Disclaimer: I don’t know enough duck terminology to put a bunch of cool duck puns into this review. Trust me, I tried.
The party game. Otherwise known as the best excuse to get a few friends together, crack open some cheap beer, and act like a bunch of juveniles who hoot and holler at the moving lights on the T.V. Duck Game is, at its base form, the distillation of what makes a great party game. It has breakneck action, chemistry, comedy – the works. It’s the kind of game a freshman in college would think up from a questionably sticky futon while giggling to himself about the absurdity of it all. The last line of his pitch: “Oh, and everyone is a duck.”
From the very onset, Duck Game makes its rule set clear to everyone playing. In a stroke of genius game design, each player starts in a room blockaded by a glass barrier, with a shotgun hovering next to them. The controls for “pick up,” “use,” and “throw” are all displayed onscreen. Before the game can begin, everyone needs to break out of their prison and jump into the teleporter. This completely negates the need for awkward pre-game ramblings about controls and lets everyone straight into the action.
Much like Towerfall and other party games of its ilk, Duck Game is all about blasting each other with weapons of varying degrees of practicality. The saxophone, I’ve found, is not particularly effective. There’s mind control beams, Halo 3 Spartan Lasers, suicide guns, and remote-controlled explosive shopping carts. These are scattered among more tame guns, but they all have such a distinct feel that when you pick up a Deringer, for instance, you know you better make your shots count.
If Jimmy Neutron’s dad was the Terminator, he’d be pretty close to the aesthetic of Duck Game. Every living character is a duck, and the world is an 80’s sci-fi hellscape. It’s the kind of radical that only exists in retrospect: sunglasses, chainsaw surfing, and televised gladiator battles. I kind of hate it, but somehow it works. I never questioned why Duck Game looked and sounded like it does, but I also never particularly grooved with its brand of irreverence.
There are two very important aspects of Duck Game that feel worth mentioning. The first is the collection of hats your duck can wear, denoting its “team.” These can be unlocked by playing normally and by buying them with tokens earned from the clever single-player challenges (more on these later). The second is the Quack Button. Feeling bored? Press the Quack Button. Eager for a game to start? Quack Button. Did you win the round? Spam the Quack Button. There will not be a moment of peace, not while four people wield the power of the quack.
Level design in Duck Game is less interested in making things fair and more interested in creating moments of hilarity. Starting everyone in a small room with a handful of grenades, for example, is a great way to make a couch of people start freaking out. Some levels are survival-driven, and you’ll be dodging death squares while trampolining and trying to knock opponents into them with dart guns. I liked the variety of the stages, I just wish they were a little easier on the eyes.
The good news is that the simplistic, sometimes garish nature of Duck Game’s graphics serve a purpose. Everything is built from pre-fab blocks, which can be used in the level creator. You can alter spawns, weapons, and hazards to create an abomination of a level if you want, as long as it fits within the pre-allocated object limit. While my friends and I had our share of fun in the primary death-match mode, making levels feels robust enough that I could imagine some pretty creative standouts online down the road.
Apart from this diversion, the single player “campaign,” made up of arcade-like time and score attack levels, is surprisingly meaty. There are standard speedrun affairs intermixed with some creative challenges that make the most of Duck Game’s weirdest weapons and power-ups. My favorite was chainsaw racing, which might as well be its own game with how stupidly fun it is. These all award tokens which can be used to unlock new hats and game modifiers for use in the standard multiplayer mode, making them a worthwhile investment.
Duck Game has everything it needs to be a worthy contender when it comes to entertaining company or having a game night with friends. It’s fun for as long as you want it to be, and if anyone in the group is serious enough about getting “good,” the slide and ragdoll maneuvers add some depth to the combat. But if you want my advice: let Duck Game be what it is, and nothing more. I feel as though, like Nidhogg, under scrutiny or intense competition it may fall apart. Instead, I embrace it as a quickfire mainstay in my party game repertoire, and its unique insanity means it will always stand out from the crowd.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Adult Swim Games.
Despite its humor, Duck Game is far from a joke of a game. Tightly designed and easy to jump into, it's a sure pick for anyone looking to entertain some company.