Back in 1989, the original DuckTales was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System to great acclaim, and set a new standard for what could be expected of a licensed game. Even to this day, it's so highly regarded by many, that the retro-tastic people of WayForward and Capcom decided to give it a fresh coat of paint, and (re)introduce it to a new generation of gamers. Is DuckTales: Remastered a celebration of everything that made the franchise great, or is it a shameful attempt to capitalize on nostalgia?
Right from the menu screen, you’re greeted with a fantastic modern rendition of the original DuckTales tune, and a beautiful aerial view of Duckburg. Upon selecting from one of three difficulty settings – easy, medium, or hard – fans of the NES classic will realize that not all things are quite the same this time around. Now, there’s a story, voice acting from the cast of the cartoon, and instead of immediately selecting a destination from a computer screen, you’ll find yourself arriving at Scrooge’s money bin to find the Beagle Boys burglarizing the joint; which sets up the story and a new tutorial level to help folks get acquainted, or reacquainted, with the controls.
After driving the Beagle Boys from the vault, Scrooge learns they were after a map that contains the locations of five legendary treasures scattered all throughout the world. Since greedy ‘ole Scrooge McDuck can’t resist riches, he embarks on an adventure to acquire each of these valuables for himself. The Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, Himalayas, and even The Moon; they’re all here and largely the way you remember them – though there are some changes and shakeups along the way. Each one of the levels now has a goal – collecting ancient coins, recovering pieces of a fuel regulator, freeing captured nephews – which adds a nice sense of purpose and pacing to the action.
Familiar enemies – such as gorillas, robo-ducks, and jumping goats – litter the landscapes, and lucky for our elderly anti-hero, he’s got a multipurpose cane that allows him to bounce off their heads, and whack certain objects around to clear the way. To pogo in the original game, players had to jump, hold down and then press the B-button. This time around, the developers have added an easier option, which solely requires holding the X-button once in the air. Blasphemous as it may sound, we actually prefer this new method as it does ease some frustrations and lowers the chances of the cane not properly deploying – which does happen on occasion. This is the ideal control method for newcomers and young gamers, and if you start a file on the “easy” setting, it’ll be what you’re stuck with throughout your playthrough, anyway.
Sometimes Remastered is too true to the original DuckTales for its own good. For example, the briefly aforementioned unresponsiveness of the pogo stick was an issue in the NES version, and even though it does seem to happen less frequently in Remastered, it still happens. Also, Scrooge sometimes feels too wide for gaps and will cling to platforms when trying to walk off. There were multiple instances where his feet weren’t visibly planted on a platform anymore, and the character still wouldn’t drop into an opening or on a lower ledge below. This, and other minor hiccups, won’t ruin your time with the game, but they may cause frustration when it’s the reason you lose that last heart, and have to restart the level from the beginning.
Anyone starting on medium difficulty and above should expect to lose a gaggle of lives throughout the adventure, as there is a fairly hefty challenge, and occasionally, some unforgiving circumstances. If you personally find this too daunting, start on easy, instead. There’s no shame in this, and it may be the difference between a good impression, and a rocky one. Besides being restricted to the simplified pogo mechanic, you’ll also have instant access to a full level map that shows the location of each item, plus the luxury of unlimited lives.
What’s really impressive about the updated visuals, isn’t the graphics as a whole; it’s the insane level of fidelity and fluidity of the character animations on screen, which are hand-drawn and appear to be straight out of a cartoon. The environments can be less impactful, as they’re mostly bulky polygons that lack the same level of attention and detail found in the character presentation; but they don’t really detract from anything, as much as they're two very different art-styles. Plus, once you hear the already incredible music from the original game modernized and taken to lofty new heights, you'll likely not give a care about a few underwhelming backgrounds.
Cutscenes are delivered in-game, and feature very minor animations, accompanied by voice-overs and captions at the bottom of the screen. This may be one of the biggest letdowns in our eyes, as it would’ve been nice to have even a little bit more pizzazz in the delivery; camera movements, moving mouths, etc. These little bits of injected story and dialog also tend to be obtrusive when they take over in the middle of the gameplay. This is less frequent in certain areas, but it still slows things down a bit too much at times. Regardless, we still appreciate the the presence of a story, and love the voice-work from the cast of the television show.
A first playthrough shouldn’t last much longer than two hours, and to top that off there are achievements, leaderboards, and a gallery that allows you to purchase concept art of different kinds, music, and even art from the cartoon. Where a lengthy campaign generally means a game is completed once before being retired to the shelf, the brevity of DuckTales only helps to entice that you revisit it time and time again. In fact, immediately following our first playthrough, we jumped right back in and went after hard mode. There's no doubt that the $15 price tag may seem unnaturally steep when compared to the amount of content, but at the same time, no one complained when they paid $50 for the NES version over 20 years ago. We confidently say it's worth it, though anyone without a nostalgic connection may disagree.
DuckTales: Remastered looks great, sounds phenomenal, plays well, and even offers up a few surprises for those who think they know what to expect around every turn. There are issues present – most of which are a product of the game’s archaic design – that may have you quacking with anger on occasion, but they’re not enough to make this trip to Duckburg, and beyond, any less satisfying. This is a reunion of duck-like proportions that should have fans of the NES original, and newcomers, smiling from ear-to-ear as they revisit it for years to come.