In 1989, my sole source for gaming was a Sega Master System that I still own today. I never played the original Ducktales, an NES/Gameboy exclusive, although I had a friend who was one of the 1.67M sales, according to Wikipedia, that the NES version had. The cartoon was a hit at the time, and I enjoyed watching it daily after school, but I never got around to playing the challenging 2D platformer. The remastered version pays homage to the strengths of the old game, while providing a modern presentation, balance tweaks, and a fleshed out story. You need not have played the original 1989 hit to enjoy Ducktales Remastered (DR), so long as you are a fan of 90’s 2D (or in this case, 2.5D) platform gaming.
The game begins with an assault by the Beagles on Scrooge’s money vault. This sequence acts as an interactive tutorial to get players accustomed to the (few) controls and gameplay mechanics they’ll use in the other stages. These other stages, including The Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, The Himalayas, and the Moon, are all available to choose between after clearing the opening stage. In each, Scrooge is after a certain treasure, such as the Scepter of the Incan King or the Green Cheese of Longevity. Each stage is fairly large and requires the player to gather items like parts of a plane or eight unique coins before facing a final boss.
So as a 2.5D platformer, you might expect a lot of jumping, which there is here in spades. Jumping is done by pressing A, but to pogo jump, which is Scrooge’s best form of attack and also required to reach many areas, you need to hold X or B after jumping. This sends Scrooge in a direct downward path, leading with his cane that will take out most enemies or breakable environmental objects with a single hit. Scrooge can also smack moveable objects with his cane by holding X when near them. This is to hit nearby enemies, usually ones hanging above or to move an object so that you can jump on it before jumping onto the next taller platform. Other than pulling up the map by pressing Start (something the original game did not have), that’s about all there is to the controls and gameplay mechanics.
Of course, as with any good retro platformer, the controls and gameplay mechanics are basically a given, but the difficulty comes from a short lifeline, challenging timing scenarios, and environmental and fall hazards. DR certainly has these, although this isn’t the hardest platformer I have ever played. It’s worth pointing out that you cannot change the difficulty setting once you have started a new game. As you can only have one active game started at a time, if you complete the opening tutorial but then find yourself struggling on any of the stages, you’ll have to start over again to change difficulty. I eventually did this, as even on Medium I found this game’s fun and reward to frustration ratio unbalanced in the negative direction. Besides Sonic and a handful of other platformers, I was never big on the genre, and my patience with DR wore thin after a few hours of constantly dying and having to restart on Medium. Fortunately, Easy mode still provides players with a modest challenge, but it’s also a sure-fire way to beat all of the stages. With Easy, damage sustained is only worth half of what it is on Medium. Even more significant is that when Scrooge meets his demise, your respawned instantly just a screen or two back, if that (so less than a minute ago). Purists will understandably turn their nose up at this, but as a casual fan of not only the game but the genre as a whole, this mode made playing DR a lot more enjoyable.
Several aspects of DR do keep the fun factor in check, though. For one, the game sort of halts its own pacing regularly by interjecting a lot of in-game cutscenes that explain elements of the story. In what is perhaps the first time I have ever questioned a game for fleshing out its own story, I just thought DR could have done without some of the details it presents the player. It breaks the flow of the platforming and only gives more opportunities to remind us that Scrooge is a bit of a jerk (with how he talks to his friends like Launchpad and Fenton). These interruptions are worth watching once, but thankfully you can immediately skip a cutscene from the pause menu as soon as it starts playing. You can bet that feature will be used by completionists who try and find all of the hidden gems to increase their stage score, which can be submitted to online Leaderboards.
Story quibbles aside, there’s no getting around the notion that the level design and gameplay between the stages is just borderline too similar from one to the next. This is obviously more noticeable if you try to play through this relatively short game in just a day or two. Very different backgrounds and enemy skins make it at least clear what stage you’re on, but the gameplay stays very much the same. Some sequences change things up, such as when you are free-floating on the Moon stage for a little bit or riding in a mining car. However, on the whole you’ll notice that if you peel back the visuals, the levels and gameplay feel awfully similar from one stage to the next.
Most other aspects of DR are positive, and as a childhood fan of the TV series, it was nice to see Launchpad, Gyro, Fenton, and most of the rest of the gang in action again. The original voice cast were called in where possible, which is a big plus to the presentation. The nephew trio and Webby still have some of the most grating voices in animation history, though. Speaking of sound, the soundtrack is a sort of re-imagined or remixed version of the old soundtrack, but you can unlock the original soundtrack after beating the game. Graphically, DR is pretty. You’ll notice the detailed animations, such as the facial expressions of Scrooge, right away. The background art, which varies so much between the stages, is also a nice treat for the eyes. The Extras menu has all kinds of other art to unlock including characters (showing both the eight bit version and the new one), sketches, pencil renders, background paintings, TV show art, and much more. The money (in the form of gemstones) that you pick-up while traversing the stages will give you the funds you need to buy up these items, although expect to play through the game several times to have enough money to buy everything.
To the summary…