It’s hard to believe DuckTales is Capcom’s first actual Disney game as it really set a high bar. That it turned out so good comes as no surprise; Capcom were on fire with the NES. The fact that DuckTales is one of the greatest Nintendo games of all time though is. DuckTales is a master class in how to treat a license with respect and the precursor to a string of high quality releases that still hold up pretty well today. Go buy this game.
When you think about it the series was practically tailor made for a video game adaptation. The cartoon was built on the back of Scrooge McDuck going on new adventures around the world every episode (at least in the first season). I distinctly remember running home from Elementary School every day to catch the latest episode because it was so riveting. All it needed was someone to capture that in a game which Capcom did in splendid fashion. DuckTales was one of the most pleasant surprises of my adolescent gaming youth and I’m glad it still holds up today.
For its time DuckTales was a phenomenal artistic achievement. Capcom really managed to capture the looks of the show within the NES’s limitations and produced one of its better looking titles. The animation is fantastic and the entire game has a vibrancy in color that almost defies the hardware. The soundtrack is equally fantastic and might be some of the best music Capcom produced on the system. Some of its themes (particularly the Moon) have even achieved godlike status.
Scrooge’s cane is your only weapon and it is incredibly versatile. The cane can be used as a pogo to reach higher ledges, bounce off enemies and even cross hazardous ground. While it can’t attack enemies directly it can smack around objects like blocks for the same purpose. You’ll also use it to break open and throw certain objects around. The controls are very precise with the exception of pogo jumping, where it sometimes won’t register depending on how you’ve landed on an object. With that one exception I have no other complaints.
In terms of its setup this plays like an offshoot of Mega Man which makes sense as many of the same staff worked on this. You have your choice of five levels with the object being to reach the defeat its boss and collect its hidden treasure worth millions of gold. The map will take you to such exotic locations as the Amazon, Transylvania, an African Mine, the Himalayas, and even the Moon. Along the way a plethora of characters from the show make cameos, some to offer advice such as Huey, Dewey, and Louie and others that provide specific services. Launchpad will extract you from the current level, Gizmo Duck will eliminate barriers and even Bubba Duck helps out.
As much as I like the many uses of the cane it would mean nothing without exciting levels. The level design is the true star of the game. Each stage is massive and completely nonlinear with 1 or 2 paths to the exit. Along the way you’ll find plenty of diamonds to add to your money count and plenty of other helpful items in nearly every corner of a stage. Literally. Secrets are hidden everywhere: in dead ends, unbreakable objects, and even behind false walls. There are few games that pack this many secrets, let alone on the NES. With time you’ll learn to explore every nook and cranny to find additional treasures that will really boost your cash. Although your total cash is simply for bragging rights it is pretty addicting to see just how much you can accrue in a single run.
DuckTales is of moderate difficulty and considering the show’s demographic I can’t blame Capcom for being cautious about turning fans away. The game does an excellent job of easing you into its mechanics and unless you choose a slightly more difficult level like the Moon at the start prepares you for what’s to come. Life restoring cake and ice cream drop frequently and most enemies die easily. There is some suspect enemy placement at times but nothing that isn’t frustrating more than cheap. Even the bosses have simple Dr. Robotnik style patterns and pose little threat.
Since the game is so easy it unfortunately ends far too soon. The only real flaw with DuckTales is that it is so short. There are only five levels and you visit Transylvania three times during the course of the game. What’s here is so great that you’ll want more, especially since you’ll more than likely breeze through most of it. Finding all of the secret treasure will take a long time but that isn’t for everyone. With another level or two this would have been legendary tier.
What else is there to say? DuckTales is revered as an 8-bit classic and rightfully so. Between its innovative play mechanics and high production values it hangs with the best games on the platform. Still completely fun even after all these decades I still find new secrets hidden in its depths to this day. Platformers are rarely better than this. Classic.