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January 6, 2017

DuckTales Remastered (Part 1)

My late childhood/early teenage years were marked by my first console, a NES console bought cheaply at a garage sale from some people about half a kilometer down my street, with a bunch of accompanying games. As the first console that I’ve ever owned, I look back on those gaming years fondly, even if one fourth of the games I owned for it were utter crap. Not like I cared. I left the bad games where I was storing them, and played and replayed the titles that became my classics.

Among those classics? Just about every Disney title I could get my hands on, whether it was Mickey Mousecapades (which I sucked at), Darkwing Duck (which I believe I completed at least once), Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers (Tough levels, disappointing bosses), and of course, the most famous one of the bunch: DuckTales.

Ah yes, DuckTales. The cartoon series aired in the 90s and I watched them on Radio-Canada, the French CBC, on Saturday mornings. I distinctly remember an episode about the Beagle Boys stealing control of large robots to wreak havoc and steal Scrooge’s money. The theme song is known to induce rage in certain people because they’ve only recently managed to get it out of their heads. Which is why I have decided to post it here, because I am exactly that kind of troll.

All memorable characters. Yep, even the lightbulb robot.
DuckTales followed Scrooge as he became a tutor for Huey, Dewey and Louie, due to Donald finally being forced to justify his wearing of a sailor shirt and hat by getting enrolled in the Navy. But the life and times of Scrooge McDuck are anything but simple, and his days are split between hunting for treasure, defeating his various enemies, and doing some actual accounting. That’s of course when he doesn’t go for a dive in his money bin, gleefully jumping in and coming out, spitting the dirty pennies that were probably collecting mush or bacteria in other people’s wallets or hidden in their shoes before it reached the money bin and money is really dirty and why would you ever swim in that and much less get it in your mouth and… The germ hater in me would rather not think about it.

The show included a large number of side-characters, from Miss Beakley and Webby to Launchpad McQuack, Gyro Gearloose, Gizmoduck, and that’s not even mentioning the villains. Many stories were lifted right out of Carl Barks and Don Rosa’ classic comics. Oh, and mentioning it right away, Disney will be launching a reboot of the TV show this year, with a different art style and more stories taken from the comics. It should be interesting… if done right.

Those damn mountain goats. That damn snow!
Much like the show, the first DuckTales game for the NES is legendary (the second one less so, but whatever). So much so that, on August 13th 2013, Capcom released a new version of the game, made by developer WayForward Technologies. It has updated graphics, an actual story to justify the treasure hunt, and most voice actors from the original show returning to voice the various characters, including June Foray and even Alan Young! It’s really unfortunate that Mr. Young passed away last year – but it’s great to hear his voice in this game. The other voice actors who had passed away before 2013 had their roles taken by new VAs. DuckTales Remastered is still available on Steam.

Keep in mind that this is not quite the NES game; a lot of stuff has been added to it. In fact, I’ll probably have a compare-and-contrast approach to this review. It’ll be most interesting to study the changes.

Hell, we can start comparing right away! The original game’s title screen:

The Remastered title screen:

This sets the tone! The original DuckTales game had three difficulty settings: Easy, Medium and Hard. Here, you start off with the same modes, but you can also unlock an Extreme mode. Easy Mode gives you infinite lives, Medium gives you 3 lives at the start of every level and few, if any, chances to regain new ones. Hard gives you very few hit points, but a few more lives that can be collected. The famed Extreme mode, unlocked when you beat Hard? No saving, so you must beat the game in one sitting, and you’re limited to very few extra lives. Oh, also, the controls work different.

Pogo-cane-jumping: If every old person did it, the world
would be a more awesome place.
In the original DuckTales, you had to press Down when in the air, before pressing the B button to do a cane pogo jump. In this game, by default you don’t need to press Down when in the air. Scrooge instinctively knows what to do. Granted, you can actually switch this in the options to require pressing Down to do that move, and it’s also required in Extreme difficulty. There’s a bit of story to that for me, I got the NES game with the instruction booklet – only downside, there was no tutorial, and I was too young to read English correctly. Needless to say, considering the pogo jump is a vital element, the game was almost useless to me. I finally figured it out, but for a while, I was terrible. Then I learned, and I got gud. Or, at least, I got better.

