The NES era solidified the idea that licensed games weren't worth playing, with examples like Jaws, Total Recall and X-Men. There were exceptions to the rule, and at the time, most were published by Capcom. With the possible exception of Mickey Mousecapade, if you saw Capcom was behind a Disney game, you could almost guarantee it would be good. The game that started it all was DuckTales, which was based on the popular syndicated animated series. The game was good and has been given an almost mythical status over the years. In a surprise move, Capcom announced at PAX East 2013 that it was going forward with a remastered version of the game for current-generation consoles and PC, with WayForward at the helm. In the face of high expectations, DuckTales Remastered succeeds at pleasing to both old and new fans.
DuckTales Remastered now takes some time to set up the story with cut scenes and a tutorial level. The Beagle Boys are trying to break into the money bin, and while Scrooge has a pretty high-tech security system, it's been sabotaged. Playing as Scrooge McDuck, you must use a combination of pogo jumping and cane-swinging to rescue your nephews and drive away the Beagle Boys. Along the way, you discover an old painting with a map that reveals the locations of five ancient, priceless treasures. An adventurer at heart, Scrooge takes on the quest to retrieve all five treasures and solidify his place as the richest duck in the world.
Providing a reason for the adventure is certainly a modern tactic since the original game didn't need much setup, but it plays out rather well. From the beginning, the setting and dialogue feel like they came from an official episode. There are some familiar adversaries, like the trio of Big Time Beagle, Bouncer and Burger, and each section feels like part of a multiple-episode story arc. The journey to the game's final level also makes more sense now and cements the episodic feel.
Completing the opening level gives you access to Gyro's supercomputer, and it's here that the familiarity with the old game starts to creep in. The five main levels are all available from here, and you can tackle them in any order. Once a level is completed, you can't revisit it until the game is complete. Throughout each level, you'll poke around for gems and defeat enemies with your pogo jump or with objects propelled by your golf swing. There's a healthy amount of platforming, and a boss fight is always the last obstacle before you reach the treasure.
The game isn't a straight-up, high-definition port of the original NES game, so there are lots of changes to help the game connect better with a modern audience. The levels have been expanded with more floors to explore and a bevy of miniquests and minibosses. Cut scenes have been added to give each level some story structure and explain some elements. The game timer is also absent, so you can explore each stage at your leisure. A map has been added for those who might get lost in the new, larger levels. There are also more checkpoints in each level, so you don't need to restart at the beginning if you die. The commands for executing a pogo jump have also changed to jumping and holding the X button. It isn't a noticeable change for those experienced with the original game because muscle memory will take over, but new players won't have to deal with learning the old way, especially if they aren't fans of the d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller.
For older fans who are reeling at how much the game has changed from the original, they can take solace in knowing that many portions remain the same. Despite the expansion of level size, much of each map is exactly the same as the original. The paths, layouts and secrets are all there and instantly familiar to those who have played the original, even if the map layout splits these areas. Though the game doesn't punish you by making you play the whole game after you lose all lives, it resets all of your progress in a level if you deplete your stash of lives. Exploration is still rewarded, so there are lots of diamonds and secret areas for those who are willing to look. Enemies remain the same, though bosses may have some new moves. Respawning enemies are also present here, and Scrooge has to drop from one rope to another instead of leaping for it.
The result is a title that manages to cater to both old and new fans. The game isn't as punishing to newcomers as it once was, but it isn't a cakewalk, either. The balance between being too easy and maddeningly difficult is there, and the result is a fun game with the right amount of challenge. It also addresses some issues from the original. Pogo jumps, for example, don't suddenly stop and leave you vulnerable to stepping on enemies or spikes. The only time a jump won't work is if you land at the very edge of a platform where the cane doesn't touch the ground. Enemies don't intentionally block your way now, so you no longer have to take a hit because foes won't move.
In addition to these positive tweaks, DuckTales Remastered offers some extra music and concept art. You can play the new version of the songs as well as the 8-bit versions in the music player and in the game after you beat it for the first time. The artwork is a nice mix of concept art for backgrounds and sprite-to-modern comparisons between some character models, but the real treasure is the shots from the original TV series. These aren't screenshots, mind you, but scans of production art and original cels used in the show. Granted, unlocking the extra music and concept art requires some grinding, but it can be done at any difficulty level.
While the compromise and inclusion of extras is great, the game takes a few missteps in some areas. Though it falls more in line with wishful thinking, it would have been nice to have a fully playable NES copy included, especially since the title lets you play along with the mostly original 8-bit music. The cut scenes, though, will probably be the sticking point for some people. While they enhance the game's plot and humor, there are lots of scenes and may start to feel like game padding. The scenes can be skipped by pausing the game and selecting a menu option (instead of a single button press), but the frequency of the scenes may be irksome to those who want to play without interruption.
Another blemish is the lack of multiple endings. The original game is known for having a number of endings, one of which was a bad ending that wasn't known until recently. The other endings changed the amount of money you had at the end, and while that isn't significant, it was a good motivator to seek out the secrets. By comparison, the ending is pretty good and fits well if it were an episode of the show, but once you see it, that's it. Grinding to get the cash to unlock the concept art and musical tracks is nice, but those who don't care for that stuff won't find a reason to replay the game, even with the different difficulty levels.
One of WayForward's big specialties is its treatment of 2-D art in a predominantly 3-D world, and the work shines brightly in DuckTales Remastered. The high-definition sprites pop with vibrant colors, and the attention to detail is astounding on the main characters and enemies. The detail really comes through during the animations, with examples such as Scrooge's spectacles bouncing when he does his pogo jump and the robot duck armor practically exploding. The backgrounds also get the same attention to detail, as each is expertly colored and detailed. The only complaint is there's no mouth movement for the dialogue in cut scenes, but since everything else looks good and most people only watch the scenes once, it's not a deal-breaker.
For gamers who only know about DuckTales but never played it, the sound is one of the more important elements, especially since the music has been played and remixed about as much as any classic Nintendo game theme or Final Fantasy piece. Thankfully, the treatment of the now-classic pieces is done very well, so they retain the flavor of the original NES pieces but are enhanced with some modern flourishes. The Transylvania theme has some dubstep and electric guitar that make it both familiar and different, and the vocal boosts to the Himalayas tracks give it some more punch. The famous Moon theme stands up there as one of the better remixes. The original pieces for the new levels are also impressive and complement the rest of the soundtrack.
The other big part of the sound is the voice work. The lines in the gameplay and cut scenes are accurate to the show, and all come through at just the right volume so they're not muddled with the other sound effects. What's more impressive is the fact that most of the voice actors are reprising their roles from the TV series. Their delivery is still pitch-perfect after all these years, even though two of the actors (June Foray for Magica De Spell and Alan Young for Scrooge McDuck) are over 90 years old. Sadly, the passage of time means that some of the original actors are no longer around, but the replacements sound similar enough, so the differences in pitch and cadence, while noticeable to longtime fans, are negligible.
In the end, DuckTales Remastered is a great modern take on the now-classic NES game. It embraces its roots while incorporating some modern gameplay mechanics. The changes make it easier for modern audiences while maintaining a difficulty level craved by older fans. The presentation is top-notch, and the inclusion of some of the original voices helps fans revel in nostalgia. It isn't perfect, as evidenced by the frequency of cut scenes and omission of the original title, but when you consider what's here, it's clear that WayForward loved the original title and let that love shine through in this updated version. It's definitely worth picking up for all platforming fans.
More articles about DuckTales Remastered