Sunday, November 24, 2013

GOT 'IM - DuckTales: Remastered

I'm spending too much time on these blog posts and not enough playing the games that allow me to write more blog posts.  Sort of.  The bigger problem is my probably-diagnosable addiction to surfing the internet, but that's a topic for another time.  Maybe never.  Whatever.  Here's some DuckTales. 

OK, I'm a DuckTales fan.  Probably more than most.  I've seen dozens of episodes of the 1980s show, I own two volumes of Carl Barks' Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, and I love both of the DuckTales NES videogames.  Yes, there are two.  Yes, the second one is pretty good.  No, they aren't going to remake that one next.  Anyhow, the original DuckTales game is absolutely one of my top 3 or 4 games on the NES (behind Super Mario Bros. 3 but right there with Mega Man 2 and Dragon Quest IV).  So of course I got excited when I learned it was being remade by the talented men and women of WayForward Games.

I haven't played a single WayForward title, but oh man was I feeling the hype when I saw the DuckTales Remastered trailer earlier this year. I bought it the day it landed as a digital download via PSN, and played it for several days straight.  ...but didn't beat it.  I should mention: this game is on the challenging side for platformers.  I'm a NES platforming veteran who has played a fair amount of DuckTales, and this game was on the tricky side.  After getting stuck on the penultimate boss, I accidentally deleted my save (!) when showing the game to a friend and had to start over.  I put it in the backlog.  Fast-forward to October, I pick it up again and finish it for real this time. that's two knocks against it.  DuckTales is a little challenging (but rarely feels unfair) and there's only ONE save slot, so if you want to replay a stage you must give up all your progress.  That's annoying.  But here's the good part: DuckTales Remastered is a faithful, gorgeous recreation of a classic game with some fun new parts and some slow older ones.  Slow older ones?  What could I possibly mean by that?

Well, DuckTales: Remastered (henceforth abbreviated DTR) is a remake of a 1989 NES platformer, so at it's heart it's still that.  Sure, they fixed a few old gameplay mechanics - Scrooge can pogo by just holding the action button instead of jumping and holding down + action - but this is a still a two-button platformer that is occasionally unforgiving on things like ledge placement, enemy hitboxes, and clumsy controls.  Having played Donkey Kong Country Returns at around the same time, it's night and day.  DKCR is smooth as silk, while DTR is a little rough due to its NES pedigree.

So now that those hangups are out of the way, I'll talk about the game proper.  DTR preserves the original gameplay framework of its NES predecessor, but provides additional story and context to the game.  Instead of five stages (completable in any order) followed by a short boss battle, there's a whole new plotted arrangement.  The Beagle Boys invade Scrooge's manor and wreck havoc, resulting in Scrooge having to storm his own home, rescue his nephews, and defeat the Beagles' ringleader.  This is a new stage intended to teacher players the basics of gameplay, but the boss is a bit tricky because, frankly, this is not a forgiving or easy game.  Afterwards, Scrooge finds a treasure map located behind a painting that the Beagle Boys were trying to steal, indicating the locations of five interconnected treasures.  *There's* the five classic DuckTales stages!

The stages themselves aren't exactly the same as the 1989 originals, but I think they're slightly better!  A few hidden areas have been added (mostly to give Scrooge additional hit points) and stages have been lengthened somewhat, with the new areas fitting in quite seamlessly.  Transylvania has a mine cart stage now (laughably easy compared to the mine carts I was rolling two months ago in DKCR), the temple area in Amazon is much larger, and Himalayas now has a lengthy scavenger hunt in its icy caves and peaks.  The basics of each stage are really, really solid.

