Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In Defense: DuckTales Remastered

When you think of current video games that are based upon things such as movie and cartoon franchises, your stomach tends to turn and get upset. Well, mine does anyway. Generally speaking, such games receive extremely low review scores and are panned by gamers, with only a few that manage to reach decent recognition and actually deserve that praise. Perhaps the last really great example was Spider-Man 2, which was released around the same time as the film. I had a lot of fun with that one, and I don't think I know anyone who looks back on it and thinks, "What a piece of fuckin' shit."

(The Thing was pretty damn good too...but moving onward...)

In prior generations, specifically the pre-polygonal era, licensed games actually used to have a pretty good reputation, and a lot of them were actually really good! The Adventures of Batman and Robin, for example, was a very well-made and challenging platformer with a lot of smart nods to episodes of Batman: The Animated Series; and Alien 3 had you fill the boots of badass Ellen Ripley as she undertook a great number of missions and side-missions, torching facehuggers and blasting xenomorphs with a pulse rifle. These games felt really good, and although they weren't carbon copies of what they were based upon, they were great interpretations of the material provided, and they turned those resources into a very reasonable gaming experience. I mean, let's face it: if Alien 3 was based completely on the movie, Ripley wouldn't even have a gun and would just walk around trying not to a) get raped by prisoners, and b) get munched by ONE adversary: the dog alien. That's not really a recipe for a good video game.

Luckily, most Disney-based games were handled by Capcom...the same company that created Mega Man, Bionic Commando, Ghosts 'N Goblins, and Street Fighter. So at the time, these franchises that many people knew and loved were in extremelt capable hands. Games such as Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers, Aladdin, and even The fuckin' Little Mermaid* wound up being fun experiences. The crown jewel of these Disney games, however, was (and still is, by a fairly grand margin) DuckTales on the NES.

Still looks pretty sweet, even to this day!

The reasons why DuckTales was so damn good are myriad. The game engine itself is the exact same one used in the classic six Mega Man titles for the NES, which means the platforming, movements, and controls are razor-sharp and responsive. The music is absolutely phenomenal, and some of the tracks exemplify some of the best use of the NES sound chip...particularly the Moon theme, which a lot of people go nuts for (and for good reason.) The game's structure was non-linear, meaning you could tackle the five stages in whatever order you desired, as in the Mega Man games...and the stages themselves were also not straightforward. You were free to explore them as you wished, and they weren't simply straight passageways to a culminating boss encounter at the end. Finally, it had the characters from DuckTales in it, whom everyone loved at the time: Huey, Dewie, Louie, Launchpad, Mrs. Beakley, and of course, Scrooge McDuck, who had set out on adventure to find treasure because he's a greedy old nutcase.

So this year at PAX East, DuckTales Remastered was announced at the Capcom panel. People sang the theme song and ooh'd and aah'd at the beautiful revamped graphical style courtesy of WayForward, who sort of kick ass at bringing old school games back into the spotlight. Despite being in the audience, I didn't sing along...but I was definitely excited! DuckTales was an awesome NES game, and WayForward is one of my favourite current video game studios. What could possibly go wrong?

Just look at that art!

Fucking NOTHING, that's what! This update to the original game is a great piece of work, and I'll explain why.

First off, WayForward is very well-known for their beautiful hand-drawn art and solid side-scrolling game design, as found in the phenomenal revamp of A Boy and his Blob for the Nintendo Wii, as well as their original titles such as Mighty Switch Force. This crazy talent of theirs fits the bill (duck joke) for something like DT Remastered, so the resulting character and enemy art looks like it was taken right from the television show and the gameplay is extremely tight. Of course, they had help from Disney in recreating the appearance of the classic cartoon, but it's been executed pretty much flawlessly. Animations are smooth and wonderfully done, looking like they were stripped right out of a Disney film. The platforms and foreground objects are rendered polygons, and at first I'd thought that the game would have been better-suited to an entirely hand-drawn style, as with the characters. However, having now played through a couple of times, I can safely say that I have no problem with the 3D models they've created for the stages, and the backgrounds generally look vibrant and awesome.

The stages themselves are near-exact recreations of those found on the original DuckTales cartridge, with a few small alterations here and there that are generally used for level flow. These changes are few and far between and although they are noticeable, they're certainly not unwelcome. For example, you'll go into the same spacecraft on the Moon as you did in the original, but it's just a tad larger than it used to be. I found nothing wrong with this, because the gameplay is solid enough to make traversing these new or rearranged areas a charm. Some enemy placement has been switched around as well, but again, this isn't a huge issue unless you have a massive stick up your arse.

Scrooge moves the same way, and seemingly the same speed as he used to...and with extremely similar jumping mechanics. His golf swing remains intact, and a tad more useful than it was in the original. The pogo jump is obviously still there as well, and it feels great! Pogoing around levels never gets tiring, and although they made it a bit easier to pull off in this game (simply press Y in the air), you also have the option to use Hard Pogo mode, in which you have to press Down and Y in the air to activate it, which is much more true to the original game. I stuck with this mode, and haven't used their easier version other than to test it out. Both methods work perfectly though, despite what several review sites have been saying about the pogo function being "unresponsive." I haven't had any issue with it, unless I messed it up myself.

