Aug 22, 2013

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DuckTales: Remastered Review

duckburg

I have to preface this review by saying DuckTales on NES was one of my favorite games as a kid. I never owned it, but I rented it often, and have carried fond memories of both the game and its soundtrack through into adulthood. When the Remastered version was announced, I was ecstatic, and it was one of the games I was most excited to play at E3, making sure to go back for seconds after my first hands-on time with it wasn’t enough. I counted down the days for its release, and eagerly jumped in as soon as I had a few minutes to spare.

The retail game isn’t much different from the build I played at E3: it’s basically a port of the NES original, with shiny graphics and an remastered soundtrack to go with it. Additionally, WayForward introduced a tutorial level, cutscenes, and the chance to make Scrooge swim in his money just like in the cartoon. Other than those small additions (along with a gallery of art you can unlock using the cash you collect as you play), DuckTales Remastered is very much a shiny, HD version of the original.

This can either be fantastic or horrible, depending on your perspective. If you’re like me, riding at least partially on nostalgia, then the fact that WayForward has kept the majority of the original game intact is wonderful. It gives us a chance to play this classic again on modern consoles, and some of the additions are a nice added bonus. If not, you may find the game lacking. It hasn’t been “modernized” in anyway, other than to remaster the graphics and sound (and add the tutorial), so it still plays very much like an NES game. Though the different difficulty levels still make it very accessible (on Easy, you basically get infinite retries and can restart almost exactly where you died), if that doesn’t sound like something you’ll like, nothing I can say in this review will change your mind.

One of the new additions to the game are numerous cutscenes, and these have gotten a lot of bad feedback from both press and fans alike. Personally, I didn’t mind them at all and thought they were a cute way to try to modernize the game and inject a bit more story into the bare framework of the original. The original voice actors from the TV show all reprise their roles, and Scrooge in particular is fantastic and charming. The jokes never really go very far, but it will probably add a huge extra dose of nostalgia for those who grew up with the show. Despite initial reports that the cutscenes couldn’t be skipped, they can, via the menu once they begin (simply hit start and then choose “skip cutscene”).  It would be nice if there were a global option (for example, in the main menu) that enabled you to turn the scenes off, because they can be annoying when you’re playing through the game again (especially if you end up working on the same stage multiple times for a trophy). Still, it’s a minor niggle in my opinion.

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The story is this: Scrooge finds a mysterious treasure map in a painting and goes globe hopping in search of them. Along the way, he runs into trouble: the Beagle Boys, his nemesis Flintheart Glomgold, and also Magica De Spell. His nephews and niece don’t make things any easier, either, as Scrooge is constantly having to rescue them in one form or another. I won’t spoil the rest if you’re not familiar with the game, but it’s cute and simple like the gameplay, and will be a nostalgic trip for anyone who grew up with the show.

Speaking of Scrooge, he’ll make little comments throughout the game (sometimes even when  you pause). I found this extremely annoying in the E3 build I played, because he only had two or three things he said over and over. However, the final version has expanded his vocabulary, and it’s actually kind of cute, and even funny. For example, he might say, “One billion one, one billion two,” when you collect a gem, which–and yes, I know it’s silly–made me smile every time.

As far as gameplay goes, WayForward has stuck faithfully to the original. DuckTales is primarily a platformer, with a few hidden paths to find, and it’s not purely linear, though none of the levels are terribly large. Controlwise, they’ve also stayed pretty faithful (although you can chose between “hard pogo” and regular, the latter of which requires the original’s system of holding down on the direction pad plus a key in order to pogo). The controls aren’t complicated: walk, jump, pogo. That’s about it. I know there were a lot of complaints from other reviewers about the controls, but I personally didn’t have any.  Mastering the subtleties of the controls (such as the short jump, in which you keep your jump low so as to avoid obstacles such as ceiling spikes) can take some practice, though, and the harder difficulties definitely present a challenge for those who are up for it.