But it's not the basics that are the problem.  DTR does the VERY cool thing of bringing back the cast of the 1980s DuckTales cartoon for extensive voice work.  The voice actors for both Scrooge and Magica are OVER NINETY YEARS OLD (!!!) but sound great.  I have zero issues with the quality of the voice acting; the quantity of the voice acting, however, is too much.  At least a dozen times in each stage, Scrooge pauses for a conversation with a side character or has a short soliloquy.  Again, the dialog is well-constructed, but it COMPLETELY kills the flow of the stage.  At one point I was getting new dialog breaks every 45 seconds, finding the 8 coins required to open the temple in the Amazon stage.  I didn't mind the item-finding element to the stage (which wasn't in the NES version), but I would have far preferred either no dialog at all (maybe 3 seconds of "you got an item!" jingle) or to have gotten the dialog without a break in the action.

The other major non-visual, non-audio change in DTR is the boss battles.  The bosses in the original DuckTales are... lacking.  The Amazon boss was just a statue that moved from left to right, for chrissakes.  Not the case in DTR.  All seven major boss battles are well-made, with pretty good variety and changing strategies when health gets lower.  Beating them requires the pattern recognition skills of a Mega Man veteran, which luckily I have in spades.  I thought the boss battles were one of the worst parts of the NES DuckTales, but they're one of the best parts of DTR.  The final chase sequence in the NES DuckTales is a lame ending, the final chase sequence in DTR is a challenge that took me roughly 10 tries.  Good job, WayForward.

Oh, right.  I guess I haven't even mentioned how DTR plays, or maybe even what kind of game it is.  DTR is a platformer starring Scrooge McDuck, who uses his cane as a pogo stick and golf club to navigate 2D environments.  The real gist of the platforming in DTR is balancing Scrooge's short hops with the high-flying pogo jumps to best collect jewels (which contribute to a largely unimportant point total) and hearts (each of which increases Scrooge's health).  Enemies are defeated either with a pogo to the head Mario style or a golf-swung projectile like a nearby box or rock.   The stages can get pretty elaborate, with some very precise pogo-jumping required.  Again, this is not an easy, breezy platformer. 

But now let's get to the real good stuff.  DTR is gorgeous.  Its backgrounds are solid and the stages all look good, but oh man the character and enemy animations are perfect.  The sprite work looks right out of the cartoon.  Combining those gorgeous sprites with the very strong voice work creates an overall effect that's impressive on its own but also brings powerful nostalgia.

The audio might even be better than DTR's visuals.  I've already talked about the voice acting, but oh man the stage music is excellent.  With music and arrangements by WayForward favorite Jake "V1rt" Kaufman, DTR's stage remixes are unique and excellent, and the new original tunes aren't bad either.  The legendary Moon stage theme's remix is appropriately epic, but the flutes of the Amazon theme the brass in the Himalayas theme, and the harsh dubstep in the Transylvania theme all work.  Even better, the opening menu begins in an 8-bit method that grows into a fully-realized synth brass triumph.  Kaufman has taken some iconic music (mostly the Moon theme and the DuckTales TV theme) and made them his own brilliantly.

So... I guess that's that.  DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful audio/visual package with tremendous nostalgia for me, but it's definitely not for everyone.  It's a 2-button platformer from the NES era with all the positives and negatives of that.  It's challenging.  The voice work is occasionally too much and takes away from the otherwise strong stage design.  The extras aren't much to write home about (8-bit music, a bunch of work-in-progress images).  But did I grin like an idiot when the DuckTales theme came on?  You bet your ass I did. 

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force
7. Persona 4 (NG+)
8. Psychonauts
9. Tales of Vesperia
10. Guacamelee!
11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
12. Final Fantasy VI Advance
13. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
14. inFamous 2 Evil Finish
15. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
16. Torchlight II (Classist)
17. Donkey Kong Country Returns
18. DuckTales Remastered
19. Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga
20. Diablo III

Targets: 6/13


Wow, look at those two new additions.  Yup, I stupidly imported a Japanese arena crossover and stupidly bought my first Blizzard game since WarCraft III.  Then beat both of them in the first half of November.  So anyhow those two are next, while I'm still plugging away at Metroid Prime and Ys: The Oath in Felghana. 

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