Thursday, 29 August 2013

NES Duck Tales

With the recent and upcoming (depends on your system) version of the original game Duck Tales, I thought it’d be nice to go back and take a look at the original game and see it for what it really is. Though I have to admit I was never a fan of the original cartoon series, something about the whole setup and Disney association has always left an odd taste in my mouth. I don’t think it’s because I blew Walt himself either, though a lot of people do when they shell out cash for dross like John Carter and most of those straight-to-DVD, bullshit, cash-cow, milk-spunkings. Enjoy that lactose delivery for your weaker grade crap, people.

Rant aside about the delivery of home movie weaker grade substitution, I’m here to discuss games and not the plight of standards in the animation industry and this is fast becoming an unwarranted rant I’d rather not delve into at this particular time, though maybe later to do a series of reviews in a month on film->game games, or animation->game games.

NES Duck Tales, at least begins with the 8bit synthetics of the original theme tune which despite my reluctance to watch, remains firmly locked in the brain thanks to its ear-worm properties and memetic contagion levels. Even more thankfully, there are different audio tracks for each of the levels within the game and it’s refreshing to take a step back and realise someone in the industry didn’t want to blast the player with the theme tune non-stop. Not that it’s a bad rendition either, but on a console where some games had no audio deviation at all, it’s a welcome addition.

The game is your standard platforming affair, guide old boy ducky around to leap, dodge and avoid all manner of nasty things that are dangerous to touch while also using a pogo stick to swipe rocks, boxes, chests, or use it to bounce upon the enemies and spiked floors to avoid sustaining damage. (Personally I’d take steel boots and a shotgun, but whatever works...). Bouncing on the pogo stick causes Ol’ Quacky to elevate himself higher and makes him immune to spiked floors and most enemies; it’s also a key form of attacking. As a control method it takes a little getting used to with having to jump first, then down and pogo to initiate the pogo and keep pogo steady with the button while moving around. You’re not immune to attacks from the side or above so low ceilings present another issue. Releasing the pogo button immediately starts a descent, stopping you from going too high and adds another element of control for those with fast enough reflexes and gives enough of a shit to try it.

Each level has a different series of routes to follow, some involving teleportation, some involving secret walls you can walk through, some involve jumping up into the status bar and climbing ropes you can’t quite see for that added element of “oh fuck where’s the guide” to the game, especially if you want to get the bonus ending and the extra treasures but the game is still enjoyable enough to play without knowing all the secrets. Enemies are usually themed to the level, so undead things in the vampire castle, duck-eating plants in the Amazon... yeah that derailed fast didn’t it. But the enemies do come with variety at least. From small bees to large mummified ducks with their bills sticking out and such.

The bosses... I have found to be rather a letdown for the game. While yes there are bosses for each area and a final boss and chase, the patterns become easily identifiable, the methods to kill them become quickly recognised and the health they have is all too low for the boss to be a substantial threat and given that some of the levels are rather labyrinthine at times, the boss does seem to be a weak dribble of a climax by comparison. Kind of like waiting all year for the bike you wanted for your birthday but instead you get a cheap knock off scooter that your dog shit all over before your parents wrapped it up. Just not something you had hoped for nor want.

The game can be rather brutal with bottomless pits making no sense in places as the layout of the levels has rooms above rooms but falling down a hole in that room, won’t lead to the next, it just kills you but a ladder and a scrolling later and you’re in that room and clearly can see it’s NOT A TRAP ROOM. But oh well, platform games almost always will have problems with bottomless death traps and knowing where and when they are unless there’s a fuckoffingly huge sign saying “DO NOT FALL IN” but even then, some dick designer is going to hide the secret bonus down one. Another huge step back.

Occasionally there’s situations where the player has to traverse across death-traps like runaway mine carts or over slow moving objects to avoid spiky foot death related injuries and key to these solutions are fine reflexes, or having more health than would kill you by just running your Ol’ Quacky arse through the pain barrier.

Thankfully the game doesn’t rely too heavily on the brand itself as a focus of the game, rather than there being the necessity to have seen the show or know anything of the back story, the game could very easily be “Rich pogo man recovers his millions” and with a face paint change it’d be the same game, no Disney license, same mechanics and different music. Which begs the question, would it have done as well?

If Disney and Ol’ Ducky Mc Dickens-Ripoff hadn’t been used in this game, would have still had the popularity it has now and warranted a remake? Would it have been as successful back in the day either to spawn a sequel? Would it have raised enough interest for a kick-starter (not the bike, I did that joke recently already) to remake the game? Or for anybody to have the interest in saying “Hey, you know what needs to be remade for the new age, that game on the NES... you know, Rich Pogo Stick Man”.

I doubt it.

I could argue many a case against this but that’s not what I’m here to do today... Looking at this game, as a game, it is good overall. Personally I find it a little too easy but then it’s another platformer with the gimmick of a pogo stick thrown in upon an anthropomorphic duck. It’s done very well however, controls are responsive and usually an error resulting in loss of health or life is the fault of the player, except in rare circumstances where the knockback causes you to fall down one of those bottomless holes.

With this game, Disney was fortunate that a good solid game was made; their marketing for the game would have helped spread the word of the game’s release but the fact that it was good and executed well, would have boosted their sales and achievements through word of mouth. Without the Duck Tales trademark stamped and burnt all over it, it would have still been a success though not as much of one as it has become today.

I still prefer a shotgun over a pogo stick though, especially for bouncing on.