“Life is like a hurricane”… you’re telling me! Twenty-three years have whirled by since DuckTales‘ 1989 video game debut. In that time the Capcom platformer has come to be revered as an 8-bit legend, and for me personally is one of the most nostalgia-inducing NES titles of all time. It’s a testament to the Disney adventure’s influence on younger gamers that developer WayForward Technologies – largely comprised of those who played the original as kids – felt passionate enough to facilitate its well-deserved modernisation.
The fruit of their labour – DuckTales: Remastered – provides long term fans with a welcome excuse to relive their youth, while simultaneously repackaging an old-school classic for a modern era. However the question remains, does this reincarnation reflect the retro magic of its predecessor, or is it simply a dead duck, too archaic to appeal to a contemporary audience?
WayForward’s re-imagining recounts the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, the richest fowl in the world. Always on the lookout for opportunities to expand his considerable wealth, he sets off in search of five mythical treasures to add to his collection. Many fan-favourite characters from the animated series make their return including nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, dim-witted pilot Launchpad McQuack and of course, Mrs Beakley; all of whom are expertly voiced by the show’s surviving cast.
Gone are the pixelated graphics of the NES, replaced by striking HD visuals that smack of Disney’s artistic stylings. Wonderfully detailed backdrops stretch into the distance, subtly shifting perspective as the plush levels scroll by. Likewise the hand-drawn character models are gorgeous and look like they’ve been traced directly from the cartoon. The only problem is that the two don’t always seem to fully gel, which can occasionally be disorientating, but isn’t a huge issue once you adjust.
DuckTales’ iconic soundtrack has also been brought up to date, staying true to its chiptune roots while adding a host of additional instrumentation. The electronic grooves that were such an integral part of the 8-bit experience sound funkier than ever, replete with smooth improvisation and slick modern production. The jubilant Amazon theme never failed to bring a wistful smile to my lips; and if the soundtrack gets its own release I’ll be diving on in like it was a money-bin.
After an all new introductory stage you can choose to take on the game’s five main levels in any order, and the exotic locations you visit are as varied as the whimsical foes you face. You plough past slugs and bats in an African mine, clash with skeletons and mummies in a Transylvanian mansion, and even tussle with tentacled aliens on the surface of the moon. The layout of these memorable surroundings remain largely unchanged, right down to their hidden pathways and enemy positions.
Gameplay also remains exceptionally faithful, which is fantastic on the one hand, though it does mean that the problems inherent to the formula persist in Remastered. Based on Capcom’s Mega Man engine, Scrooge uses his cane as a pogo stick to bounce on enemies’ heads and overcome environmental obstacles. There are concealed treasures to amass and mysteries to solve as you explore non-linear stages, some of which are broken up with mine cart, helicopter and plane sequences.
The punishing difficulty of its forebear is back, intensified by its outmoded level design and reoccurring control inconsistencies. If you lose all your lives you’re booted from a stage and must start again from the beginning, an antiquated system that can quickly become frustrating. There is one post-boss section in particular that killed me multiple times, forcing me to replay the entire level again and again. This drove me dangerously close to rage-quitting and/or throttling someone, so consider yourself warned.
Speaking of bosses, these end of stage encounters have been improved and expanded upon, intensifying their difficulty and instilling an enhanced sense of character. The game’s frequent cutscenes also do an excellent job of introducing new players to the world of DuckTales, while making some vintage callbacks for fans of the series. While these persistent interruptions may have the potential to irritate during repeat playthroughs, they can quickly and easily be skipped if you so desire.
I had a lot of fun re-experiencing this time-honoured childhood classic. Having said that, I fall directly into WayForward’s target demographic; those who played and loved the original. If the same is true for you, this re-imagining will likely make for a delightful, nostalgia-laced experience. However, if DuckTales is unexplored territory for you, I could definitely see its old-fashioned gameplay and brutal difficulty being quite off-putting.
My initial playthrough on hard only took around five hours, so expect the game to whiz by in a duck-blur; but with a plethora of unlockables including music, artwork and an extreme difficulty level, there’s more than enough content to justify a second trip to Duckburg.