Life is Like a Hurricane...
DuckTales A-Whoo-oo! Come on, you know you have the insanely catchy tune playing along in your head now. To say I was excited by the announcement last year that the NES classic, DuckTales, was to be remastered in HD for a whole new audience would be a huge understatement. In fact, it's slightly disconcerting just how excited I was, far more so than 33 year old man should rightly be about a Disney game starring cartoon ducks. Childlike glee aside, it's always great to see classic games of the 8 and 16-bit era being revamped, but the expectations from retro gamers such as myself can often be too much for the modern remakes to live up to. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and rose tinted spectacles can often lead to any reboot being unfairly dismissed as unworthy of the original. So how does closely DuckTales Remastered stick to the original formula set by the 1989 original and can it stand on its own webbed feet in 2013?
Well one has to give WayForward a pat on the back for authenticity as DuckTales Remastered sticks more closely to the original source material than any other reboot I have seen. The levels are pretty much screen for screen copies of the original game, only this time featuring new and tweaked sections that improve the level design, and coming sheathed in an absolutely glorious new visual style that lives up to the Disney name. Both the 2D character sprites and the 3D backgrounds are spectacular, even outdoing the quality of the original cartoon (though my hazy memories of the show could be clouding my judgement). Everything is so colourful, vibrant and full of joy that you cannot help but feel a rush of bliss surge through you as you gaze upon it. Assisting this euphoria is the fantastic soundtrack. Upon booting up the game, the music starts off exactly the same style as the NES game before dropping into a genius reworking that combines chiptune melodies with modern beats and production values. It left me grinning from ear to ear, and before I knew it I had sat through the theme tune twice before I even considered pressing the start button. Likewise, the in-game tracks are remakes of the original soundtrack, and are all very impressive and extremely catchy - I especially enjoyed the subtle electro dubstep elements creeping into the Transylvania stage music. Special mention must go to the absolutely sterling job on the voice acting front, with all the original cast coming back to reprise their roles from the cartoon series - it's as if the show never ended and it really brings the DuckTales experience to life.
Gamplay wise, the game, again, sticks very close to the original template. Controlling the lovable, grumpy mallard, Scrooge McDuck, you must navigate five stages, which you can play in any order, collecting gems along the way and defeating enemies by bouncing on them with your trusty cane, that doubles as a springy pogo stick. Each stage is guarded by a boss who takes a few hits to the noggin before admitting defeat and rewarding you with one of the missing treasures Scrooge so dearly wants. These boss encounters are much improved in this remastered iteration. Previously the boss encounters were very simple affairs requiring a few pogo bounces and simplistic pattern memorisation to win, but here these battles are extended to included new attack waves and are much more challenging for it. The original DuckTales used Capcom's Mega Man engine, and was a far less linear game than other platform games on the system - Scrooge could find many hidden walls, walk 'Super Mario Bros Style' along the top of the screen to reach secrets, and take different routes to the end boss. It gave the game a sense of exploration that has been recreated here. The locales are the same as the original; The Amazon, Transylvania, The Himalayas, African Mines and The Moon, with two new areas for this remastered edition - the introductory stage inside the vault that works as a tutorial, and the final Mount Vesuvius level.
Less welcome is a heavy reliance on story telling. Each stage has cutscenes telling the story of Scrooge and the little ducklings trying to locate a bunch of hidden treasures and.. YAWN! As we all know, the plot in old school 2D platformers are completely irrelevant, as it's all about enjoying the gameplay. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the guys at WayForward as they have gone completely over the top when it comes to the narrative. Scrooge seems to stop every five minutes to chat on about something or another and it completely kills the flow of the game. You can pause the game and choose 'skip cinematic' but this is irksome and still intrusive. I honestly don't know what they were thinking when they made the decision to include constant in-game cutscenes, and especially not include an option to turn them off completely. It's not as if these featured in the original NES DuckTales (though there were minor interruptions in the excellent sequel), so one can only assume it is a thinly veiled attempt to pad out the game's duration - after all the NES original could be blasted through in under half an hour by a skilled player.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is just as enjoyable as before, and seeing the classic levels remastered with extra sections added is hugely satisfying, but I have to wonder how gamers who didn't grow up playing the original will view this game. It is a straightforward, and very short, platform game with a pretty steep difficulty level and some iffy collision detection and control issues - I often found that Scrooge wouldn't do his pogo jump, even though I pressed the button. I could never look at DuckTales Remastered without being swayed by power waves of nostalgia, as the original two NES games are games I hold dear to my heart.
I am still really enjoying DuckTales Remastered, but once you have beaten the game the magic is dampened considerably. I would also like to slap the developers for including an incredibly cheap and brutally hard section at the end (i won't spoil the surprise, but it needs mentioning) in which death (and you WILL die) requires the entire, lengthy stage and final boss encounter to be repeated. I honestly haven't been so annoyed with a game in a while, and many expletives were thrown at the screen (and almost the controller too). Many will argue that NES games were hard, and modern gamers have been softened by easier difficulty levels, but I recently completed the notoriously hard Super Castlevania IV on SNES without too much hassle, and yet I found DuckTales Remastered occasionally infuriating.
Overall, I applaud WayForward for bringing a 24 year old game bang up to date, warts and all, but some poor design choices and minor irritations that should never have never made it into the final product let down the overall experience. It would also have been nice if they had included the levels from DuckTales 2, which would have bulked out the game considerably and seems like a missed opportunity - unless they plan to remaster the sequel, which seems unlikely. I must also ask why the original NES version was not included as an unlockable - this I cannot forgive.
For NES fans, and especially those who love the original, I would say that you have to experience DuckTales Remastered for the joy of seeing something that you remember in such a wonderful new light, but I would be more hesitant to recommend it to those unfamiliar with the original, or 8-bit platform games in general - especially when you could potentially get less than two hours worth of entertainment from it before moving onto something else. I really, really, want to give DuckTales Remastered an 8 or higher as it is great fun, the music is euphoria for the ears and it's technically a better game than the original ever was, but the over-reliance on story, a few bad design choices and the short length of the game mean I have to be unsentimental and give it its deserved score.
- Absolutely fantastic cartoon visuals
- The music is insanely catchy and the theme tune is the best thing ever!
- Fun and retro platform gaming
- Pays fitting tribute to the excellent original game
- Huge nostalgia value for fans of the original
- Far, far too many in-game cutscenes that cannot be turned off
- Some iffy collision detection and occasional control issues
- Can be finished in less than an hour
- That final section - arrrrggh!
- Why is the NES original version not included?
Title : DuckTales Remastered
Developer : WayForward
Year : 2013
System : PS3
Also on : PC, Wii-U, Xbox 360