The 3D stages and 2D backgrounds complement each other very well.

Each stage has loads of treasures to find, much like in the original. These may be in blocks or treasure chests that you bash open with your cane, or they may simply appear from thin air when Scrooge walks or jumps by. This makes you want to explore the levels more, particularly since there are some great incentives for gathering cash. Money can be used to unlock pieces of artwork designed for the game, soundtrack samples, and even art from the TV show...which is pretty fuckin' cool and worth unlocking as far as I'm concerned! Each stage also has large hidden treasure chests that contain a heart that extends your life meter when you pick it up. On normal mode, you can find one in every stage...but on Hard mode, you only find a few, which is much more true to the original game. Also on the topic of stages, there're completely new levels at the beginning and end of the game. The first one is an introDUCKtory level which explains the game mechanics to the player and isn't difficult at all, while the final stage is a welcome new ending rather than having to play through Transylvania a second time, which was one of the only drawbacks of the original game.

The soundtrack really shines in this game, just as it did in the original. Every track has been remixed and sounds awesome. The Moon remix will probably make any veteran DuckTales fan burst into tears, and the other pieces of the soundtrack are just as strong. I love the new version of Transylvania's tune, and had it stuck in my head for days after first playing through DT Remastered. (OH GOD I'M GETTING IT STUCK IN MY HEAD RIGHT NOW JUST BY WRITING ABOUT IT!) If that isn't enough for you, then you may be pleased to know that you unlock the 8-bit soundtrack after clearing the game once, allowing you to play with those classic tunes completely intact...and they STILL fit the stages just as well, even with the new, revamped art style! That's no small feat...and to top it off, WayForward even composed 8-bit versions of the music from the NEW stages to complement the soundtrack! Awesome stuff.

In addition to remixed music, DuckTales Remastered also contains a great deal of voice acting...something that was obviously not present in the original game. Many of the original voice actors from the cartoon show in the 80's and 90's reprise their roles for this game, including the 93-year-old (!) Alan Young, who still manages to portray Scrooge McDuck perfectly. The stages have their own sub-goals, which WF threw in to make each one feel like an episode from the show. These range from searching out a set of ancient coins to finding the pieces of the Gizmoduck armor for Fenton to use. As such, the characters have a pretty good amount of dialogue, and I've noticed that some people feel that it slows the game down. Well, luckily you can skip every damn cutscene if you want, so that complaint is pretty much groundless. Overall, I think it's very cool that the original cast came together to lend their voices to DT Remastered, and it seems to me like any fan of the NES game and/or TV show would appreciate that effort. I chuckled quite a few times at the voice acting too, particularly at lines spoken by Magica De Spell and Flintheart Glomgold ("Turn a profit on THIS, McDuck!!")

Yes, yes...your precious Moon stage is still here.

Speaking of characters, the stage bosses have gotten an overhaul and are actually challenging! This is a major improvement from the original game, in which the boss encounters were pretty damn laughable. Although the boss enemies still didn't give me much trouble in DT Remastered, they definitely have way more tricks up their sleeves compared to their older counterparts, and are more fun and satisfying as a result. General enemies, on the other hand, remain very similar to those found in the original, but no complaints there...they still serve their purpose and they do it well.

Overall, this game is a solid revamp of an original classic. It looks, sounds, and feels like the original DuckTales, which is pretty much the damn point of it all. Most of the issues I've seen others bring up are the cutscenes and the difficulty. If it's too difficult for you, you can change the setting and play on Easy mode. If you don't like the cutscenes, skip them for crying out loud! Those options are there so you can enjoy the game however the hell you want! My only issue about the difficulty is that the Expert mode you unlock upon beating Hard mode isn't tough enough. It's just Hard mode, but with the added criteria of having to complete the game in one sitting with no saving and no continues. That's not all that tough for a gamer who's been playing since the days of the NES!

I played the game on the Wii U, which allows for off-TV play on the GamePad exclusively. In addition, if you're playing through the game on your big-screen, you have the option to display a map of the level on the GamePad screen. Other controller options are provided as well, so you can use your Pro controller if you like!

Oh, and you can dive into Scrooge's Money Bin. That's the cherry on top of this sweet, sweet cake!


The Bottom Line

DuckTales Remastered is exactly what it claims to be: a remastering of DuckTales. It's very similar, but not an exact carbon copy. It's got a fantastic visual overhaul, but the rock-solid gameplay from the original game remains completely intact. The music has been updated to sound more modern, but you still have the option for those sweet, sweet 8-bit tunes! The fact of the matter is that WayForward and Capcom have presented a faithful remake of a much-loved NES game, loaded it with cool nostalgic features to unlock, and snagged a great number of the original DuckTales cartoon cast members to voice their characters again years after the end of the show. It's accessible to new players with an easy difficulty, and still just as fun as the original for hardcores that remember playing the NES version. If that's not a remake done correctly and made with heart and soul, then I don't know what is.

An easy 10/10! I actually didn't expect this remake to be as good as it was, but it exceeded those expectations and I'm very impressed with it.

* The Little Mermaid wasn't a bad film or anything...but it's certainly not something you'd expect to get a decent video game out of. JUST SAYIN'!