Wooo-oooo! We were so ready for this. When Wayforward promised to bring DuckTales out of retirement, eighties children around the globe cheered hard enough to register on the Richter scale, thrilled that one of their most beloved memories was finally... hang on.
You're clearly not paying attention. That's okay. It's impossible to not immediately start humming that theme tune when you see the word DuckTales; indeed, starting this review with "Wooo-oooo" was frankly irresponsible of me. You'll have to sing the whole thing, front to back, before it finally leaves you alone. I'll be here when you're ready.
Now that's sorted, we can get down to business. Singing that theme tune probably brought back great memories of playing the 1989 NES original, and I'm delighted to report that WayForward have preserved practically all of them. Unfortunately, you'll have also grown a fairly substantial set of rose tinted spectacles over the last 24 years... and they're oh so easy to crack.
Life is like a hurricane, here in Duckburg. After an abortive Beagle Boy raid on Scrooge McDuck's money vault results in a secret treasure map coming to light, the feathered entrepreneur embarks on a globe-trotting voyage throughout five non-linear stages stuffed with thematically-appropriate beasties. From the Amazon rainforest to the surface of the moon, our top-hatted friend bounces about the place like a duck possessed on his pogo stick (because he has a pogo stick, don't question it), acting both as a means of speedy locomotion and an offensive weapon to stomp the infinitely-respawning hordes. In contrast to most games of the age, DuckTales doesn't have a time limit, instead encouraging you to explore its labyrinthine levels in any order at your own pace to ferret out hidden secrets and multiple objectives.
It's very basic stuff, somewhat shallow compared to modern indie platformers, but nostalgia seekers will be in for a treat.
I was originally hesitant to review DuckTales Remastered since the lion's share of two decades has passed since I last played it. However, I needn't have worried. As soon as the brand new tutorial level concluded, my memories of the Amazon Rainforest stage came flooding back; everything from the spider-infested spike pits to the two secret passages on the bottom-left of the map. WayForward have done a brilliant job at reviving the original game, updating only a few details here and there, and sanding down a few of the more unfair challenge spikes.
It's still a rather uneven game in terms of challenge, with very simplistic platforming yet numerous very cheap set pieces. Very tough on normal difficulty due to a very limited pool of lives and harsh checkpointing, yet totally bereft of threat on easy mode thanks to an infinite stock, DuckTales Remastered fails to find a middle ground between snarling retro-tastic brutality and patronising weakness. Navigating tight corridors festooned with floor and ceiling spikes can be an absolute nightmare when your only form of transportation bounces. At least WayForward have noticeably rounded off some of the more wicked corners.
What you'll mainly notice, however, is the visual upgrade. DuckTales Remastered looks utterly gorgeous, both in terms of the totally-rebuilt backgrounds and sprites so sharp that you can practically cut yourself on them. High fidelity goes hand-in hand with a massive range of active and idle animations that bring characters to life, accompanied by a superb musical score that subtly rearranges the classic original tunes, adding greater depth and clarity. Damn it, now I have to sing the theme tune again. Life is like a hurricane...
Fans of the DuckTales series will also be delighted to learn that DuckTales Remastered contains a huge amount of fully-voiced dialogue, complete with a huge number of familiar characters both major (e.g. Launchpad) and minor (even Gizmo makes an appearance). Better yet, Alan Young reprises his role as Scrooge for one last run. Sadly your delight will quickly turn to horror when you realise that no-one has anything interesting to say, yet everyone talks for what feels like an eternity, breaking gameplay flow in the process. Rather than jokes and gags, the cast grimly rattle through mundane storyline details with no verve or passion whatsoever, forcing you to either sit through intrusive cutscenes or skip them completely via the start menu.
For the record, we don't need to spend a full minute explaining how anthropomorphic ducks can breathe on the moon. They are ANTHROPOMORPHIC DUCKS. Making sense is already firmly off the table. At least fans of the show will be better served by a massive selection of unlockables, which translates score directly into persistent currency to spend on concept art and music. WayForward missed a trick by not letting us by extra continues or lives from the shop, but it's still a good example of how retro remakes can add value.
So, if you're looking for a revamped love letter to the original DuckTales, this Remastered version does the business. Don't let me stop you from buying it - in fact, you've probably done so already. Unfortunately, we now have to deal with a fundamental truth.
If you compare it with practically any modern retro-styled platformer, even including WayForward's own Mighty Switch Force, DuckTales simply doesn't hold up any more.
Remember when I mentioned "simplistic platforming" and an 'uneven challenge curve'? This is what we expected and accepted from many a NES-era game, but in 2013, it feels insultingly primitive. The whole game feels ancient and archaic, from its enemies that respawn in exactly the same place a few seconds after you leave to invisible diamonds that only appear a few seconds after you walk over them, forcing you to backtrack constantly. No lick of paint can disguise that DuckTales was cheap, shallow and vindictive, designed to punish us and distract us from the fact that the entire game can be completed in two and a half hours.
Now consider that DuckTales Remastered costs £11.99 (or £13.49 on Wii U).
Twelve sovs will buy you any number of superior games. Games that last longer than one hundred and eighty minutes. Games with genuinely fresh and new ideas, with mechanics and aesthetics resembling nothing you've ever experienced before. Just last month, we played Stealth Inc: A Clone In The Dark, a massively lengthy and superbly-realised stealth/platforming hybrid for eight quid. SteamWorld Dig costs the same on 3DS, offering a magnificent MetroidVania experience. Beatbuddy: Tale Of The Guardians will set you back slightly more, yet packs so many radical new ideas and polished gameplay into its six hour runtime. Solely compared to games we've played in the last fortnight, DuckTales Remastered totally fails to justify its price tag to all but nostalgia hounds.
Ultimately, however, that's what it was designed to do. WayForward succeeded in their mission to cater to a very specific target audience, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt along with a stern warning.
- Gorgeous visual makeover
- Loads of unlockables
- Reverential respect for source material
- Primitive, cheap and often dull platforming
- Lengthy and boring dialogue (?!)
- Criminally overpriced at £12-£14
- Perhaps DuckTales wasn't actually as great as you remember
The Short Version: WayForward have triumphed in their mission of making an ancient platformer look and sound utterly fantastic. This will be more than enough for some, but we've come a long way in a quarter of a century.
With so many immeasurably superior games available for less, only nostalgia seekers should apply. Or perhaps save your money, hum the theme tune and just remember it instead.