Editor’s Note: Last summer, I started a recurring feature called The Backlog, which was basically just an excuse for me to play through the huge pile of video games I’d acquired but hadn’t gotten around to playing yet. I wrote four posts, but then I got a job, and then I got a girlfriend, and before long I didn’t have any time to play video games, let alone write about them. Well, I still don’t technically have time for those things, but I make myself do them on occasion anyway. So here’s a little writeup on the latest game to make it out of my backlog–let’s hope I find more time to do this in the next six months than I did in the last! – Z.H.
Earlier this week, I wrote a bit about the 2D platformer revival, and the need for our conversations about video games–especially “retro”-styled 2D games–to move beyond the typical narrative of reigniting childhood nostalgia. The game that inspired that piece, Yacht Club Games‘ 2014 digital title Shovel Knight, is a great example of a work that transcends the “nostalgia narrative,” offering something much richer and more compelling than mere fond memories of the late ’80s and early ’90s (though it offers plenty of those as well). Coincidentally, however, I also just finished another recent 2D platformer: the 2013 remake of Capcom’s 1989 DuckTales game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, developed by experienced platformer revivalists WayForward Technologies. It, too, is an example of the “nostalgia narrative”–an example of its perils, to be specific. DuckTales Remastered is a fine enough way to spend a few hours, but it exists only on the strengths of its connections to the past; and, as such, it’s never truly satisfying.
This isn’t to say that DuckTales is a bad game, by any means. The amount of care that WayForward and co-publishers Disney Interactive put into recreating both the original game and the aesthetic of its parent cartoon–itself a source of much millennial nostalgizing–is in ample evidence throughout. The music is lovingly remixed by Jake Kaufman from the legendary original soundtrack by Tonomura Hiroshige; the sprites are beautifully drawn and animated, with animation cel-style backgrounds by original Disney Television artists Mike Peraza and Rick Evans; they even got most of the show’s surviving voice cast on board, including Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck and June Foray as Magica De Spell. And yes, there is now a completely superfluous, if weirdly satisfying sequence where you can dive into Scrooge’s money vault and paddle around in a pool of gold coins.
Indeed, if anything the game may be a bit too lovingly crafted. The juxtaposition of relatively untouched gameplay from 1989 with 2013-level production values is often more jarring than charming; one of the main mechanics of DuckTales is finding hidden gems by walking or jumping in the right spot and making them appear out of thin air, which was fine on the NES, but just looks weird on a contemporary platform. Sometimes, those fancy new HD sprites even get in the way, creating hit-detection issues where the original game’s more simplistic pixels allowed for greater accuracy. To WayForward’s credit, the boss fights–the overly predictable patterns of which were a glaring weak point of the original game–are largely improved; but the expanded levels (complete with lengthy cutscenes) just feel bloated. And don’t even get me started on the new final stage, which clumsily tries to ramp up the challenge while still using 25-year-old mechanics, but just left me yelling “more like FUCKtales!” at my TV and basically eradicated any remaining good will I had for dear ol’ Unca Scrooge.
It’s perhaps both a credit to and a criticism of DuckTales Remastered that, more than anything else, I was left wanting to replay the original game. See, the danger of playing with nostalgia is that it’s a volatile thing; while I imagine some players saw the fuller integration of the cartoon into the game as a step closer to the DuckTales video game experience they’d always pictured in their head, I was never all that big a fan of the cartoon in the first place. And while those new graphics are certainly charming, I found myself missing the original sprites by Mega Man designer Inafune Keiji. In short, if you’re going to bring nothing but nostalgia to the table, at the very least let me play the actual game I’m nostalgic for.
That being said? Disney and Capcom, if you’re reading this…I wouldn’t be mad at a Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers Remastered.
I played DuckTales Remastered on Wii U, where I downloaded it via the Nintendo eShop. It’s also available digitally for PlayStation 3 on PlayStation Network, Xbox 360 on Xbox Live Arcade, and PC on Steam; and physically for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. You can follow along with my backlog–which has actually gotten bigger since I started this series, because of course it has—here.