‘DuckTales Remastered’ preview: Mostly woo-oo

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Disney cast a facet of video game history fully in stone when it made Wreck-It Ralph. The animated flick’s principal characters demonstrate that pixel graphics, those blocky little constructs used in video games before the modern marvel of 3D rendering, are what’s most familiar about games in the pop culture consciousness. If you see a blocky UFO on a screen bleeping and blooping, you automatically think “video games.” Forget the fact that most video games haven’t used pixels in years; pixel graphics are iconic.

So what happens when you strip those iconic pixels out of an iconic pixel-based game? In the case of Disney, Capcom, and developer WayForward’s DuckTales Remastered, it’s hard to say. It sure is swell to see the 1989 classic given new life, but part of its distinctive charm has also been washed away along with the now-absent pixels.

Story/Concept

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Tales of derring-do. Scrooge McDuck is rich as hell and he’s kind of a jerk about it. The wealthiest duck in Duckberg is cruising around the world hunting for treasure alongside his nephews, Huey, Dewy, and Louie, plus pals Webbigail and crash-prone pilot Launchpad McQuack. The trip takes them to the Amazon, the Himalayas, Transylvania, and even the moon.

In Transylvania, an evil sorceress is hiding the treasure, so it’s sort of okay that Scrooge is nabbing the loot. Plundering ancient ruins in the Amazon, however, is little more suspect. Those are cultural treasures, Scrooge! Chill out with the grave robbing.

Gameplay

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It’s a duck blur. The miserly duck makes Lara Croft look tame by comparison, and not just in the breadth of his tomb raiding. Scrooge also kills wildlife galore in his journey. In terms of action, DuckTales Remastered doesn’t deviate a lot from the original. Scrooge can hop around on his cane like it’s a super powered pogo stick, smushing snakes and apes. He’s got a mean golf swing too, using the cane to move rocks and obstacles. He explores these diverse side-scrolling environments, same as it ever was.

Bold deduction never fails. WayForward did modernize these levels in one regard: DuckTales’ levels were always maze like, requiring you to figure out the best way to get to the boss and win the treasure. Extra treasure was hidden away, but you only needed to find it to raise up a high score. In Remastered, you have to collect a set number of artifacts in each level to get to the end, forcing you to fully explore every level.

In the new Amazon stage that made its debut at E3, for example, Scrooge has to collect eight ancient coins before he can move forward. It’s a smart way to force the player to explore while also to lengthening what was originally a very brief game. 

Just grab on to some Duck Tales. The play’s as good as it always was. On Medium difficulty, I died easily before collecting all the items in the Amazon on my first try. The spikey vines, giant bees, and bottomless pits are tricky as ever.

Presentation 

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Not pony tails. It’s difficult to judge WayForward’s work here. The hand drawn, expressive character sprites are lovely. Scrooge looks just like the Scrooge of the old cartoon, and the 93-year-old Alan Young even returned to lend his voice to the role. Screenshots don’t do the game’s backgrounds justice unfortunately. What looks muted and flat in a static screen actually looks vivid and colorful on an HD television.

Or cotton tails. It doesn’t, however, look as good as the pixel graphics or the original. No game looks quite like DuckTales on the NES, but plenty of other games, including a few of WayForward’s own titles, have the same sort of look. The characters almost look like paper cut outs on the 3D backgrounds. Why not just make 2D backgrounds, as in WayForward’s new Mighty Switchforce 2, to give it some more life?

But Duck Tales. Also problematic is the dialogue. It’s cute stuff and it’s awesome that the original cartoon show cast is back, but the action gets interrupted every other minute to listen to the characters gab about the level. DuckTales was all about quick platforming action and it interrupts the flow to listen to Scrooge berate Launchpad for the fourth time in as many minutes.

Takeaway

These are niggling problems. DuckTales Remastered is, based on the two levels shown off so far, an excellent game that plays like a retro remake should. Its concessions to modernity aren’t bad, they’re just a matter of taste. That wouldn’t be an issue if Capcom included the NES original in this downloadable package, but it’s just not happening. Even without the pixels, having some DuckTales is better than having no DuckTales at all.

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