With the advent of Xbox LIVE Arcade, the Nintendo e-Shop, PSN and, of course, Steam, came something great. That would be one of this console generation’s best options: Being able to download and enjoy classic games from yesteryear, as well as modernized revamps of their memorable code. Many such titles have come and gone over the last eight years or so, allowing us to relive fond memories of childhood, return to great times with friends and remember what made games great all of those years ago. After all, though many months have passed since the days of the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy, what they gave us still resonates within the industry and must be remembered.
These days, gaming is a hobby that is shared by many different age groups, ranging from children to middle-aged adults and even seniors, thanks to games like Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort. The generalization that the medium is simply for thirteen year-old boys has become not only outdated, but also ignorant as a result of this. In order to avoid going on a tangent, though, we’ll skip discussion about perception, and will instead focus on the fact that, while new games have introduced incredible visuals and exciting mechanics to a new generation of first-time gamers, many of us have been around for a long time. As such, we still remember the days of 8-bit visuals and chiptunes fondly, and enjoy being able to revisit that era thanks to modern technology. That makes today’s developers’ showcased love of retro gaming special to us. Granted, it’s also great for gaming as a whole, as those aforementioned newcomers get entertaining history lessons pertaining to the medium that they love. That is, if they’re willing to give them a chance.
One of yesteryear’s best games was DuckTales. Based on a great Disney television show of the same name, its licensed gameplay was both incredibly entertaining and very challenging, presenting well designed content and addictive qualities that ended up allowing it to become immortalized within many hearts. A side-scrolling platformer with simple qualities, its limitations were essentially benefits, because they allowed its development team to focus on what was most important.
Thanks to developer WayForward, publisher Capcom and licensee Disney, billionaire Scrooge McDuck’s greedy 8-bit quest for treasure and wealth has become the most recent remastered classic to hit modern day devices. Entitled DuckTales Remastered, the downloadable release has had its simple mechanics expanded upon by longer stages, high definition visuals, a more involved script, full voiceover work and unlockable media. However, despite those enhancements and additions, the game is still very retro at heart, opting to stay with a short but replayable approach in lieu of lengthening things dramatically. Even with the addition of its new script, which breathes more life into the experience while highlighting Scrooge’s rude personality, the game is an exercise in brevity.
From start to finish, the experience is, at most, three hours long, though tougher difficulties add artificial length due to their unforgiving nature. In fact, even on normal, DuckTales Remastered is a challenging beast, which adheres to difficulty levels that modern games generally do not come close to approaching. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but certain design choices have led to a game that is almost unfair at points.
Combined, there are seven stages to be found inside of this licensed install file, all of which take on different worldly themes. Each level, be it the snake-filled Amazon Jungle, the rocky moon or Scrooge’s own African diamond mine, serves a purpose and pushes the plot forward. That’s because each new location possesses its own unique piece of treasure, and those who know about Scrooge McDuck will be well aware of the fact that wealth is his driving force in life. Sure, he cares about his family, made up of three boyish nephews named Huey, Dewey and Louie, and one wee niece dubbed Webbigail, but he almost seems to care more about money and status.
Generally speaking, all of the levels are interesting and somewhat unique, but they’re held back by design issues. For starters, it’s tough to actually survive on most difficulties’ limited heart containers and scarce extra lives, because of chokepoints. These are moments where it’s almost impossible to avoid damage by jumping, pogoing or walking – the three mechanics that Scrooge happens to employ – due to spikes, purposefully positioned enemies and more. What results is a game that is more about luck than skill, creating unnecessary frustration.
Matters are made worse by a control scheme that simply doesn’t allow for the amount of precision and split-second maneuvering that WayForward’s version of DuckTales requires. Players will adjust over time, and will learn that some damage is almost unavoidable, but that doesn’t make the design easier to accept. Thankfully, easy offers unlimited lives, and heart pieces that deplete in fractions as opposed to normal’s couple of lives and wholly depleting hearts. On both of those difficulties, more containers can also be collected by those who scour each environment.
If it wasn’t for the above, DuckTales Remastered would be a much more enjoyable game than it is. However, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s unplayable or bad. It simply could have been a lot better, and a lot less frustrating if the noted design problems had been addressed before launch. What’s there is still quite enjoyable, despite its brevity and slightly expensive price tag, but, like many others, I had hoped it’d end up being much better than this. Furthermore, I didn’t expect the final product to be as buggy as it is. I was forced to replay the final level a couple of times, because a concluding race glitched twice and never offered a retry option. It wasn’t too difficult, but one mistake can put the player too far behind the eight ball.
On the plus side, this modern day revamp has a great look that mixes very detailed, hand-drawn character models, with painted backgrounds. It truly pops in high-definition, thanks to great use of colour and an interesting juxtaposition that pays homage to the original NES title. Add in an extraordinary amount of unlockable media, such as pencil renders and character art, and you have a wealth of visual content to admire. Of course, unlocking every item in the vault will take at least a few, exploration-filled play throughs, because they’re all priced at more than $100,000. You should be able to find approximately $10,000,000 worth of diamonds in one play through, but that’s only a fraction of what you’ll need.
The good news is that the same level of care was put into the game’s audio design. It’s loud and well-crafted, employing remastered tunes from the original cartridge and voice over work from none other than 93 year-old Alan Young, who makes good use of his Scottish accent while portraying Duckburg’s monocle-wearing billionaire. Honestly, it’s tough to fault anything here, because the developers adhered to the show’s personality, and ended up delivering admirable presentation as a result.
In the end, though, DuckTales Remastered is more for the diehards than anyone else. Its unforgiving nature, masochistic level design and occasionally problematic controls make for an experience that is sometimes too frustrating to properly enjoy on any difficulty other than easy. I grew up on these kinds of games and fully respect them, but WayForward’s decision to add difficulty by creating chokepoints is hard to support. It’s too bad that they exist, because they mar some otherwise quality content.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version, which we were provided with.
With DuckTales Remastered, WayForward has created a relatively faithful revamp that does its source material justice. However, in an effort to recreate the difficult days of yore, the developer made decisions that negatively affected the overall experience by making it more frustrating than need be. What's there is somewhat fun and grows on you, but it's not as good as it could've been.