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D-d-d-danger right behind you…

Nostalgia can be a tricky thing. On one hand, it has the ability to transport people to another time and place which they remember fondly. On the other, it poses a formidable challenge to developers who attempt to revisit these treasured gems. How does one improve on an experience which was shaped in large part by the experiences of growing up? This is the challenge which WayForward faced  when they attempted to bring the 8-bit classic DuckTales to a modern audience. The result is a largely successful exercise.

Released on the NES in 1989, the original was a product of Capcom’s excellent output of licensed titles in the late 80s and early 90s. Based on the hit Disney series of the same name, the game featured feathered protagonist Scrooge McDuck embarking on a quest to locate a series of treasures scattered across five worlds. These included the African Mines, the Amazon, the Himalayas, Transylvania and the Moon. Players could tackle the stages in any order, ala Capcom’s Mega Man series, and faced a boss fight at the end of each stage. Stages were populated by enemies which could be dispatched by a nifty pogo attack. The game featured cameos from many of the cartoon’s characters including Scrooge’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, Launchpad McQuack, DuckWorth, Magica de Spell, the Beagle Boys and many others. This fan service played a strong role in endearing gamers to the original when it first launched and serves the remake in the same manner.

For the most part, DuckTales is the same game we played in 1989. Modern gaming conventions such as configurable difficulty settings and a checkpoint system have been added to make it a more forgivable experience, but the innards of the game remain intact. Scrooge still traverses through stages, bouncing on the heads of enemies with his pogo attack. He still lines up his cane for a swing at strategically placed treasure chests. Even the attack patterns of the bosses have made the transition unaltered. Scrooge controls sharply with hops and jumps featuring the right amount of weightiness. No floaty Little Big Planet platforming here. Unfortunately, the game’s mechanical excellence does little to compensate for its lack of ambition.

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The game features locales which should be familiar to fans of the cartoons.

By the time I cleared the first stage, I found myself wondering if this was all there was to DuckTales. The game is a product of an era where games relished the opportunity to push the reflexes of its players to the limit. Shaped in large part by gaming’s arcade roots, 1980s platformers would stack the odds against the gamer in an effort to squeeze more quarters from them. This shaped game design and turned the hobby into the Ivan Drago of entertainment. More often than not, games would break you.

The one area which benefits the most from WayForward’s efforts is the game’s visuals and audio. Whilst the original was constrained by the limitations of the NES hardware, modern platforms have made it possible to create what is essentially an interactive episode of the beloved cartoon series. Characters are identical to their silver screen counterparts and are lovingly animated. This injects a healthy dose of personality to the vivid character sprites, bringing the characters to life. For example, Scrooge no longer sports the odd maroon outfit from the NES original, but is now decked out in his red and blue from the cartoon. He is capable of emoting in a number of ways such as tapping his feet impatiently and cocking his top hat at an angle. These mannerisms, should bring a smile to any fan of the cartoons.

Remastered also features new music in the game, composed by Jake Kaufman. The game allows players to toggle between the new soundtrack and the original 8-bit soundtrack after clearing the game once, which includes 8-bit renditions of the newly added compositions. If you’re like me, you’ll leave the game at the title screen, listening to the iconic theme all the way through. The rest of the soundtrack is as catchy as you remembered and does an amazing job in completing the experience. WayForward even managed to get most of the original voice actors from the cartoons to reprise their roles as the characters. 23 years after the series went off the air, it’s truly amazing to hear Alan Young reprise his role as Scrooge McDuck.  

Finally, WayForward has bundled in a gallery of artwork and music which is unlockable through the collection of treasure throughout the game worlds. It’s fairly standard for most Capcom published releases, but should be a welcome addition for fans of the cartoons.

DuckTales is a labor of love. It does little to alter the 1989 original, but modernizes its presentation for 2013. Bereft of gameplay depth, it’s an experience which should please those of us who look back on the adventures of these feathered friends with fond memories. However, it has little to offer a gamer with no connection or memory of the iconic cartoons.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.

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