Quacking Down Memory Lane: Thoughts on DuckTales Remastered

There is nothing in the world quite as satisfying as crashing your life to a screeching halt with some finely cut lines of nostalgia.  Nostalgia has been the name of the game for years now–indeed, it’s easy to argue that nostalgia is our generation’s greatest commodity.  And between grindhouse schlockfests that spend millions to look low budget, trust-fund hipsters buying top hats at Hot Topic to wear as they ride the rails like hobos, and zombies, zombies, zombies as far as the eye can see, it’s easy to get burned out fast.

It has been my experience, however, that the video gaming industry has mostly gotten our lust for yesterday just right.  Perhaps this is because it really hasn’t been around all that long, but has changed the most.  Levels have gone from left-to-ride side-scrollers to endless swathes of breathing landscape, chippy little tunes have been replaced with full-scale orchestras, and graphics are just ridiculous.  It’s something that many of us are always aware of–and by “us”, I mean those of us who can (and do) effortlessly switch from the haunting snow flurries of The Throat Of The World to the greys and reds of Mario’s first face-off with Bowser.  It’s with this awareness that I bring up Capcom’s DuckTales: Remastered.

Pictured: Scrooge McDuck, in the snow, sans pants.

The original 8-bit DuckTales was arguably one of the best (if not most important) platformers for the NES.  In it, you played Disney’s favorite 1 percenter, Mr. Scrooge McDuck, as he pogo-hopped from one vista to another, in search of treasure and adventure.  DuckTales stood out because it was one of those rare games that shunned the linear nature of so many games of the time.  You chose your levels in any order you pleased, and often backtracked and returned to many screens that you’d already visited.  This is something we take for granted these days, but it’s games like DuckTales and the Mega Man series that blazed the trail for the open worlds we see in gaming today.

DuckTales: Remastered did a great job of capturing the flavor of its original predecessor, while adding some modern updates that, while fun, may have exposed a bit of a flaw in how we look at gaming today.

The game has never looked so good.  Smooth and crisp, the game is coated through with Saturday morning cartoon paint.  DTR is bright and colorful, and sounds amazing.  Indeed, many of the cartoon’s original cast were brought back to voice their old characters in brand new cut-scenes.  And that’s where I ran into a conundrum.  DuckTales: Remastered is filled with little voiceovers and cut-scenes that stop you dead in your tracks.  Any modern gamer is familiar with these sorts of moments, but they were never meant to happen this often, and feel quite a bit like padding.

Mrs. Beakley: “Don’t you talk down to me, you plutocratic piece of shit.”

Not that the game needs it: it’s just as challenging as I remember it being.  And I still play old-school games with feelings of dread.  NES is one of the last bastions of video gaming that has examples of games where if you lose, you fucking lose.  No save games, no passwords–if that boss kills you, it’s just over.  I think many younger gamers who give this one a shot will be surprised to see that you can’t just save right before a level’s boss fight and reload if you die.  Sorry, you young punk–time to start the level all the way over.

And that’s where the major flaw of DuckTales: Remastered lies: it’s an old school reboot, but some of the modern flourishes added to make it unique just don’t belong there.  The first would be the aforementioned cut-scenes.  Too often do you find Scrooge stopping to ponder a piece of treasure, or berate an old enemy, or explain childbirth to Huey, Dewey and Louie.  It’s an entertaining and wistful gesture the first few times it happens, but before long you’ll be hitting start and choosing the “Skip Cutscene” option about ten times a level.  The heavier storyline is a nice thought, but feels unnecessary.  There’s also the addition of unlockables (a standard for any game these days, reboot or otherwise).  And while I appreciate this as a way to draw out the replayability on a game with a $15 price tag (fucking ouch, Capcom), let me finish the Amazon thorn tunnel without dying before you start listing all the different ways for me to spend my cash.

Overall, I’ve had a great time revisiting this one.  Despite the a few hiccups and minor inconveniences, I think it’s excellent to see such a worthy game getting a makeover as gorgeous as this one.

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