Saturday, April 27, 2013

DuckTales (NES) Review

I never played DuckTales for the NES as a kid, so consider this review completely unclouded by nostalgia! …Unless of course you count nostalgia for old NES games in general, which I am certainly a victim of! I’d heard all the hype surrounding the game watching many retro video game shows on Youtube and the game’s popularity is also evidenced in the recently announced DuckTales: Remastered. I somewhat remember the cartoon and the Scottish-accented Scrooge McDuck, but my memory is foggy. Anyway, I found the game on ebay and popped it in my NES to give it a try. And then I took it out again and blew on it for while. But then I found out that the whole “blowing” technique is actually bad for game cartridges in the long run and there are better methods of getting one’s NES games to work. I think cleaning your cartridges and console are still the best method though! Anyway, after some initial troubles with the game repeatedly freezing on me, I finally managed to play through the whole game unhindered. Four times.

What can I say? DuckTales is great. Right off the bat, I was surprised by its non-linearity and that I could choose any stage that I wanted to. You mean I can go to “The Moon” first? Awesome! I was a bit confused about how to control Scrooge McDuck when starting out. I’d seen videos online of him bouncing all over the place with his cane before, but couldn’t figure out how to perform this trick or how to do much of anything except jump. Before long though, I was using Mr. McD’s cane as a pogo-stick and down-thrusting baddies left and right. It was really all a matter of figuring out that to use the pogo-cane, the player has to jump and then press down on the D-pad and the A button to active the action. My experience with Zelda II had me thinking  that I just had to hold down and press nothing else (which isn’t necessarily superior design; Zelda II’s controls work great for that game’s needs and DuckTales’ work great for its design). After I’d mastered the controls, the game was a treasure trove of fun. Bouncing around on Uncle Scrooge’s cane is seriously one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in any video game, and the game is highly unique in that it’s designed almost entirely around this maneuver and the player’s mastery of it. I can’t really accurately describe the pure joy this action brings when you really get the controls down and learn how to bounce off foes to reach treasure chests floating in the sky and bounce across rows of brambles and spikes unharmed. The cane-thrust is also very versatile as you can choose to hold the A button for maximum bounce, or quickly cancel the bouncing action by letting go of A and then re-pressing it to bounce at lower altitudes. The only other major action Scrooge can perform in the game besides walking and regular jumping is using his cane as a golf club to punt objects like rocks into the air at enemies or treasure chests. This technique can also be used to move small platforms for some minor problem solving. This action is simple, but very satisfying.

                That’s mainly how I’d sum DuckTales up as a whole: simple, but oh so satisfying. Besides its great gameplay, another aspect I love about the game is its plot. It’s sort of refreshing in a way for a retro game to feature a plot that doesn’t revolve around saving a princess or saving the world or even defeating a defined bad guy. Nope. Scrooge is simply out to be the filthiest stinkin’ rich duck in the world! This game’s simply about adventure: traveling to exotic locations all around the globe to score legendary treasures that bosses guard (and some hidden ones) and gems that magically fall out of the sky! The game really put me in Scrooge McDuck’s shoes as I just couldn’t help but go out of my way to nab every last little gemstone and jewel that I could get my hands on. I felt compelled to get the “best ending” in which *SPOILER* the player scores over $10,000,000 in precious riches as well the game's two hidden treasures in addition to the normal ones and Scrooge sits atop a massive pile of gold with a crown on his head and plays with his loot.

Above: Not actually a scene from the game

                Just about every aspect of DuckTales is polished. The game is a beautiful NES game and the colorful, vibrant art direction reminds me of the NES Mega Man games, which isn’t surprising considering it’s a Capcom game and Keiji Inafune, Mega Man’s original character illustrator and co-designer and one of the artists who worked on all the NES Mega Man games, was the artist for this game. The level design is great too with many branching paths and lots of territory to explore in each level, complete with classically NES-era hidden areas accessed by doing things like jumping to places an average player wouldn’t normally think to jump, or pogo, to. All this classic NESsy gaming goodness is coupled with a fantassstic soundtrack composed by Hiroshige Tonomura. You all know this themeAnd this insanely catchy tune wouldn’t get out of my head for days after I first heard it in the game. But I think my personal favorite track in the game might be this one (and the African Mines also happens to be my favorite level in the game…I have a thing for caves, especially in classic games). The overall sound design for the game is great, including all the sound effects like the satisfying little squeal when Scrooge defeats an enemy. 

                If you’ve never played DuckTales, I highly recommend it. It also helps that the game is very accessible with three difficulty levels, so just about anyone can see the game through to the end. Also, the more the player explores in the game, the more they find extra lives and permanently upgrade their life bar. Sure, the bosses are mostly pushovers (except for that damn giant rat on the moon!) and the game lazily recycles the Transylvania stage as its final level, just adding a new boss at the end, but these issues are trivial in regards to the overall experience. Besides, I sort of like the easy boss patterns; they just work for this game somehow, which isn’t a game about combat, but one about exploring, platforming, and bouncing!

                Bless me bagpipes! If you haven’t played DuckTales, and have a functional NES, go out and grab a copy in good condition on ebay and help Uncle Scrooge to really become the richest duck in the world!

I just can't get this theme song out of my head now!

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