Oh yeah, here is something else this game revamps: We have an honest-to-God tutorial level! The game starts as the Beagle Boys, armed with a whole bunch of cartoony bombs, launching an assault on the Money Bin. Scrooge immediately rushes there to protect his wealth. And protect his wealth he does. On the way, we learn how to use Scrooge’s cane to break blocks, push items, pogo jump… I swear, that cane is more useful than a friggin’ Swiss knife. Of course, Scrooge also winds up having to save the triplets. And considering Scrooge is stinking rich, he can afford some degree of creativity in his security systems. I mean, giant hands wielding giant hammers? That ain’t something you see in every building. We use the pogo jump to activate switches, and we deal with every Beagle Boy on the way.

Boom. Scrooge is so rich, he can afford a life-sized
whack-a-mole with full-sized criminals as the moles.
...That is, as long as he isn't the one getting crushed by it.

Big Time Beagle was one of those unique Beagle
Boys given a distinct look and appearance on the show.
On the topic of the Beagle Boys, did you know they were given names only in the TV show? Burger, Big Time, Bouncer Beagle… In the comic, they were called by their prison serial number. 176-671, 716-167, 617-761… Truly interesting names to pronounce out loud in a TV show for kids, huh? I mean, wow, they must never get mixed up in that family. All the same faces, all names that are made of 1s, 6s and 7s, and all the same face with a mask, and the same body shape… and they’ve all got such distinct personalities, too! I can’t ever imagine their parents having any problem differentiating them! Plus, the Beagle Boys in the TV show actually have different body shapes, so that’s already better.

At the end of the level, Big Time Beagle confronts Scrooge, putting on a helmet to protect himself from the pogo cane jump. Okay Scrooge, change your tactic. Aim for the crotch! …Or drop a huge safe on Big Time Beagle and then cane his head, that works too. After the defeated Beagle Boys leave, Scrooge inspects his office and discovers that the big robbing family was trying to get its hands on a painting Scrooge recently acquired. Costed almost nothing for the actual value it might have, too! It was almost fishy. Anyway, the painting was broken, and it contains a treasure map showing the way to five different legendary items all over the planet. Of course, Scrooge will never skip an opportunity to get richer, so he decides to go on this adventure and look for this treasure. He’d rather go by himself, but you know Huey, Dewey and Louie are just gonna follow sometimes even if Scrooge doesn’t want them to. Oh, and Webby, too. Oh, and that airheaded Launchpad McQuack, because we need someone to pilot the helicopter. I sure as Hell don’t trust him piloting any plane. If it has wings, he will crash it. Mark my words, it is as guaranteed to happen.

Alright, so we have five distinct choices of locations to venture to-
Hey, is that the magic lamp from the DuckTales movie I'm seeing in
the background?

In the original DuckTales game, we could choose among the main five stages at will; we could start with any of them. The Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, The Himalayas, and the Moon. If you played the original, I bet saying these five names out loud made memories flood back to your mind… If the review thus far hadn’t already. Once again, we can choose any of those to start with. Want to do them in the order they’re presented in? Sure, why not look at them in that order?

Launchpad should just concentrate on piloting the helicopter.
This chronically-crashed duck need to be careful.
Let’s embark for the Amazon, then. Scrooge is dropped off by Launchpad, and we get a bit of history. Because yes, every level has its own mini-plot now. It’s definitely better than the original, near-plot-less DuckTales game. Scrooge explains, through the radio he uses to stay in contact with Launchpad, that the Scepter of Manco Capquack (heh) is in a castle hidden in the clouds. Gee, I wonder how it can stay up there. Magic seems like the only reasonable explanation, and I’d call it bull-crap, were it not for the fact that one of Scrooge’s most persistent foes is a real witch. Scrooge goes on his way.

Oh God, that music is awesome! I remember the original tune for the Amazon level. This is such a great improvement!

How did I get myself into this little corner,,,?
The first part of the Amazon level is split into the overworld and the underground. In the original game, you could take either path, it didn’t matter – well, unless you wanted to get more diamonds to get a better ending score. The overworld had its share of floor spikes, duck-eating plants, gorillas and bees. Of those, the plants are probably the most annoying, as they couldn’t be killed by the pogo jump. If you’re not careful, you’ll let any of these plants here have a sample of what rich duck tastes like. The underground part had a lot of spikes too, but it also had giant spiders hanging right over them.

