling gameplay, but with smoother animation and reworked music. WayForward were behind one of the great, underappreciated gems of the Wii, A Boy And His Blob, which was itself a remake of an old NES game. Given that Wayforward’s version was superior to the platformer it was based on – with some astonishingly pretty backgrounds and character animation – could it be that the studio’s done the same again with DuckTales?
First impressions are highly positive. The fluid hand-drawn animation from A Boy And His Blob is again in evidence here, and Scrooge McDuck looks and moves just as he did in that old TV series – the way he belligerently struggles when he’s ensnared by a Venus flytrap, for example, is full of personality, and we even found ourselves deliberately falling into danger a couple more times, just to appreciate all the hard work that has gone into realising this incidental little moment. The pixel-art enemy sprites have been faithfully redrawn, and many of them have never looked better: those mummified ducks on the Transylvania level are a personal favourite.
By contrast, the backgrounds are all built from clean and shiny polygons, making Uncle Scrooge and his hand-rendered enemies stand out a little too much by comparison – although they’re colourful and nicely lit, we can’t help wishing they’d been cel-shaded (or, better yet, hand-painted) instead.
This is a minor gripe, though, and fans of the original DuckTales will be relieved to note that the gameplay and level designs are extremely close to the NES version. As before, Scrooge has to travel across five stages, ranging from the Amazon to the Moon, beating the nefarious Beagle Boys to the various treasures within them, and amassing as many jewels as he can to drag back to his money bin. Scrooge’s primary mode of attack is again the pogo jump, which can be used to batter enemies into submission, traverse dangerous stretches of ground, or reach high platforms.
In what might be seen as a controversial move, the way you activate the pogo jump has been simplified somewhat; where you once had to pull down as well as press a button after jumping, you now simply jump and press or hold X. This might sound like a minor change, but it does make the move much easier to pull off – where the original DuckTales took a few goes before it became second nature, you’ll be bouncing across levels and bashing bosses within a few seconds in the remake.
Otherwise, the original game’s difficulty level remains largely untouched. The Mega Man games were and are famous for their unforgiving design, and Ducktales retains much of that old-school cruelty: take two hits in normal mode and you’ll lose a life, and losing a life takes you right back to the start of the level. On the flipside, the easy mode makes the game a bit too simple, with Scrooge capable of taking more punishment, and death taking you to a nearby checkpoint rather than the start of the level – unless you’re looking to rattle through the game in a couple of hours, you may want to avoid this setting.
In an otherwise beguiling platformer, perhaps the most glaring problem is the remake’s insistence on working a conversation-heavy story into the mix. Although the introduction of several voice actors from the original TV series is a welcome one, the constant interjections from Scrooge and other characters is often infuriating – cut-scenes at the start of each stage are fair enough, but did we really need a voice acted explanation of an object every time we pick one up?
Worse still, these constant exchanges can only be skipped by going into the pause menu and then pressing another button. It’s a seemingly minor inconvenience that nevertheless really breaks the flow of the game – and given that DuckTales is primarily an action platformer about bouncing around and collecting things, that flow’s important. It’s a pity that WayForward couldn’t have included an ‘old-school’ mode, which pares the game back down to its state on the NES, where the occasional line of text from a non-player character was enough.
Having said all this, it’s likely that some devotees of the TV series will appreciate the jolt of nostalgia these moments provide, particularly with voice actor Alan Young back in his old role as Uncle Scrooge. It’s also fair to say that, just as the original DuckTales was a thoughtfully made game rather than a cheap licensed money spinner, so WayForward’s remake feels like a loving update of the original.
Those constant dialogue scenes and a somewhat high price tag – on the Wii U, it costs £13.49 – may put some prospective buyers off, but for those with fond memories of Uncle Scrooge’s original adventure, DuckTales: Remastered is just about worth prising open the dusty old wallet for.
DuckTales is available to download now for the Wii U, PC and PlayStation 3, with the Xbox 360 version available from the 11th September.
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