Growing up, a lot of us did not have the privilege of being able to buy games every week. For the most part, I only got games on my birthday and during the Holidays, which might explain why I’m a savant at platforming games but couldn’t cut it in these newfangled vidya experiences.
I still vividly remember receiving Ducktales for my 6th birthday: my “cool” aunt that liked videogames just kind of handed it to me; a stubby purple cart that didn’t quite look like the rest of my monolithic NES cartridges. Looking back at the happy, long-necked yellow goose (which in no way resembled the Scrooge McDuck I’ve been watching on TV) flashing a grin in my general direction as well as its lack of supporting copyright documentation, even at the time it was fairly easy to deduce that this game was a counterfeit. After my initial look of apprehension, I piggy-backed it on my Honey Bee adapter and popped the game into my NES. It was magical.
Let’s fast-forward some years later: Capcom inexplicably brings out Ducktales Remastered by way of the ever-loving purveyors of all things retro, Wayforward. Kind of an odd choice, really—no Ducktales-related media was released (or reissued) recently to my knowledge, so the timing of this redux is a little suspect. Heck, I’m not complaining; Alan Young (Scrooge) is 96 years old, so if Disney isn’t doing anything with the license soon this may very well be the man’s final gig before he kicks the bucket. Nice to hear ol’ Unca Scrooge for one last time, at least.
I really cringe when I chance upon this cliche on any article that I read, but the graphics really are a mixed bag. I understand that meticulously drawing up backgrounds in 2D is a prohibitively expensive venture, but the difference between the low-poly backgrounds and the very well-animated character sprites (can you really call them sprites if they’re vectors, though? This is an important question) is really jarring and oftentimes distracting. Between foreground and background elements, the shading and lighting isn’t even consistent, so what ends up on screen appears amateurish at times.
Still, the amount of love put into the character design more than makes up for this somewhat-annoying distraction. Every character—from Scrooge himself down to the lowliest bats of the African mines—has been meticulously redrawn to look like close approximations of what Disney would draw for their Saturday morning cartoon block. Embarrassingly enough, the one thing a lot of these “HD remasters” miss from the original NES titles they’re supposed to be supplanting is all the “character” behind the sprites: it’s funny when a 16x16px blob of colors can portray more than a meticulously-drawn vector or a well-formed set of polygons. Thankfully Ducktales Remastered avoids that pitfall: every illustration is drawn and animated well; simply top-notch stuff.
I’ve read a lot of people get all uppity about how Wayforward “butchered” the soundtrack, but since I’m not some mealy-mouthed punk that heard the Moon theme the first time on YouTube, I’d say that virt did a bang-up job and found a great balance in modernizing Capcom’s score.
One Step Backward
The best remakes often take solid ideas and designs from the original source material and seamlessly add new extensions to it. Bionic Commando: Rearmed was a fantastic remake in the sense that you couldn’t even tell which areas Grin (may they rest in peace) added in; the extended areas kept the same old-school sensibilities in its level design. Ducktales Remastered fails in this regard, as its new areas seem dry and functionless in comparison to the original’s streamlined-yet-expansive layouts. Wasn’t quite a fan of the forced backtracking Wayforward tacked on to the stages: the beauty of Capcom’s original Ducktales was that you could blitz through a level using one path and take another once you revisit the stage, so forcing you to go back and revisit these forks in the road doesn’t really jive with me.
Some of the changes are appreciated, however; cordoning-off or completely changing paths I’ve been used to certainly made for a fresher experience, speaking as someone who’s played the original to death. Additionally, Wayforward spiced up the dull boss battles from the original game by making them setpiece battles with a central mechanic/pattern. This is a welcome change from how the original bosses just kind of flew or moved around the screen, stopping every now and then to set up an attack or leave themselves open for a free hit.
One addition that I really loathe is Wayforward’s needless addition of exposition and story scenes. Apart from giving nostalgialings a chubby from hearing the cartoon’s original cast all over again, I cannot fathom why they wasted their time on making so many drawn-out, soul-sucking cutscenes in between levels. An in-between cutscene here and there wouldn’t have been bad, but the mere fact that almost everything you do merits a nigh-unskippable cutscene and the fact that they hid the “skip” button in the pause menu is an abomination.