Monday, 17 February 2014

Ducktales Remastered WiiU, Revisiting an old Gem

  So I’m catching up on the WiiU library, which is harder than it looks because there is such a great library there already.  Ducktales Remastered is budget priced title that I’ve found wasting away on the shelf, in new condition of course, so I snapped it up recently and have only just finished a first playthrough.  My reasons for picking it up certainly include nostalgia, as I remember playing the NES original, and watching the Disney cartoon as a kid.  There is certainly a solid and visually impressive game here, but also some details to note in its artisanship. 

  For starters, the introductory song is cut.  An 8-bit remix is audible on the title screen, and the title screen has no story beats at all, merely a quite pretty scene of Duckburg with Launchpad flying foolishly overhead in a red copter.  I want to start here and comment on first impressions; this title screen is distinctly game-like.  While anyone could excuse Wayforward for porting a Quicktime of the original cartoon’s introduction, and that would have been far lazier a fix, Ducktales Remastered remembers its game origins and keeps the intro simple and subdued.  That said, the original 1989 game featured a still image of Scrooge McDuck on a plain blue background, with the usual title screen text.  This version is subtly improved, at the risk of advertising features that won’t appear anywhere in 2013’s Ducktales.

  Ducktales NES title screen.  

  The scene of Duckburg would conjure ideas of adventuring in Duckberg; disappointingly for some perhaps, this is not a Grand Theft Auto clone.  Launchpad’s wild ride might suggest players would take a spin of the whirly bird.  Again, the helicopter is featured only as it was in the NES original.  The most telling attribute is the chiptune, which sounds reminiscent of the NES sound board, even if it is cheating a bit.  In fact, that may be the key, as the title screen menu functions identically to the NES version, even if it looks fuller and more lively.  Player’s expectations for visuals have increased in 24 years, and Ducktales walks a tight line between staying true to the classic and Turnerizing it.

  In 1989, beginning the game would move immediately to a menu, its borders stylized to look like Scrooge McDuck planning a world trip. 

Image Credits to Corona Jumper

  But in 2013, Scrooge has to fight his way to this desk, through the halls of his money bin.  The Beagle Boys have a far improved role this time around, with Big Time serving as a preliminary boss to shake down the player and ensure that the basics are known.  This early level isn’t the only new change, but it is telling: the title screen strayed far from the cartoon, while the pre-level pushes content from the 1987 cartoon front and center, complete with original voice acting by the cast’s Alan Young and Frank Welker, among others.

  The extra run time is used to go effect, at least as according to 21st century games.  The plot is thickened, names are dropped of places that are said to contain treasure.  The productions are certainly top notch, and nostalgic charms abound as Huey, Dewey and Louie call on the “Junior Woodchuck Guidebook,” or exclaim “Quack-a-roonie!”  None of these references made it to the NES version; certainly the technical limits meant that they couldn’t!  But do these additions mean that Wayforward is straying from the mold?  Certainly there is a lot more work involved in just getting to the game than pointing to a destination and going...

  Like the NES original, the player is free to tackle every stage in whatever order they should want.  However, each stage comes loaded with its own special story dialog before each stage.  Remastered remains very faithful to the plot of the original, and only slightly easier.  It still demands control precision, and it punishes mistakes readily.  It is still very easy to miss with only three lives and limited health, and there are no new save points.  Although the cutscenes charm on the first pass, players will soon find themselves skipping every one, for no better reason than because they have seen them all before. The difficulty and the production value are much more in conflict, and I can't hide a bias that story beats are always easier to deliver in a non interactive format, like the cartoon, movie, or comic book line that inspires the game.

  In 1987, the game prioritized gameplay over story.  There was certainly some kind of plot there, but it hung together with only the barest of text and limited set piece moments.  Looking to the level design to tell a story was also a bit of a stretch, as most levels focused on difficult challenges with cameos by the Ducktales cast.  One could fluff a story, certainly, of Scrooge wandering a maze of mirrors in Transylvania, or riding a mine cart, or getting stuck in the snow, or else “Now Gizmo Duck can blast that wall!” before spending an eternity looking for the wall in question.  ’87 had only limited tools available for conveying meaning through its mechanics, and the primary meaning it could was always “fun!”

  Not so in 2013, when gameplay can be interrupted, in the Amazon nine times over, to convey a brief snipit of fully voice-overed flavour text or the lastest blunderings of Launchpad and Fenton Crackshell.  It changes the pacing slightly, pushing fun challenging gameplay aside for something still fun, but now trying to be just as true to the cartoon.  The voice acting is top notch, and the animation, while repetitious, adds greatly to the charm.  There is a lot to like in the new version, and it transparently reaches for many new tools to keep up its storytelling ability.

  Bosses return from the original, bigger and in some cases meaner than before.  Clearly, the designers were hoping to catch old veterans off guard, and I would wager that they have done so very well!  Larger, screen filling sprites, and new hazards fill the boss fights, amping the tension, and keeping interest.  After battle new story beats pull the player back into the Ducktales universe, suitably releasing the tension very cleanly.

  Finally, replay value in Remastered is tied to a short list of unlockables, all of which have to be purchased, and some can’t even be purchased until a certain number of previous artworks are purchased.  There’s a lot of rules here for a simple content dispenser, and no real game to speak of.  I could see myself revisit in time, and then spend the resulting riches on the music files, but I can’t see going back to the game just for that. 

  Ducktales Remastered is a fine original product; it combines the wit of the cartoon series with the fun gameplay of the 1987 original.  Something tells me though, that a good collection should have both, so if you happen to have an old cartridge lying about, keep it handy, maybe set it next to the new version, and give it a run every so often to see the classic artwork and music.

No comments:

Post a Comment