Genre: Bounce Pogopogo
Publisher: Capcom/Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: 8/12/2013
Having grown up with the Ducktales cartoon I can’t even read the word Ducktales without my brain automatically adding in ‘wooo-oo’ right after. Yet even though I was a fan of the cartoon and have been a fan of platform games for as long as I can remember, I have never played what has been considered by many to be one of the best Nintendo Entertainment System games. Lucky for me then that Capcom and WayForward have come together to do a remastered HD update of the classic so that I can finally play the game I’ve heard so much about and see if it still holds up, or if it’s a case of people remembering a game through rose tinted lenses.
WayForward typically does a great job with the presentation of their games and Ducktales Remastered is no different. Graphically the game has been updated with 2D sprites that look like they came straight from the cartoon. All of the characters and enemies are lovingly detailed. The backgrounds have been redone with 3D polygons, which kind of make the 2D sprites pop out a bit more. The audio is fantastic, with all of the voice actors of the cartoon returning to lend their voices to the characters they brought to life so many years ago.
As someone who grew up with the cartoon I love the fact that they brought in these voice actors and added little cinematics since it immediately drew me into the game. However this is also one of the biggest problems with the game, these cutscenes are everywhere. They’re at the beginning of a level, during it, and again after completing a level. The levels are not very long so these break into the game at a frequency that just is disruptive to the flow of the game. They can be skipped by pausing and then selecting skip cinematic, but even then they still kill any momentum as there are times when there will be a couple in a row. On replaying a level I had to skip through four of them just to get to get started on the level. It would be one thing if they were all at least amusing, but only a couple are worth sitting through. Most are just giving unneeded explanations for items within the level that you are gathering. By the end of my first playthrough I just started skipping through these as fast as I could because I was tired of them. Also, it seems an odd choice to me to update the graphics to these beautiful sprites, get the original voice actors, make these scenes, but then not animate their lips (bills?) moving to the voice work. Instead the sprites barely animate during these scenes while the audio just plays over them standing there.
The polygon backgrounds I mentioned do make the sprites pop out, however they’re also kind of ugly compared to the sprites and lend a slightly different art aesthetic to the background that doesn’t fit well with the sprites in the foreground. The tutorial level is probably the worst graphically, otherwise I just stopped paying as much attention to the background in other levels.
As part of the remaster, WayForward took the levels from the original game, which were semi-linear affairs that allowed you to take different paths towards the end, and combined all the paths from the old levels into one interconnected map. So instead of choosing between going underground or into the sky area of the Amazon map, you will be required to do both as you search for items that are required to beat the level. This encourages exploration of the levels and makes for a more cohesive game, and also makes the levels longer than the NES original since no areas of the map (aside from secret rooms) are optional.
Scrooge McDuck progresses through these levels on his cane, which functions as a pogo stick. Using the simple pogo controls, you move with either the D-Pad or the joystick, jump with X and pogo by holding down the square or circle button. There are times when you will have to interact with the environment by walking up to an item, pressing a direction and square to hit it with Scrooge’s cane. Most enemies can be attacked by pogoing onto them.
The different level layouts can make the seemingly simple control scheme a lot more complex. For example in the Himalaya level most of the surfaces are covered in snow, which can’t be bounced onto as Scrooge will just disappear into the snow. Amazon will challenge the player with thorns that can be bounced onto, but will also place thorns on the ceiling that will damage the player if they bounce up too high.
The difficulty is what will likely be a cause for debate for people who play this game. On the easy difficulty, you have infinite lives and respawn at a nearby checkpoint if you die. The enemies move slightly slower. Damage only takes a half a heart away instead of a whole one. The default pogo controls only require you to hold a button down to keep bouncing. You get a map with the locations of all the collectables highlighted. With this difficulty anybody should really be able to complete this game.
The other difficulties get more interesting. On all of the other difficulties you get a set amount of lives to use, use them all and you get booted to the level select area. On normal enemies move at about the same speed as Easy, and more often than not enemies, chest and rocks may spawn items that refill health. On Hard, there are less health refill items that will drop, but more extra lives, and the enemies move a little faster. Expert barely doles out extra health or lives, plus requires you to use the hard pogo stick controls, which are more like the original NES version of the game. With hard pogo you have to hit down and a button to bounce each time instead of being able to just hold the button down.
The changes they’ve made to the game on the harder difficulties make dying feel much cheaper than the NES game ever did. I’ve both read and personally encountered times when the pogo stick bounce just didn’t seem to respond to my controller input. Occasionally this was because the hitbox for things like the thorns on the Amazon level extended slightly further than they appeared to and I wasn’t landing correctly, or I was landing at an angle that wouldn’t work for bouncing. Just as often Scrooge would be in the air, I’d press the button to pogo, and nothing would happen. While this made up maybe one out of every 100 button times I pressed the button, it was enough to be extremely annoying because the wrong bounce in this game could make you lose a life. Hanging chains are difficult to manage as well, you have to hold up and the direction you want to face. Hold the buttons just wrong, then Scrooge falls down. In one section there are multiple chains to maneuver through and the sensitivity of the timing for this makes it more painful to play through than difficult.
The fact that the levels are longer since there are no areas that you can just completely bypass adds to the difficulty of the game. In the original, you might be able to choose a different path to the end of a level than one that was causing you problems, here you have to go through it all each time. Boss battles were expanded and added, and the amount of health they have is kind of ridiculous. Maybe I’m just too used to NES platformers where I had to hit the boss three times and I was done, while some of these bosses take 9+ hits.
Added together you have a game that is occasionally unresponsive, which can cause the player to die, has difficult areas to navigate that were optional in the original game but now have to be completed, and longish boss battles if you manage to get through all of that. If you don’t survive it all you get kicked back to the level select screen and have to start skipping the cinematics all over again just to start that level over from the beginning.
Once you get the hang of bouncing around, and you learn the levels, patterns of the bosses and locations of additional hearts to help mitigate the difficulty, the game becomes much easier but still remains frustrating for the reasons listed above. They remastered the game, changed levels and added things, but it never feels like they found a good balance between what they kept from the original to what they added. It’s not a matter of it being a hard NES style game, I’ve played the original to compare and it’s easier because the design decisions worked with that game, while the additions for the Remaster occasionally work against it.
It’s a good game, and if you are a fan of platform games than I recommend trying it out sometime, though maybe wait until a price drop as there are currently a lot of fantastic platform games on every digital market for a cheaper price. I kind of wish they’d included the original as an unlockable, as it would make it much easier to recommended. There are unlockables that pad the length of the game, though most are art related. It’s a game I can only really recommend to those nostalgic for the old game, if a person loved the original Ducktales for the NES and wants an updated version that retains the difficulty, makes some interesting changes that keep the core game intact and added the voice actors of the cartoon, then they’ll find plenty to love about this game. Those without that nostalgia need not apply.
Short Attention Span Summary:
The Junior Woodchucks Guidebook says that unless you really loved the original, you should make like Uncle Scrooge and save your luck dimes.