I have a pretty outstanding memory when it comes to video games. It reaches all the way back as far as my memory goes. In those far, misty regions of my brain is the distinct memory of playing Duck Tales on the NES with my cousins. I remember being fascinated by the concept of “short cuts” in the Transylvania stage and being baffled by basically everything else.
I have a certain soft spot for the game, if that isn’t already apparent. When I started collecting NES games, it was one of the first that I sought out. It drew me to Capcom’s collection of side-scrollers on the system. So, it’s time to revisit an old friend.
BLESS ME BAGPIPES
Do you know what the cartoon, Duck Tales, was about? A geriatric duck by the name of Scrooge McDuck goes on adventures to pilfer treasures from a world absolutely glutted by them. His nephews, who have been left in his care, often find a way to tag along and get themselves into danger. It’s your typical child-endangerment fantasy, and it was actually a pretty good series.
The game’s foundation is somewhat similar to Mega Man. You’re given 5 levels to choose from and can tackle them in any order. Unlike Mega Man, there’s no big gauntlet at the end to test all those skills you built up. Nor are there power-ups to reward you for beating any of the stages. Instead, your goal is to amass as much wealth as possible before finishing all five levels.
So what separates it from Mega Man? The most obvious difference is the method of attack between Mega Man and Scrooge McDuck. While Mega Man blasts everything with his mega buster, Scrooge just has his old man cane that he can inexplicably pogo on. Using this unlikely power, he can hop-and-bop enemies and reach higher places.
The other major difference is that Duck Tales is a lot more exploration-based. The levels aren’t strictly linear, and it’s not completely obvious where you need to go. Your job is to find the end boss, but also to scour levels for loot along the way. If you search real hard, there’s even some secret treasures to be picked up.
LASERS, RACECARS, AEROPLANES
There’s definitely an addicting quality to finding as much treasure as you can get your wrinkly, feathered hands on, I just wish there was a point to it all. Getting over $10 million nets you a special secret ending, but it’s not all that fantastic. You’re mostly just collecting more treasure to get the high score, which I guess can be satisfying? I don’t know, I just don’t feel it’s worth it. I wish there was a shop or something where you could exchange you cash for upgrades.
The bosses at the end of each stage are pretty disappointing as well. Strictly being heavily pattern based. The secret to beating each of them is — get ready for this — bouncing on their head. It’s not especially compelling.
To make things complicated, there are no continues. If you lose all your lives, it’s back to the beginning for you. Getting to the end can be a bit of a challenge because of this, and it doesn’t exactly feel fair, especially when there’s instant death involved.
JUST GRAB ONTO SOME DUCK TALES
So where does my soft spot for this game come in? Well, for starters, the game absolutely pops.
From the terrific 8-bit rendition of the theme song that plays over the title, to the classic tune that overlaps the moon stage, the soundtrack is impressive. It’s not flawless, however. Just wait until you hear the tune that the game blurts out when you return to Duckburg via Launchpad McQuack.
The graphics are also pretty detailed for a game that came out in 1989. From the way Scrooge reacts to hitting his cane against a solid object, to the way that each stage offers its own unique enemies, there’s a lot of small touches that gives the game a solid feel.
Adding to this is Capcom’s legendarily tight controls. Pogo jumping and platforming feels precise, even when hopping on enemy heads. It’s a game that feels good, even when it has an inventive mode of travel, and that’s commendable.
INVENTIVE, TIGHT, AND OUTTA SIGHT
The game itself is your typical Capcom sidescroller: inventive, tight, with a soundtrack that’s outta sight. That’s a bit more enthusiastic than I want to sound, but I really wanted to rhyme.
In my honest assessment, Duck Tales is a pretty serviceable, if not unremarkable platformer. It works, but it doesn’t dazzle. It’s fun, but the entertainment is pretty short-lived. It’s not Mega Man is what I’m saying, but it could at least sit at the same lunchroom table.
Still, it may not be anything special from a gameplay perspective, but it’s still a treasure in my books.
This review was conducted on an original model NES using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.