DuckTales Remastered review: Solving mysteries, rewriting history

Capcom's DuckTales for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a masterwork of 8-bit game design, combining a beloved Disney cartoon series with exceptional platforming action. In DuckTales Remastered, developer WayForward sought to improve upon the much-loved title, which also happens to be my personal favorite game of all time.

No pressure, right?

Make no mistake: I do not envy WayForward's task here. As wonderful as it is, the original DuckTales is a game that can be played from start to finish in under ten minutes, making it a hard sell for modern audiences. DuckTales Remastered takes all of the content found in the NES original and amplifies the experience with extended level layouts and new gameplay objectives.

WayForward's efforts do justice to the source material and should satisfy fans of both the DuckTales cartoon and NES game, but some missteps and misplaced priorities make Remastered less successful than it could have been.%Gallery-193601% DuckTales Remastered documents lovable gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck's globetrotting quest for five ancient artifacts, which serve as components in a larger, more profitable puzzle. Scrooge's multipurpose cane serves as his main method of offense, allowing him to fend off enemies using a unique pogo-jumping ability and by striking nearby objects. While it retains the NES version's control scheme, Remastered unites the disparate locales of the 8-bit DuckTales game, piecing together its patchwork design in a way that mimics an episode of the television series.

DuckTales Remastered's most striking feature is its high-resolution, hand-drawn art, which depicts Scrooge and friends with impressive clarity. Remastered's sprite animation is fluid throughout, showcasing WayForward's keen talent for translating 8-bit pixel art across multiple generations and into the current era.

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While the sprite art is exceptional, the animated characters mesh poorly with the game's polygonal foreground art, which is drab and repetitive in comparison. It's jarring to see a deftly animated Scrooge march through boxy-looking 3D worlds that offer little texture variation. This approach also impacts gameplay. It's often difficult to tell where the 2D Scrooge will collide with a 3D foreground object, and lighting issues in the game's underground areas render some platforms practically invisible.

An excellent soundtrack matches DuckTales's high-quality character art. WayForward's in-house composer Jake "virt" Kaufman does a great job of remixing these classic themes, and even though they often veer off in unexpected directions (Transylvania's mid-song shift into dubstep comes to mind), the compositional variety works to the game's benefit. The soundtrack is a success on all fronts, fitting the on-screen action perfectly while being a fun listen on its own merits.

DuckTales Remastered also reunites much of the cast from the original DuckTales cartoon for a series of voiced dialogue sequences during gameplay. As nice as it is to hear the original voice actors reprise their roles, the dialogue itself could use tighter editing. Characters are obnoxiously chatty over minor plot details, and what they say adds very little to the experience.

Despite the quality of the work overall, the voice acting gets old almost immediately, due in part to a lack of visual accompaniment. Dialogue sequences are represented on-screen by a small palette of preset sprite animations, which quickly become repetitive. Cutscenes can be skipped, thankfully, but the staggering amount of dialogue seems to exist for little reason other than to pad the game's length.

Unfortunately, the focus on dialogue has a detrimental effect on DuckTales' underlying design. Levels that could be finished in minutes in the NES version now take exponentially longer, thanks to redesigned layouts and the addition of new objectives that give Scrooge plenty of opportunities to gush endlessly about his discoveries.

The game's best levels stray little from their NES designs. The Moon level survives the shift to modern platforms quite well, and the African Mines have been redesigned to feature a clear, uninterrupted path to the exit -- a good move that actually improves on the original level's layout. Other stages don't fare as well. Scrooge needs to scour every inch of the Amazon for a series of trinkets before he can finish the level, and multiple stages now feature extended minecart sequences, which are bound to frustrate.

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Despite these issues, the core DuckTales experience remains as charming as ever, even if its odd sense of gameplay balance proves troublesome. On Normal difficulty, DuckTales Remastered is far, far more difficult than even the hardest difficulty setting in the NES version, largely because of the extended level layouts. Even the Easy setting is surprisingly challenging, though it at least features generous checkpointing.

Making DuckTales a more difficult game is a questionable decision. While the original DuckTales game is certainly easy, it's more fun as a result. Its gameplay maintains a satisfying, uninterrupted flow from start to finish, thanks to skillful enemy placement and clever level layouts. In DuckTales Remastered, even the initial Amazon level is far more difficult than it should be -- so much so that it's likely to be a turnoff for newcomers still coming to grips with the game's controls.

The boss fights are another major sticking point. It's admirable that WayForward attempted to add variety to the experience with remade boss encounters, and some of the art on display during these scenes is gorgeous. All of these fights go on for a few cycles longer than is necessary, however, and all bosses take too many hits to kill. Losing your last life after a minutes-long boss fight is even more demoralizing, requiring you to trudge through the entire preceding level and gather its many required collectibles all over again before you're granted a rematch.

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I found myself enjoying DuckTales Remastered much more on my second playthrough, during which I set the difficulty to Easy and skipped all cutscenes. WayForward's level designs exhibit a solid understanding of platform game dynamics, and the mechanics are given a chance to shine when they aren't constantly interrupted by dialogue. Easy mode also gives the player unlimited lives and smooths out many of the balance-related issues present in Normal mode, and is far more enjoyable overall.

I sympathize with WayForward and the position they found themselves in here. The team obviously has a lot of love for the Duck family, and WayForward's work demonstrates a fierce commitment to doing justice to both the DuckTales cartoon and the NES game it inspired. If anything, I'll blame DuckTales Remastered's shortcomings on the current state of digital pricing. It's unfortunate that a short but near-perfect game had to be weighed down with so much extraneous material, seemingly for the sake of padding out its length to justify a premium-priced digital release.

A Virtual Console reissue for DuckTales would have been ideal, allowing players to experience the brief but entirely enjoyable NES game at a price that would have been much easier to swallow. As it stands, Remastered serves as a suitable alternative to the NES original, even though its attempts at forging its own identity may ruffle your tailfeathers.


This review is based on an XBLA download version of DuckTales Remastered, provided by Capcom. It is also available for PS3, PC, and Wii U.

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