Developer: WayForward / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played on: Xbox 360 / Also on: PlayStation 3, Wii U, Steam / Price: 1200 MSP – $14.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Fantasy Violence]
When DuckTales: Remastered was unveiled at PAX East earlier this year, accompanied by the iconic and unforgettable theme song from the Disney show of the same name, gamers of a certain age (those in their 30s and thereabouts) went bananas. Waves of nostalgia washed over us as we remembered not only one of our favorite cartoons from childhood, but also a classic game from the NES era. I’m happy to report that the HD remake of DuckTales delivers on that nostalgia in terms of recreating the joy of the show, not to mention the reminiscence from when games were hard as hell. Despite its kid-friendly, Disney-soaked veneer, DuckTales: Remastered is challenging, and will often make you want to chuck your controller right into the TV. Yeah, I felt just like a kid again.
For those not lucky enough to have lived through DuckTales—either the show or the game—here’s the basic story: Scrooge McDuck, uncle of famous Disney character Donald Duck, is the richest duck in the world, and often goes on treasure hunting expeditions all over the globe. That’s where the show and the NES title departed from each other. The original game was, like most games of the era, pretty much entirely action-oriented. You, as Scrooge, would go from location to location and bounce on enemies’ heads, collect treasure and the occasional power-up, and fight a boss at the end. The show’s charm and fun didn’t really make the transition to the game.
Amazingly, however, Remastered manages to fully recreate what made the show so memorable in what is simultaneously a faithful remake of the NES classic. The key to this successful synthesis is the addition of fully voiced cutscenes, which feature seemingly every surviving cast member from the original animated series. The original game didn’t have much in the way of a cohesive story: basically, players chose a location, found the treasures hidden within and battled bosses. By contrast, Remastered’s scripted cutscenes set the stage for an epic treasure hunt filled with daring rescues of captured friends, uneasy alliances with old foes, and lessons about patience and friendship learned. In all, playing DuckTales: Remastered felt just like watching the original cartoon, but with sweatier palms and a lot more cursing (from me).
So how does it play? As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay is that of a tight and challenging platformer of the highest degree. Scrooge has one weapon at his disposal: his cane. Using it like a pogo stick, he bounces around each level, jumping onto enemies and reaching higher areas to find secrets or new paths. He also uses it like a golf club, whacking rocks out of his way to hit unreachable treasure chests, or at oncoming bad guys. With just this one tool, Scrooge’s fate rests entirely in the reflexes of the player, and those reflexes will be put to the test in each stage.
In so many ways, Remastered lives up to its reputation as a throwback to the 1980s. While clearing enemies in modern games usually means they stay dead, that’s not the case here. Once you leave a screen and come back, the enemy you killed has returned. Those damned hopping mountain goats will never stop coming at you. The same goes for the gorillas, ghosts, and vampire bats. Their relentless pursuit of your feathered behind keeps the adrenaline pumping, and ensures that you have to be at the top of your game to succeed.
I feel like now would be a good time to add that I died in this game a lot. And that after losing all three of my lives, I was never greeted with the friendly continue screen I’d gotten used to in recent years. I would often die in a boss fight after narrowly managing to make it to the end of the stage. Then I had to start the whole level over again.
That said, playing each level repeatedly made me something of an expert. Parts that made me rage became routine as I continued to play, and boss fights which formerly seemed impossible became just another obstacle in my quest for treasure and glory. I can’t remember the last time I felt so compelled to beat a game just to say I did. It’s the very definition of “funstrating,” and it doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned story and cutscenes are worth the price of admission alone.
Helping matters are the super tight controls. Learning how to time your jumps just right is a skill unto itself, and one that isn’t easily mastered. From time to time, I felt as though the game didn’t register a few of my button pushes, leading me to curse even more than usual. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the game, my controller, or my sweaty hands, so I’ll give that one a pass.
Collecting treasure in-game also affords the opportunity to buy extras, like pencil tests, sketches, concept art, and images of characters alongside their 8-bit counterparts, which shows just how wonderful a transformation this game has gone through. There’s more content for sale than you can buy in a single playthrough, so there’s plenty of incentive to go back to stages to earn more cash and buy all the goodies. But on the subject of art, this game simply looks great. The animation and stages are all vibrant and colorful, and there’s not a feather out of place. If you’re a fan of animation in general, this game looks too damn good for you to skip.
On that note, however, there were instances where 3D-style backgrounds blended a bit too well with the foreground, leading me to jump to my accidental death. Again, this didn’t happen too often, but it was an annoying side effect of form over function.
In addition to the amazing voice acting, the sound effects and music are impossible not to like as well. This remake takes the NES game’s toe-tapping tunes and seriously upgrades them, keeping the originals’ spirits and infusing them with fully realized instrumental accompaniment. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a bit more money for a digital download of this game’s soundtrack.
I had to play the game’s final (maddening) stage at least twenty times before I managed to beat it. But every time the music started up, my frustration started to fade and I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.
It’s an odd feeling, to have this much love and affection for a game that tortured me so horrendously. When I finally managed to beat it the other day—narrowly avoiding getting roasted by rising lava—I was so amped up that I was numb by the time the credits rolled. But now that I don’t have to go back to the game to write this review, I can’t help but feel like I want to go back anyway.
Maybe I just don’t want my recent return to Duckburg to end so quickly—or maybe DuckTales is just really fun, and reminded me why I like video games in the first place. Either way, this game exceeds my expectations. If you’re looking for a fun, maddening, and nostalgic romp through your 1980s childhood, DuckTales: Remastered fits that bill.