As far as remakes go, Capcom's newest game is a bit of an odd duck. DuckTales Remastered toes the line between faithful remake and brand new reimagining. Beyond the improved visuals, this long-overdue update to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge adds a deeper narrative and makes some significant changes to the level designs. And while many of the changes work, the whole experience left me with a weird feeling of déjà vu.
It's a sensation not unlike Capcom's 2002 Resident Evil remake. No, it's not the scary atmosphere that connects these two polar opposite franchises, but rather the way both remakes use your own memories against you. On the GameCube, Resident Evil zigged when you expected it to zag. The layout was slightly different, enemies weren't where you remembered them and the story strayed ever so slightly away from the 1996 original.
So much of DuckTales Remastered will feel familiar to anybody that played the 1989 original. Many of the level designs, secret passages and enemies are exactly the same as that classic NES game. But not everything is how you remember it, and the game is all too eager to work against your expectations. It's those differences that make this remake so compelling. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate, these changes are also responsible for many of the game's problems.
As you probably already know, DuckTales tells the story of Scrooge McDuck, the world's richest duck/adventure seeker. The game picks up as the nefarious Beagle Boys are storming Scrooge's gigantic building of money. But they aren't after the swimming pool full of cash, but rather what appears to be an ancient treasure map. This sets our curmudgeonly hero into action, traveling around the world (and beyond) to score the hidden treasures before somebody else does.
The somebody else in this equation is Flintheart Glomgold, the second richest duck in the world. He's just one of the many familiar faces from the DuckTales TV series (which was canceled more than twenty years ago). The game's seven stages are filled with cameos from the likes of Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Gyro Gearloose, Magica De Spell, Webby, Mrs. Beakley, Fenton Crackshell and even Bubba Duck. And unlike the NES game, these characters have actual conversations that develop the story.
Despite being a senior citizen, Scrooge McDuck is more than capable of taking care of himself. As he makes his way through the Amazon forest, the snowy Himalayan peaks, a haunted castle in Transylvania, African mines and even the Moon, he is equipped with only one weapon -- his cane. The good news is that this cane is able to be used as a pogo stick and golf club, giving Scrooge a fighting chance when going up against mummies, gorillas, hockey players, mountain goats and one very large mutant space rat.
Even though this is a two-button game, the pogo stick is a surprisingly fun gameplay mechanic. This allows Scrooge to get over spikey terrain and leap up to hard to reach platforms. The level designs are also based around this mechanic, giving it a unique feel when compared to other 2D platformers of that era.
It's a good thing using the pogo stick to explore is so much fun, because you'll be doing a lot of it as you search for hidden treasures. No matter which level you select, DuckTales is full of valuables to locate. Sometimes they'll be in treasure chests, while other precious gems will appear out of thin air. You'll have to seek out invisible walls and quite literally climb over the level to find all of the hidden treasures.
WayForward has gone ahead and added a deeper story to the seven stages. You don't just show up in the Himalayas anymore, instead Launchpad crash lands in the wrong spot. Later in the game, when our aging hero is collecting rare stones on the Moon, we're introduced to a captured space rat that breaks free, eats some toxic green cheese and turns into a mutant. Questions you didn't even know you had are answered in this remake.
Not only is there a new narrative, but all of the levels have been reimagined and given a purpose. While you'll recognize the general layouts from the 1989 original, DuckTales Remastered adds a lot of structure to each stage. The Amazon, for example, used to be straight forward. Not anymore, thanks to a bunch of puzzle pieces you need to collect in order to find the boss and retrieve the hidden treasure. Along the way you'll run into several story beats, as well as a brand new section created specifically for this remake.
But much like that Resident Evil remake from a decade ago, this Amazon level wants to mess with your mind. Enemies aren't where they used to be, and neither are certain hidden shortcuts and item pick-ups. The statue at the end of the stage no longer demands $30,000 to pass; instead you're given the opportunity to get your sweet revenge (and an achievement). Everything about the stage is just different enough to be noticeable. And yet, so much of it is exactly the same.
Some of these changes sound good in theory, but ultimately take away from an otherwise fun experience. The story is a big problem, leading to far too many lengthy conversations with lazy voice acting. In the Amazon stage, Scrooge radios Launchpad every single time he finds a puzzle piece. The writing isn't witty enough to warrant nine separate conversations about the same topic, and each time it brought the game to a dead stop.
It doesn't help that the voice acting is mostly forgettable. I feel bad saying this, since the entire cast of the 25 year old cartoon shows up for this remake. That's even more impressive when you realize that the man that voiced Scrooge, Alan Young, is a staggering 94 years old. Sadly, he doesn't sound the Scrooge McDuck you remember.
Everything about the voice acting sounds a little off. It's not just that their voices have noticeably aged, but also the lazy delivery. With the exception of Huey, Dewey and Louie, everybody sounds like they are phoning it in. There's no chemistry between the cast and the cinemas drag on far too long. The best moments (like the space rat's transformation) are largely silent, allowing the game's amazing visuals to do the talking.
Unfortunately, the long-winded (yet weirdly shallow) narrative isn't DuckTale's only problem. Some of the new platforming challenges end up being more frustrating than fun. Each stage is full of the types of cheap hits so common to classic 8-bit games. Some of it can be blamed on the new enemy placements and height of the ceiling, but that doesn't forgive the occasionally unresponsive controls. Scrooge has a way of getting stuck on steps and walls, preventing the player from jumping right away. Worse, the pogo stick button doesn't always work properly. I couldn't tell if it was a problem associated with the game or the Xbox 360's lousy D-pad being unable to do its job.
Things go from bad to worse when you play the final stage. Not only does it feature a lengthy boss fight, but it ultimately devolves into two separate foot races. Both of these events are vertical, which makes it even easier to make a mistake and lose the race. There isn't room for error in the final minutes of DuckTales Remastered, and that really put me in a bad mood late in the game. Lose both of your lives and it's back to the beginning of the stage, where you'll have to do it all over again.
To be fair to this remastered DuckTales, the original game had no checkpointing, so dying always meant starting over from the beginning. Still, it's a chore working through the entire stage (as well as a lengthy boss) just to have a couple tries at this frustrating platforming test. And because it's artificially pushing you forward, it quickly becomes the most difficult few seconds the game has to offer.
DuckTales Remastered comes so close to recapturing the magic, but doesn't quite stick the landing. Visually the game is a delight, offering the same type of hand-drawn artwork you would see in the animated TV show. But some of the changes ultimately bring this game down. Even though WayForward had the right intention, this long-awaited DuckTales remake fails to live up the original.