Dude, how good is DuckTales? Unlike a lot of the other whiny entries on this blog, I beat this one many times as a kid. A remade, high-definition version of this game will be released in a few days, and the fact that enough people have as much love and as many warm memories to warrant a reboot of this nostalgic trip as I do inspired me to run through it again. Ultimately, I wanted to see if it really held up, or if it was only the nostalgic filter that gave it such a lasting legacy (spoiler: it holds up).
It’s another Capcom title, and I’m sure during this period of the 80’s/90’s, they all but ruled the third party library of Nintendo games, in both profit and quality. Everything in this game is up to the standards set even by their best Mega Man entries: tight control, fantastic music, challenging yet fair gameplay and always visually diverse. The story is so obvious that it is never actually revealed; you’re Scrooge McDuck, and all you want is more coin. You’re given 5 stages to explore: The Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, The Himalayans, and The Moon. Also similar to Mega Man, the order in which you visit them is entirely up to you. I remember this always being a very appealing design in gameplay approach. Sometimes in a game, your favorite stage was deep into the experience, or the first level was so unbearable you never wanted to play. Here, you could kick the adventure off at the Amazon every time or begin on the Moon if you were craving that stage’s theme (easily the strongest in the game).
Each level has a boss guarding a unique treasure at the end. Along the way, Scrooge collects diamonds of varying sizes and colors which further expands his fortune (your score, to some degree). You’ll also encounter (not so) familiar (anymore) faces from the television series as they help you along the way, such as Launchpad who will offer to pull you out of a stage in his helicopter, or Gizmo Duck and his ability to blast away obstacles. Old quips from the show also appear in those classic awkward, clunky NES dialogue boxes, and they’ve only gotten better with age (“Bless me bagpipes!” needs to come back).
The controls manage to remain simple yet unique. Scrooge’s cane acts as both a weapon and a means of transportation. When holding down B + down, the player uses the cane as somewhat of a pogo stick. Now Scrooge can traverse over obstacles such as spikes, defeat enemies by landing on their heads and reach higher grounds. There’s one great instance where you can cheat the game as only Scrooge McDuck would. As you enter a large room, you can juuust make out the tail end of a rope at the top of the screen, unreachable. A giant statue proclaims that if you pay a substantial amount of money, he will grant you access to the rope. But why would Scrooge part with that hard earned treasure? Deny the statue outright, turn around to prompt an enemy to respawn in true Capcom fashion, then jump on his head and snag the rope. Free of charge! Look at me, handing out tips you probably already know about to easy games. Don’t mention it.
Stages are fairly straightforward but also allow and encourage some exploration. Doing so will yield a couple of bonus treasures (required for the “best” alternate ending, another early example of a now commonly-used game trait), expansions for your life bar and the rare-but-sometimes needed extra lives. Bosses follow the classic tried-and-true NES formula – patterns that seem to have little rhyme or reason, but easily trumped with a little patience and determination.
Different and unique obstacles are found on each stage. In the Amazon, you’ll find snakes, gorillas, bees and pitfalls. Transylvania serves as the “maze” stage of the game, but is not nearly as relentless as other titles (like round 6 of this asshole, or this entire experience front to back). The African Mines are more fun than difficult, unlike the Himalayas. Using the pogo-stick attack will get you stuck in the snow, so you’d best be sure you’re going to nail that enemy square on the head lest you become vulnerable. Once you’re out of the snow and underground, the going gets no safer. Icy platforms send you sliding everywhere, and spiders hanging form the ceiling will fake you out in order to trick you into their traps. And finally, the Moon… I need to reiterate the music. It’s among the best in not just retro gaming, but gaming period, in my opinion. In addition to the original, you’ll find cover versions featuring everything from piano and guitar to synthesizers and acapella. I discovered this one about 15 years ago and still go back to it. Seriously, when it comes DuckTales, come for the gameplay, stay for the Moon theme.
Once all stages are completed, Scrooge is beaming with pleasure as the cash piles up and Huey, Dewey and Louie cheer on. Suddenly, the money is stolen in a flash, and a voice tells Scrooge that if he wants it back, he must return to Transylvania. This is the one redundant weak point of the game. The five stages are all great, but if played a certain way, this will be your third trip to this level. If you beat it the first time around without finding a key, you can’t fully access the African Mines, and your immediately sent back to Transylvania to find it. Whatever the case, you fight through the stage once again to fight a vampire duck at the end. The dude totally looks like Count Duckula, a character from another ancient, long-forgotten cartoon show full of duck puns. Once he is defeated, another grizzly, grumpy Scottish duck appears to inform Scrooge that he will still have to beat him in a race to claim his cash. I remembered this always being a nail-biter of a conclusion, racing up the rope and jumping toward the treasure chest, knowing that the slightest error would result in failure. Not so. The villain has little to no chance in winning, as a vulture lifts him slowly up beside you.
Oh well. Anticlimactic-ness aside, your adventure ends here – until the memory of the music alone implores you to fire it back up again. Thanks again Mr. Mc-D, it’s good to see you again.