So many coins... and one cutscene for each of them!
In DuckTales Remastered, you’re not so lucky; you have no other choice but to visit each section. The game forces you to. As he travels, Scrooge will start finding large coins with symbols on them, hidden in treasure chests around the place. Every time, we get a quick cutscene of Scrooge telling us what’s on the coin, and then chatting with Launchpad some more. Oh yeah, there’s eight of those coins, too, so be ready to hear a lot of chatting, or be ready to skip each cutscene. Oh, by the way, Launchpad nearly crashes the helicopter he’s in. Because of course he does.

Hang in there, ducky!
That's the only way to get rich(er)!

Those are some large bees.
Scrooge almost got stung there.
I’ve got to hand it to those who wrote the script for this game, though; they’ve found some really hilarious jokes. Like how Launchpad admits he was dropped on his head all the time as a kid! Soon enough, Scrooge finds a large stele with eight empty spaces. Scrooge places the coins in the spaces, and it opens the way to the castle in the clouds! In the original game, the second part of the level was extremely hard, as Scrooge had to travel from right to left in an area of floating blocks, with the plants and the bees blocking the way, and bees coming from the left. Trust my experience, that part was a pain in the ass. I’m kinda glad they replaced all of it by Launchpad bringing Scrooge over the pit. And there we go, the third part of the level: The castle in the clouds!

In the original game, you could find two extra hearts that could be added to your life gauge, bringing your maximum hearts to 5. In Remastered, you can find one secret room with a chest containing an extra heart in each of the main five levels, bringing your maximum to 8. Trust me, you’ll need all of them in the end.

We shall see who is the more knuckleheaded here!"
At the end of the Amazon level, Scrooge encounters a giant statue that fiercely protects the place’s big treasure. In the original DuckTales, it was a whole statue; here, it’s just the head, but the body that goes with it is in the background, and it’s huge. Oh, also, this is the only boss made with CGI in the game; every other enemy sprite is still in 2D. I like the contrast there.

Talking about contrast, this is another element ameliorated from the original game: The boss battles. In the NES DuckTales, bosses were deceptively easy, sticking to only one pattern of attack and hardly, if ever, changing. They were laughable, all you needed was good timing to beat them up with your cane. The statue in the Amazon, as an example, would move left and right, changing direction only when reaching the opposite wall. It would jump to cause an earthquake and hurt Scrooge, once in a while, but that was about it. The other bosses all used similar simplistic strategies. Yep, even the last boss.

No matter how dangerous a mplace is, Scrooge will face
its dangers with a smile on his bill!
Here? After a few hits, the statue head returns to the body for a bit and starts manipulating the stones around to try and crush Scrooge. It will also often cause an earthquake on the scale of the whole room, instead of a localized one around itself. The development team at WayForward really went all out, making the bosses far more interesting than they originally were. Also far more difficult, because most bosses in the original took 5 hits before dying, but here they can take upwards of 10 hits.

Soon enough, the statue is defeated, destroying itself and bringing the whole castle crashing down with it. The treasure appears lost – until the tribe living in the forest comes in to celebrate the destruction of the castle, and as a reward they give Scrooge the scepter. Yay! Although Scrooge is so rich, this is hardly anything but a new backscratcher for him. How convenient, that’s what it was for the old Incan King as well! Of course, Scrooge’s nephews make sure to mock him for it.

"And let's conveniently never address how exactly
she could be found deep inside this secret castle
floating on clouds. That same castle that Scrooge
took a while to find by himself."
Another quick mention… something that happens once per main level is Miss Beakley showing up, out of nowhere, giving Scrooge some healing items and, depending on difficulty, some 1-Ups. Let me remind you that she is never brought along on any of these trips, and she’s always found deep into the level. Whether it’s an Incan temple, a scary Transylvanian castle, the depths of a mine in Africa, the highest mounts of the Himalayas or an alien ship hovering over the goddamned moon, there is no place where she can’t be found to supply Scrooge with a few pick-me-ups. Then again, there are also Beagle Boys that can be battled in some of these locations (yes, including ON THE MOON). If you can find a logical explanation for all of those, then congrats, you’re better than me. And better than those who wrote the plot of DuckTales Remastered, as even they didn’t bother trying to explain any of this.

Alright! How about we continue this in Part 2?