Solo Gamer Review: DuckTales: Remastered
DuckTales is a landmark game from the NES era, in that it is one of the first successful attempts at a licensed video game after the horrendous E.T. game for Atari nearly strangled the entire gaming industry in its crib. For my generation, just mentioning DuckTales, the Disney cartoon the game is based on, conjures up fond memories and an automatic recollection of the impossibly catchy theme song. For those of us who played the surprisingly great NES game, news from earlier in the year that an HD remake was in the works warmed our hearts and made us giddy. Does this remake stand up to its nostalgic reputation?
|Okay, so it's not Shakespeare, but that's a good thing|
The original game had a story, but it was a mere skeleton of one. WayForward, the company behind this remake, has taken that skeleton and built layers and layers of narrative on it to create a full-fledged duck tale. This is still just the story of Scrooge McDuck scouring exotic locations for secret treasures, but there's a lot more going on underneath the surface. There is an overall arc that nicely ties itself back to the beginning, a few good villains, allies, and plot twists, and each stage now comes packed with new motivations for Scrooge's explorations.
For a simple 2-D platformer, it's remarkable how much effort WayForward put into the narrative and how respectfully they treated the source material. In the end, this feels like it could be a new episode of the cartoon, and for those of us who grew up on the property, that's good news indeed.
[Story: 10 - The story is fleshed out to feel almost exactly like an episode of the cartoon upon which it is based.]
|His spine must be made out of rubber|
The remake sticks very close to the original's deceptively simple gameplay. You play as Scrooge, who weilds nothing but his cane, which he mostly uses like a super-powered and deadly pogo stick. This unique style of platforming works beautifully, and it's strange that it's never been replicated in the 23 years since DuckTales was first released. Scrooge stomps on baddies like Mario, but his cane launches him higher and farther than Mario could ever go without a feather, a cape, or a dinosaur. He also finds treasure in nearly every corner of every stage, laughing giddily as the dollar count rises, and doesn't hesitate to occasionally swing his cane like a golf club to launch rocks at his enemies.
In a broader sense, however, the game is built to be played non-linearly. After a new, brief tutorial stage in which Scrooge fends off Beagle Boys trying to get to his vault, you are given the freedom to choose your stages in whatever order you like, much like Capcom's other classic NES platformer, Mega Man. Then, within each stage, you are tasked with collecting a handful of items--coins, airplane parts, pieces of Gizmoduck armor, etc--in order to progress to the boss lair, but those items are scattered in an open, labyrinthian area that cannot be traversed in a straight line. There are hidden passages reminiscent of Metroid, secret heart containers like The Legend of Zelda, and the odd mine cart ride that was later used by Rare for Donkey Kong Country. It's like a Nintendo's greatest hits mash-up.
Still, as with most classic NES games, it is not for the easily frustrated. While not as controller-hurlingly difficult as many other classics, DuckTales will still test your mettle, and DuckTales: Remastered stays true to that, for the most part. Both versions have three difficulty settings--easy, normal, and hard--but they might as well be "hard," "pretty damn difficult," and "the game hates you," especially for the NES version. The remake makes things a little easier by having the option to make pogo attacks automatic, but this mechanic will randomly fail every so often, predictably just as you are launching yourself at an enemy sitting on the edge of a bottomless pit.
|Scrooge isn't worried|
Additionally, while the remake will still throw you back to the stage select screen once you've lost all your lives, it will autosave once you've beaten a stage. This is a mixed blessing, because on one hand, it is great that you don't have to start from zero every time you want to play the game, but on the other hand, if you miss a heart container (there is one in every stage), you won't be able to replay that stage and retrieve it unless you restart.
Where the remake really shines is in the boss battles. The original boss battles weren't bad, but they were overly simple. WayForward has fixed that, balancing more complex boss patterns with just the right amount of challenge to make it worth your effort. There are two or three bosses--most notably the final one--that will probably beat you back to the stage select screen before you really know how to defeat them. One spoilerish word of warning, though: beating the final boss is not the hardest part of the final stage.
Both versions also sport multiple endings, but the remake has the inexplicable addition of being able to spend all of Scrooge's winnings on concept art and other pointless extras. The remake also includes a pause-screen map for each stage, which sacrifices some of the challenge for a bit of convenience, and a wholly unnecessary tutorial level, as though the pogo-stick gameplay isn't intuitive enough. It's a short ride, depending on your skill level, but a well-designed one. The remake does make things a little easier here and there, but by no means should you expect it to be a breezy experience.
[Gameplay: 8 - There are additions both good and meh, but the core gameplay experience of the NES original is preserved.]
|Two words: fan service|
Probably the most remarkable thing about the remake is the voice acting. Somehow, WayForward managed to assemble the entire (surviving) voice cast from the television show, including a 93-year-old, ironically named Alan Young as Scrooge, and recorded thousands of lines of dialogue. They also spent an amazing amount of time animating the characters in high-definition with a wide array of expressions and movements ripped right out of my childhood's Saturday mornings. They even got the same musicians to score the thing, giving authenticity to the soundtrack in place of tinny 8-bit mimicry (although the music is still all-digital, so it still has that distinct MIDI-like quality).
Unfortunately, there is a downside to all this lovingly realized work: assuming you don't just start skipping them, a huge chunk of your gametime will be spent watching tedious cutscenes. After a short while, your reaction to the dialogue will go from childish delight to "get on with it, you slow-talking old man" annoyance, and you'll get really sick of hearing Scrooge exclaim things like, "Oo-hoo, it's a diamond the size of Mrs. Beakley!" I should also point out the occasional game-breaking glitch, though I only came across it when I lost my last life or tried to exit a level prematurely, meaning it didn't actually cost me any progress.
Given that, it's hard to know exactly how to give a presentation score. It's a lot of work that is highly appreciated--and the HD graphics, original voice cast, and cartoon-worthy soundtrack are great--but the fan nostalgia is off-balance, almost pushing the game itself into the background as an afterthought.
[Presentation: 7 - Fans of DuckTales will love all the hard work WayForward put into recreating a twenty-year-old cartoon, but even they will quickly tire of the long-winded cutscenes and Scrooge banter]
For people of my generation who remember both the cartoon and NES video game fondly, DuckTales: Remastered is a refreshing dose of nostalgia that will make you happy. For other gamers, not so much. It retains all the cleverness and great design choices of the original game, but younger gamers aren't likely to appreciate such an antiquated style and ramped up difficulty level. As modern remakes of classic games go, DuckTales: Remastered stands proudly among some of the best, but it's still a game with a niche audience.
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10
TOTAL SCORE: 8.8
It's a good bit of faithful nostalgia for fans of the cartoon and the NES classic.
-e. magill 11/6/2013