Retro Scope: DuckTales

Iain looks back on Capcom’s classic cartoon tie-in.

By Iain Farrell. Posted 07/10/2014 09:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

In the late ’80s and early ’90s I desperately wanted, and was denied, a Nintendo console. It’s a massive treat, then, that I get to play DuckTales as my first Nintendojo Retro Scope feature.

In this mould breaking console game you play as Scrooge McDuck, one of, but not yet, the richest ducks in the world. His fortune has been stolen and the aim of the game is to travel to the many varied locations in the game, collecting treasures and getting to the top spot.

Along the way you’ll meet a host of the characters from the TV series in a game that a “proper” gamer might overlook at first sight on the shelves. Just as now, a licensed title in the ’80s could be a terrible thing. Nintendo’s seal of quality guaranteed that you had some comeback if that cart didn’t work, but unless that title was produced by Nintendo, it didn’t always guarantee a great game. But to pass it up would be a huge mistake because coming to DuckTales fresh over 20 years later, the thing that stands out is how good it still is.

It’s not an accident that it plays so well. When Capcom got the chance to work on a Disney title all its own (the company had previously worked on a Hudson/Disney joint venture called Mickey Mousecapade), it brought out the big guns. Legendary designer Tokuro Fujiwara, famous for the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, was brought in to produce along with character designer Keiji Inafune of Mega Man, and most recently Mighty No. 9, fame on hand to lend the characters their distinctly Disney look. Along with a host of doubtless brilliant but unsung members, this team have succeeded in making more than a simple cartoon tie-in. They’ve made a full-blooded gamer’s game. One which ticks all the corporate licensing boxes and lives up to the high standards of the brand but more importantly for us, plays brilliantly to this day. The controls are precise; when you die in DuckTales you know it was your fault. You can almost feel it happening in slow motion as you realise that the combination of movements your fingers are carrying out on your behalf is utterly foolish. I can’t remember the last game where my internal monologue spent so much time scolding my pathetic human hands.

Then there’s the fact that it looks amazing with animations more varied than I remember in any NES title, and the variety of enemies and locations are a constant joy. Hours can be lost just exploring and your reward is not just bragging rights, but meaningful progress. The game demands you come to meet it and if you do you get the real sense you’ve earned something. It’s a feeling quite rare in modern games, which signpost progress constantly with achievements and notifications that your friends also got this far and here’s what they thought. Here, like a lot of older games, you don’t really know how you’re doing or whether you’ve taken the right route through the levels. Like cartoons on a Sunday morning you’re left thinking, “Maybe I’m the only person watching…”

I am in love with this game, and a novella could be written on the game modes it helped to invent, not to mention games it has clearly touched. I would pick it over the Remastered edition from last year any day. That version has rich HD visuals and the advantage that you can play it on your Wii U as soon as you finish reading this inspirational piece, but I think that there is so much going on in that version that it feels cluttered and overwrought, in the way that a long brewed love letter can be. I don’t doubt that WayForward meant to make a game every bit as good as the original but if it were me, I’d get my hands on a copy of DuckTales for the NES. It is a vintage game wholly deserving of your 21st century time.

3 Responses to “Retro Scope: DuckTales

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I’m a proud owner of both, and loved this piece. I would say that I think WayForward’s intention have been misinterpreted a bit, though; the game is as much a remake as it is a loving homage to the actual cartoon show (I mean, they didn’t have to reunite the voice cast, after all!). Still, the purity of the original is perhaps preferable, especially when you take into account everything you typed. Very nice.

  • 18 points
    Iain Farrell says...

    Ohh, you have the second. Worth playing?

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Oh, I meant the original and the remake, lol. I WISH I had the sequel, I’ve heard that it is also very fun. =)

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