Friday, September 19, 2014

DuckTales Remastered (Capcom/WayForward Technologies/Disney Interactive Studios, 2013)

I grew up on the now classic games of the 80s and 90s. Even today, I still go back and play those games, as can be seen by my choice of titles to review. As fun as those games still are these days, it's a much different experience than it once was. What at one time was cutting edge and ground breaking technology is now at best quaint and retro, and at worst laughably obsolete. I still try to imagine how those titles appeared to eyes that had never seen what modern games are capable of, but much of the wow factor is simply gone.

But, what if you could actually play one of those classic games, and have it look and feel as polished and shiny as newer releases, while still retaining all of the fun it had way back then? It's a rare treat to get this opportunity, but a couple years ago at the PAX East convention I was blown away to discover just that in the surprise announcement of DuckTales Remastered.

As this is a re-imagining of an older game, I should probably start by talking about the original. In 1987, Disney premiered the DuckTales cartoon series which took Huey, Dewey, and Louie, along with their uncle Scrooge, and sent them treasure hunting around the world in adventures obviously inspired by the popularity of the Indiana Jones series. At that time, Capcom was riding high on the success of several of their original game franchises, including the Mega Man series.

Given the similarities between the two, it made sense to adapt the basic Mega Man formula when adapting DuckTales to game format, and the results were successful enough to inspire an NES sequel, as well as two Gameboy releases. Also noteworthy at a time when licensed IP games were only loosely inspired by their source material (play the NES Star Wars game to see how loosely!), every character and enemy in the game was actually from an episode of the series.

DuckTales Remastered updates the original game in just about every way, but at the same time it manages to stay true to the original. most notably, the graphics have been updated. The graphics themselves seamlessly blend the 3D environments with the hand drawn sprite animation to create a 2.5D platformer experience that matches the look of the original cartoon much more closely than the original did.

As nice as DuckTales Remastered looks, it sounds even better! They managed to reunite the voice cast from the show to reprise their roles. Even though I haven't watched an episode since the show's cancelation, these voices still ring out with so many memories that it makes me want to go back and binge watch the entire series. The original music tracks have all been reimagined as well. If you grew up with this game, you'll be humming right along.

The NES DuckTales didn't have a lot of dialog in it, so what exactly does this voice cast do? Well, DeckTales Remastered starts off a little differently than its 8-bit counterpart did. The first part of the game is a tutorial mission where Scrooge McDuck has to save his money vault from an attack by the Beagle Boys. This manages to teach the game's unique control scheme, as well as set up the story for the later levels. Back in the 80s, cartridge memory was expensive, and story setup was generally taken care of inside the instruction manual, which game designers actually expected you to read entirely before starting a game. Adding this intro level makes a big difference in modernizing the game.

The levels themselves are still playable in any order other than the final level, just as they were before. Short cut scenes before, after, and during these levels advance the plot and make the world more immersive without breaking the game flow. While the areas allow you to go in different directions and explore for the best path to your goal, it never gets into full on Metroidvania style exploration/backtracking. That's either a plus or a minus depending on your tastes, but for this game I think the style fits nicely.

Other modern elements include collectibles and a modern map. This map can be disabled at harder difficulties for an experience more similar to the original game. The controls are still just as tight and responsive as they were before. Despite being released on modern platforms with their gamepads full of buttons, the same original controls are used. I actually played this using a USB NES gamepad. There was just something a little magical about that combination.

Hopefully the success of this game leads to similar updating to classic games in the future. Maybe a Chip n' Dale's Rescue Rangers Remastered is in the future? We can only hope!

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