I reviewed the original DuckTales on NES over two decades ago and thoroughly enjoyed playing it, rating it a very solid 90%. So, of course, I was hugely interested to see how this "remastered" version would span the decades – and just how the developer would tackle the tricky task of bringing the game up-to-date, while making sure it keeps its original looks, feel and atmosphere. Turns out WayForward did a decent job, but in the process has managed to create some new issues that the original didn't have.
As you'd expect, DuckTales Remastered has had a spiffy modern makeover, and it's mostly good news here. The all-new graphics and sound are contemporary, yet still trigger all the right visual and aural memories. The stars of the show are the characters and enemies, which look like they've been lifted directly from Disney cels. The backgrounds, however, are a little less impressive. The best ones have a hand-drawn quality about them that matches the character art perfectly, but some feel a little bland and workmanlike. What's missing are little graphical touches and effects that would otherwise make them feel vibrant and bring them to life, rather than them simply looking like wallpaper. Nothing is terrible, but just feels a little inert.
However, I have no complaints about the music: it takes cues from the original NES chiptunes, but mixes in today's sounds to bridge the decades between old and new very effectively.
Gameplay-wise, the modern retrofitting is a little less obvious, which is a good thing. It initially feels very similar to the original, but as you play through, you begin to sense there has been a fair amount of fettling of the physics, a streamlining of the level layouts, and a simplification of the enemy AI. It's all positive stuff, resulting in a game that progresses in a more linear, predictable and easy-going fashion than the original. It also helps to make the game more approachable and fun. However, the new training level/hints, while welcome and probably quite necessary in today's spoon-fed, flatter-the-gamer world, feel clumsy. Yes, help is always welcome, but there is a certain point where it can feel patronizing, and unfortunately DuckTales Remastered reaches it, and then trundles some distance beyond it.
[Additional comment added for clarity] I believe the act of playing a game and discovering what to do can and indeed should be fun and enjoyable - but that opportunity is taken away here. Instead of getting the chance to figure things out for yourself, you're instead told very heavy-handedly what to do. I think having the prompts on a timer, or hidden until the player pressed a button to see them would have been a better move. Those who don't want to be spoon fed could have had the joy of discovery, and those who had difficultly would have the help they need.
But while the help can feel annoying, it's nothing compared to the new plot and cutscenes that have been added to the game. Trying to be positive, I imagine if I'd grown up on DuckTales cartoons, the authentic voices and imagery might likely trigger some nostalgic feelings. But since I didn't, the way-too-frequent skits end up being an unnecessary and disruptive distraction, breaking up the action far too often – and aren't anywhere near amusing or entertaining enough to be worth watching. Perhaps your mileage might vary, but to me they're inane and utterly superfluous, and a real detraction from the old-school platforming.
Still, when the gameplay is not being intruded upon, bouncing around pogo-style trying to negotiate the myriad of hazards, bosses and pseudo-puzzles is just as much fun now as it was then. On easy mode, you have plenty of latitude to make mistakes – and I think most gamers with decent talent will probably be able to work their way through the entire game within a few hours. And if you have any complaints about that, play hard mode. That's a reminder of just how bloody unforgiving old games were, as you carefully make your way through a level, and then yell in frustration as you die inches away from the way-too-spaced-out checkpoints and have to do it all again. That's some nostalgia you probably won't welcome.
In the end, DuckTales is an enjoyable trip down memory lane – but a lane that has had a few new architectural additions that have not all been sympathetically worked into the landscape. The original appeal is still there, and it definitely maintains the character of the NES classic, but I think it deserves better. If anything new was going to be added to the game, it should have been more levels. It's clear the developer has the talent to be able to refine and improve the gameplay and level design, so why not go the full distance and follow through on that, rather than wasting time and money on something that adds little of value and substance to the game at best, and is an irritating distraction at worst.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The characters and enemies look like they've just walked out of an animated short. The backgrounds, however, are a little uneven and feel like they needed a little more time to get right.
- Music: Mixes classic chiptunes and modern sounds to elicit aural nostalgia while sounding brand spanking new.
- Interface: The in-game hints are patronizingly obvious, and the new cutscenes that have been added to the game are intrusive at best, and annoying at worse.
- Lasting Appeal: The game offers a few hours of fun on easy mode, but packs a serious challenge on hard. But it's so hard, it's not much fun.
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