By Peter Gothard
You might remember playing DuckTales back on the Nintendo Entertainment System (or even the Gameboy) in the late eighties. Many others did, and an amount of fan clamour finally pushed Capcom to attempt a remake.
Developed by WayForward – a US team who are good at the 2D platform thing – it’s an update which tries to tread the fine balance between respecting the original source material, and adding just enough bells and whistles to appeal to a modern audience.
Scrooge McDuck, is an ageing billionaire mallard who always enjoys finding new and interesting ways to pour extra cash into the money pool he loves to swim in. This time, he’s off to a series of five global locations, ploughing them for riches, culminating in a boss confrontation, and recovery of a particularly treasured artefact.
Make no mistake – DuckTales may have been aimed at kids back in the eighties, but it was a tough game then, and is just as difficult now. There’s an included Easy mode, but to complete DuckTales properly you’ll need to play it on Medium, and get used to the feeling of failure as you can easily spend twenty minutes working through a level, collecting all its goodies then being toppled by a boss creature and losing the last of Scrooge’s mere three lives.
But it’s not an unfair game, either. WayForward has translated Capcom’s level design and handling of Scrooge’s limited jumping abilities to a pixel perfect degree, and there’s a lot of delight to be had from nailing each level’s secret areas and finding its little tricks for success as you learn to exploit Scrooge’s excellent pogostick boost, or basic enemy stupidity (happily, not updated in the remake) to carve a path to victory.
WayForward has also added an interesting tactical element to the game’s original mechanic of letting you choose the order you attempt the levels; there’s an extra heart container hidden in every level that expands the amount of damage Scrooge can take beyond basic three hits. With some levels trickier than others, finding the hearts and returning to harder stages later on is the order of the day.
At the same time, WayForward has also bolted on new game content that’s a joy to play, and fits perfectly into the DuckTales world. Extra, fast-paced minecart sections, a daring mid-air battle with Scrooge’s kilt-wearing rival Flintheart Glomgold, and some reinterpreted bosses that take the old game’s tiny sprites and make them epic, screen-filling creatures are just some of the fun on offer.
On top, Disney got the old DuckTales band back together, with original Scrooge voice actor (and Philby in George Pal’s 1960 The Time Machine movie) Alan Young on top form here as the miserly but kind-hearted old duck, with nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, hare-brained pilot Launchpad and the evil Magica De Spell all present and correct in a number of entertaining in-game cutscenes.
Overall, DuckTales is a spectacular knees-up for anybody who loved the original, or who has a thing for extremely old-school, unforgiving platform games generally. However, it’s unclear what kids – who may be drawn in by the game’s Disneyfied stylings – might really get out of a brand that’s not been on TV for years, and brought back in such a hardcore form of videogame. Still, WayForward can only be congratulated for trying to make DuckTales appeal across the board without attempting, in the words of the themesong to “rewrite history”. Enjoy the nostalgia for yourself, or use it show your kids what life was like before infinite lives, checkpoints and powerups came along and made gaming a distinctly easier ride.
DuckTales is out available now from PlayStation Network, the Wii U Nintendo eShop and Steam. A release on Xbox Live Arcade will follow on September 11, 2013 whilst a retail PlayStation 3 version will also be released on August 20, 2013.