The game has four difficulties: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Extreme (the latter of which must be unlocked).  On Easy, the map is fully available from the beginning (although hidden areas aren’t displayed until you find them), and you have unlimited retries. You also can find several additional hearts to add to your life (you can also find these on the Medium difficulty). Additionally, enemies don’t move too fast and there aren’t too many of them. You’ll also find plenty of health items (even during boss battles). On Easy, pretty much everyone can finish the game, even the final boss, who can be difficult.

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Medium is similar to Easy, but only the key items for each level are displayed, with the map generated as you go, and enemies hit a little harder. Hard raises the stakes; the maps are completely blank until you generate them as you move through the level, you’re limited to three hearts and three lives, and enemies are faster and more prolific than on the lower difficulties. I haven’t unlocked Extreme yet, but my understanding is that you don’t get any additional lives or saves, meaning you have to complete the game in one sitting (highly reminiscent of those old NES days of gaming). Of course, back then, you didn’t need to worry as much about your system overheating if you left it on overnight. I wouldn’t recommend you try that with your PS3.

Like the original, you have a level select screen and you can tackle each level in whatever order you want (although they’re listed in order of difficulty, with the Amazon level being the easiest and the Moon being the hardest, relatively). However, once you beat a level, you can’t replay it until you’ve finished all the other levels, so keep that in mind. Additionally, the game saves automatically at the completion of each level (except on the hardest difficulty), so if you go back for secrets later, you’ll have to complete the level for those changes to stick.

Graphicswise, the game looks fantastic. My rose-colored glasses remembered the NES version looking much better than it did, but there’s no comparison. All the sprites look great, and the backgrounds are rich and vibrant, with brilliant colors. WayForward really did a fantastic job of bringing the cartoon to life, and I really wish I could have that backdrop of Duckburg as my PS3 theme. That said, I love that the game now lets you put all that loot to use: either swim in your money (yes!) or use it to unlock character art, sketches, music, and more in the gallery.

As for the music, I personally found it to be a mixed bag. The original NES DuckTales soundtrack is one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time, and I didn’t really see much need to improve upon such classic tunes. Some of the remixes are pretty good–the Himalayas and Mt. Vesuvius themes in particular–but for the most part, I found them to have too many flourishes that detracted from the original melodies. I was particularly disappointed in the level version of “The Moon Theme,” as I have heard far better remixes in the past (for example, check out Kitsune^2′s killer version, titled “Goodnight”). However, in the credits, a slower, piano version of “The Moon” is played, and that is really fantastic. You can unlock the original 8-bit music once you beat the game, and choose (via the main menu) to have it play in the background instead of the new tunes, which is a wonderful fanservice and made me extremely happy.

I did run into a few minor bugs: audio (particularly during cutscenes) would sometimes stutter, and although I didn’t have this issue, I know friends who found the game would temporarily freeze during loading sections. Still, I found the game to play and run fairly smoothly overall.

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In the end, DuckTales: Remastered is basically a shiny, HD-version of an NES game you can play on your modern-day consoles, and not much more. The actual game will only take you a couple hours to blow through, and though it’s fun to try for the different trophies and test your skill with the harder difficulties, or work to unlock all the art/music, there’s honestly not a whole lot of content here. Either you’ll come in riding the duck tales of nostalgia, or you won’t. Honestly, I think the $15 price tag is a bit high (I paid $12 since I pre-ordered); a $10 price point would probably leave more gamers feeling satisfied. Still, DuckTales has always been one of my favorite games from my youth, and I love that I can experience it again. If it ever comes out on Vita, I could definitely see myself picking it up again.

As far as putting a new polish on an old classic and re-releasing it decades later, I have to give kudos to WayForward. They’ve truly remastered the original DuckTales, and while it’s not flawless, it’s certainly worth it, especially if you have any nostalgia for the original or you want a classic NES experience on your modern-era console. Sadly, its reliance on nostalgia, coupled with the relatively steep price and minimal amount of gameplay may keep this from being a must-buy purchase for everyone.

DuckTales: Remastered
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Capcom
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
MSRP: $14.99


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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing SMT Nocturne and working through my backlog. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.