Friday, June 13, 2014

Game On! - DuckTales Remastered (Wii U)

Image shamelessly stolen from the Capcom Unity YouTube page.

Game Title: DuckTales Remastered
Platforms: Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Released: August 13, 2013
Formats: Digital, Retail/Boxed (console only)
Players: 1
Online Content: N/A

Any time a property is up for a 'remake', things can be dodgy.  How many times has something from the 1980's been remade in the last few years with mixed results?  How about when bands re-record old hits or entire albums?  Often, the results aren't exactly what fans wanted, and sometimes even what the artist had envisioned for the re-record.  When something is remastered, it usually means that the original source material was simply cleaned up and made to look or sound better, sometimes with the occasional tweak or change based on an artist's original vision.  Though "remaster" isn't a term one normally would (or should) apply to a complete remake of a property, but that's what Capcom decided to do with DuckTales Remastered, a completely new, modern take on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (and Game Boy) platform game.

That Capcom was able to either retain rights, or secure them again for the purpose of this remake, is quite a feat.  Most companies let their licensing rights lapse, and then obtaining those back can often be tricky business.  Thankfully, for Capcom, the DuckTales property was no longer a hot commodity, and they were able to put out this fine remake of the classic original NES title.  I feel compelled to make the distinction that, even though this game is labeled as a 'remaster', it's far more in the 'remake' category.  There are similarities to the original in some of the level design, and the music is the same, albeit redone in a more modern fashion, but this is a brand new game that re-imagines the original in a modern context.

Screenshot shamelessly stolen from NinteodoLife

First and foremost I must mention the fact that unlike the original, this game has a defined story.  Sure, the original gave us a vague notion of a treasure hunt, but then, Scrooge McDuck was always out for treasure.  Anyone who watched the cartoon knew that.  And why is that relevant?  The original voice cast returned to provide voices for the game, save for the voice of Fenton Crackshell, aka Gizmo Duck.  Unfortunately, original voice actor Hamilton Camp passed away in 2005, otherwise I'm assuming they'd have tapped him for the part.  Instead, we get relative newcomer (in context with the original cast) Eric Bauza, who has an impressive voice over resume already.  For anyone who enjoyed the original cartoon and playing the NES (or in my case, Game Boy) game was that small window into "playing" the cartoon, then the new game will be practically a revelation, because the dialogue in the game will take you right back to your childhood and make you truly feel as if you're playing the cartoon.  Bits of voice acting throughout the levels also add to the immersion, with Scrooge occasionally commenting on a gem you find, or making little comments here and there - my favorite among them is when Scrooge says, with full accent in tow, "I dinnae get to be the richest duck in the world by backin' doon!"  In addition to the excellent voice acting, the soundtrack has been re-imaged as well by Jake Kaufman, who said in interviews that he'd been a fan of the cartoon and game.  He did a marvelous job taking the original tunes and simply bringing them into a modern context with full instrumentation and "big" sound, but following the original melodies and templates.  There's an option to hear the original chiptune versions as well, which some will revel in.

The graphics in this game are absolutely beautiful.  If you're going to make a 2-D game in the modern age and not make it "retro" styled with obvious pixel art, THIS is the way to do it right.  Stages have lush backgrounds with lots of detail that look like they've been hand drawn, and the character animations are well done and look like they could have come straight from the cartoon.  Scrooge McDuck looks great as you run and pogo-jump around, climb ladders, swing your cane like a gold club, and more.  The look on his face when you touch an enemy or dangerous piece of scenery is priceless, and really reflects the cartoon animation well.  The stages all echo the original levels, but at a vastly more detailed level, and even the more mundane locations look fantastic.

Screenshot shamelessly stolen from XBLA Fans

The game takes the original's 5 areas and retools them to make the layouts and progression a bit different, as well as making them longer and more challenging.  The game also adds 2 new levels.  There's an intro level that unveils the plot of the Beagle Boys trying to filch Scrooge's gold from his Money Bin, so you get to play through that at the beginning.  Then you can select from any of the main stages via the oversize computer in Scrooge's office.  Once you've completed all areas and found all 5 priceless treasures, you travel to Mt. Vesuvius to confront Magica (and Glomgold, incidentally) for a final showdown.  I actually quite like the layouts of the stages here, as they're fairly linear, but still can be explored quite a bit, and some of them (particularly the icy Himalaya or Transylvania stages) require a bit of searching and sometimes backtracking to complete and find all the treasure.  Rather than the pixel-perfect platforming of the original, with the new art style it becomes more of judging where McDuck is standing relative to the edge of a platform or area to size up the jumps.

The ability to save your progress and not have to replay stages each time you come into the game is a plus, because with the changed layouts and enemy movements, the difficulty has ramped up quite a bit from the original to this remake.  Admittedly, my platforming skills aren't what they were when I played through the original on my Game Boy back in Jr. high school, I had quite a time getting through the game - it was definitely no cakewalk.  There were several stages I tried multiple times to get through, and had to perfect the jumping and pogostick mechanics quite a bit to get through the game.  In particular, the final part of the Mt. Vesuvius stage required some really well-timed jumps and maneuvers.  If you die in that spot and lose all your lives, you'll have to continue from the beginning of the Vesuvius stage, and that's a fair bit of game to have to play through again to complete the game, including the final boss.  It's not a huge complaint, but just something to be aware of.  It definitely still has the "Nintendo hard" feel of an 8-bit platformer.  A minor complaint that I assume plagues all console versions (I only have the Wii U version) is that the cinema/dialogue portions can't be skipped by simply pressing a button.  You have to pause the game, and choose 'Skip cinema' and then it will skip it.  Not a big deal, but for every time Launchpad flies the chopper to a new stage or area, you'll find yourself skipping that sequence a lot.  The same goes for some of the in-level cinemas - once you've seen them once or twice, you'll be skipping through them to get back into the action.

Screenshot shamelessly stolen from Wii U Daily

The special features are nice, but are a touch hit & miss.  The ability to swim around in the money pit is cool, but it loses its appeal within a few seconds.  How many of us dreamed of diving into Scrooge's money bin and swimming around through all the cash and gold like he does?  Sadly, it's a VERY limited experience, and feels very tacked on.  On the plus side, with all the cash you earn my collecting gems and treasures throughout the game, you can unlock bonus content like concept artwork, sprites, character or location designs and sketches, and more.  If you get enough of the first category of art unlocked, you can start unlocking the next category until you get to the end.  Once you've unlocked enough, you can get some video, which is nice.  Of course, in order to get enough cash to unlock everything, you'll have to play through some of the stages more than once, which you can do once you've completed the game and downed the final boss.  The ability to choose the 8-bit tunes is nice, even though Jake Kaufman's score is great, so that's a welcome addition, but I kind of wish that Capcom and WayForward (who handled the design) would have included a way to unlock the original game.  That would have been a killer feature, and it seems odd that they didn't include that.

All things considered, this is a really nice update or the original game, and a real treat for fans like myself.  If you're a modern gamer, this title might be worth the budget price to get an idea of what a good platform game is in the modern era.  If you were never a fan of the show or the original game, this may not be the game for you, but as a fan of both, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while playing this, despite the slightly steep jump in difficulty.  If you are at all a fan of the cartoon or the original game, I recommend checking this game out, because it is the closest thing available of any game I think I've ever played to truly capturing the spirit and fun of the cartoon it's based upon, while also offering a solid, fun, and highly replayable gaming experience.

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