Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Q4 2007
"Good" is not a word that springs to mind when one things about a Looney Tunes game. In fact, you are more likely to think about eye-searing pain. The track record of the Looney Tunes license in games is probably one of the most shameful this side of the Simpsons (who never got to star in a good game until 2003's Simpsons Hit & Run, after well over 10 years of duds). It got off to a ragingly awful start with Kemco's Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle games, and continued through a series of other good-natured but usually bad efforts from a variety of developers and publishers. Warner Bros., after establishing their Warner Bros. Interactive game division, finally just let the rights lapse and set out to make their own Looney Tunes titles as part of a general effort to regenerate the IP and reintroduce the characters to a younger generation.
One of the two games to emerge from this effort is Duck Amuck, a cartoon based on the famous 1953 Daffy Duck short of the same name. Directed by Chuck Jones, "Duck Amuck" went on to become regarded by animation historians as one of the greatest theatrical cartoons ever made. It is one of the three Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts to be selected for preservation in the Smithsonian's National Film Registry. You may not remember the title, but you've certainly seen this all-pervasive cartoon: Daffy Duck leaps out in full period costume to do what appears to be a Three Musketeers spoof, but suddenly finds his background running out. He tries to get on with his act, but is tormented by his animator's constant refusal to stick to any single background or theme. Before long, the animator appears to simply be torturing Daffy, erasing and transforming his body into outlandish shapes, and refusing to listen to any of Daffy's many irate protests. Daffy's sound goes out when he tries to speak, the camera refuses to focus on him, and even the film stock begins to turn against him. By the end of the seven-minute short, Daffy is reduced to a shrieking, weeping ball of psychotically impotent rage.
The Duck Amuck video game presents players with the chance to take their turn at tormenting Daffy Duck, trying to prompt him into blithering psychosis. It's a startlingly high-concept take on the license. Daffy himself, for instance, is hand-drawn by the talented Flash-based animation team at GhostBot, whose work you may have seen in the famous esurance.com commercials. Some levels also feature fuller animation, with interactive backgrounds and additional characters drawn in perfect emulation of the Chuck Jones theatrical style. The copious Flash animation does a wonderful job of bringing the game's high concept to life, creating a truly pervasive feeling of playing not just any cartoon, but a classic Chuck Jones-directed Warner Bros. cartoon. Capturing a particular director's style so well isn't something previous games using the license have even attempted, let alone succeeded at.
Now, you're probably wondering exactly what the game is about, aside from the aesthetic inspiration from the original "Duck Amuck" short. In a sense, it's about the same thing the cartoon is: Now you're the animator, and you have your own personal Daffy to torment. The actual premise is simply that you're playing a video game with Daffy, and trying to beat him. This means that you usually don't control Daffy during the various mini-games in Duck Amuck; instead, you play some sort of adversarial role. If you do control him, then you need to use your influence as the animator to make sure Daffy's efforts are never successful. These sequences are by far the most subversive in the game, since they turn most classic ideas of how to play a game on their head. You're effectively trying to lose in the most spectacular fashion possible. As a result, they're often the most interesting to play.
Most mini-games have 10 progressively more difficult levels, and if you complete them, then Daffy sulks away from the game, muttering bitterly about how you bested him. Three consequent failures, and Daffy "wins," leaving the game with more than a few snide comments to throw your way. All of Daffy's many, many lines of dialogue are provided by his current official voice actor, Joe Alaskey, with little signs of the excessive repetition that kills most video game attempts at verbal humor.
Your victories and losses in the single-player mode are totaled up as you go along. Your final goal is to reduce Daffy to blithering rage by beating him in so many games, so that his "tantrum meter" fills up. The meter is shaped like a thermometer, and when it's maxed out, Daffy blows his top. The final game features 20 mini-games in all, and the tantrum meter seems to require around 10 victories. There's also a multiplayer mode, but very little of it was ready to show off. The E3 demo build featured about six or seven playable mini-games, and let you get a taste of the game's overall flavor. All of the mini-games (but one) were built largely around use of the stylus, but the developers promise some games will use the microphone as well.
Sadly, one of the most interesting mini-games was prone to glitching and freezing in the demo build. Called "Diamond Mine! Mine!", it's designed as a parody of early Atari games, complete with a fake copyright notice and graphics full of giant horrible pixels. Daffy is in a diamond mine, and your job is make sure he can't get any diamonds. You can slide them around the mine map to make Daffy fruitlessly chase them, or lure him away with the promise of fake diamonds. Another particularly interesting game involved Daffy claiming there was a monster loose in the game, which must be dealt with before you can play anything else. The monster is afraid of the light, so you have to close the DS and use the shoulder buttons to help Daffy "bash" it by quickly hitting whatever buttons Daffy is asking you to hit. This mini-game required special permission from Nintendo of America to be implemented, since it involved circumventing the programming that usually makes a DS game enter sleep mode while the DS is closed. Duck Amuck the first and only DS game that can be played while closed in this fashion.
Fortunately, some other mini-games were perfectly playable in demo mode. "Card Deal" began with Daffy, in period Western dress, charging into a saloon to try and start a shootout. Instead, he's pressed into an increasingly dangerous card game with an ever-increasing number of desperadoes. You deal the cards, and Daffy's are always more valuable than the other players. If you can deal them quickly enough that Daffy can't escape from the table, then he wins every round and subsequently gets shot full of bullets. With each level, his physical condition degenerates in progressively violent and hilarious ways. If you clear all 10 levels, he's reduced to vomiting bullets out his beak as he crawls out of the saloon.
Another game involved having to stuff increasingly large numbers of small, multi-colored Daffys into color-coded boxes by picking them up with the stylus. This game begins very easy, and by the end is a frenetic mess off multi-colored ducks and moving boxes to sort them into. If you take too long, then some of the Daffys leap out of their boxes and begin running all over the screen again. If you stab the stylus at a group without making a catch, you get punished by watching the whole swarm dash up to the upper screen, where you can't interact with them at all.
Duck Amuck incorporates a fully functional Paint program into the game, and a few games give you a chance to play the role of the animator and show off your own artistic skills. At the beginning of card deal, you're presented with a floating saddle and have to draw the rest of Daffy's horse. During a racing-themed mini-game, you get to erase Daffy's body and draw a new one of your own designing. There's no censor filter in the game as it stands, so your drawings can be as naughty or nice (or detailed) as you please. The program doesn't seem sophisticated enough to allow for truly animated drawings, which does break the theme of the game a little.
Duck Amuck is an unexpectedly unique game, and definitely one of the best uses of the Looney Tunes license in a video game. The mini-games are perfectly enjoyable, interesting and challenging without ever feeling frustrating. There's a pleasantly wide variety of game types without the transitions between games feeling as jarring as, say, the micro-game streams in WarioWare titles. If the quality of the multiplayer is as high as the single-player games thus far, and the Paint aspects of the game feel more integrated into the core gameplay, then Duck Amuck could be a very excellent little DS game when it streets.
More articles about Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck