Darkwing Duck might be my favorite Disney cartoon of all time. Only the Aladdin TV series comes close (it’s a god damn crime it isn’t on DVD yet). Part of that stems from my lifelong love of comic books of which this is clearly patterned after. But the show itself was just that good on its own. With its colorful cast of villains this was tailor made for a video game and Capcom delivered in spades. It has a low profile due to its late release however Darkwing Duck is a flawed but solid gem that is worth seeking out.
Crime has hit an all-time high in the city of St. Canard with most of it due to the criminal organization F.O.W.L. Darkwing Duck is called in by S.H.U.S.H to assist them in taking FOWL down. With an appearance by nearly of all the show’s most popular villains fans will have find plenty to love. Those new to the series will find a game highly reminiscent of Capcom’s Mega Man yet still unique enough to stand on its own.
The Mega Man comparison cannot be avoided. Much like DuckTales the game begins with a stage select except in this case you initially only have three levels to choose from. The next set open up once the first three are cleared leading into the final encounter. It’s about average length for a platformer and I would have loved to see one or two more levels featuring villains like Taurus Bulba or Negaduck but I’ll take what I can get.
Since the game was made using the same engine Mega Man 5 (which was released the same year) it makes sense that the two are similar. DW even controls a lot like the Blue Bomber. Your gas gun is basically the Mega Buster under a new name. That being said the game has a few tricks of its own. Darkwing is a much more agile character and can hang from most platforms and any post. Your cape can be held up as a shield and can block most projectiles, even large cannonballs. And, uh, he can duck. No pun intended.
The controls are not perfect and suffer from a few oddities. You can’t move and shoot which is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes there is a delay when leaping and trying to fire which is an even bigger issue as the game loves to spawn airborne enemies off screen. Also pressing up when jumping will cause you to hold up your cape rather than attack which also leads to cheap hits. These problems don’t break the game but crop up often enough to be notable.
The various gas gun power-ups are nice ideas in theory however in execution most come up woefully short. The thunder is strong but only fires off two bolts diagonally requiring strategic positioning to use. The heavy gas bullets split in two when they hit the floor and rush to either side. It’s the type of weapon that has very specific uses in a few situations but is otherwise worthless. The arrow gun is the most disappointing. Your arrows function as makeshift platforms but you need to be precise when aiming as it saps ammo quickly. In Mega Man 5 the mega buster was grossly overpowered and more useful than most of the boss weapons and the same applies here.
Despite these flaws there is still plenty like. The level design places a greater emphasis on platforming thanks to your hanging ability. The levels are filled with all manner of floating platforms, chains, and lanterns to hang off of. Occasionally it even becomes puzzle like as you navigate among spikes and bottomless pits. It is in these moments that the game truly comes into its own. I just wish these moments were more frequent. Otherwise you are left to deal with suspect enemy placement that highlights the negative aspects of the game’s controls.
The difficulty is moderate and has some weird spikes. Generally you will breeze through each level despite a four hit life bar. The stages aren’t too populated and while I do hate the designer’s propensity for conveniently placing off screen enemies above pits extra lives and health are readily available. The bosses are where things take a sharp turn. Their patterns are very simple to deduce yet the sluggish controls can make them a hassle, especially Moliarty and Steelbeak. Don’t be surprised if you end up using a few continues on this one.
Darkwing Duck ranks up there alongside DuckTales as one of the best Disney games for the NES. It captures the magic of the TV show as well as can be expected for the system and is both challenging enough for veterans yet accessible for younger gamers. Its release was a bit overshadowed by the 16-bit consoles in 1992 however now is the perfect time to discover this hidden gem.