The problem with DuckTales Remastered isn’t that it’s hard. While it might be frustrating to go back to a mechanic that offers a mere three lives before making the player start a given stage over, it’s not the type of issue that can’t be overcome by resetting one’s expectations. Once you accept the rules that you are playing by—you get three lives, there are few checkpoints, and bosses can be pretty darn tricky—it feels, mechanically, a lot like an 8-bit experience. Theoretically, those most excited for a remake of a 24-year-old game based on a cartoon that hasn’t aired a new episode in 22 years should be prepared for something that feels like an 8-bit experience.
I mean, it is hard. In particular, the final stretch of the final level, which happens after 20 minutes of platforming and a three-minute boss fight, is brutal. Three lives go quickly, and then it’s back to the beginning of the level. I assumed that as an older and wiser player I might be above thrown controllers, but I assumed wrong.
Still, it’s not the difficulty that’s the problem. It’s the padding.
I can acknowledge that it’s damn near a miracle that somehow, WayForward and Capcom convinced every living member of the original television show’s cast to show up for a few hours and reprise their well-loved roles. There’s an authenticity lent to the game by this decision and its execution that might not exist had talented impersonators been allowed to do the job (though that’s not to diminish the small but important work that Wendee Lee does as Mrs. Beakley, filling in for the late Joan Gerber). I can also acknowledge that it would have been a shame to not give these voice actors something substantial to do upon their return. If their presence had been relegated to a one-minute introductory cutscene, their return would have felt like a waste.
Still, in what feels an awful lot like a move designed to justify their return, those voice actors make their presence known throughout the game. Every time that the player begins or ends a level, every time that something important is done within a level, and even at what feel like completely mundane moments like moving from one screen to the next, here come those actors again, offering pages of exposition where none is really necessary. There are eight coins to find in the Amazon stage before the big boss fight. Was it really necessary to have Scrooge offer a monologue on each one of them? Well-voiced as these characters might be and well-intentioned as their inclusion certainly was, their constant presence becomes a nuisance awfully fast.
Players returning to DuckTales after all these years aren’t here to watch a new episode of the show, after all; they’re here for the pogo-cane platforming. All the talky-talky business is a distraction from the primary draw.
WayForward has done an admirable job of taking what, in hindsight, was a fairly difficult mechanic and updating it for a new audience. Scrooge McDuck’s pogo-cane is what set DuckTales apart from other platformers, so that rather than spending all of your time running and jumping, you spend much of the game bouncing from spot to spot, taking advantage of the extra height the pogo-cane gives you even as you sacrifice some of the precision that being able to stop your jump on a dime offers. In the original NES game, you had to push “down” and the “B” button simultaneously while in the air to activate the pogo, which wouldn’t have been all that bad if left-to-right control in the air while pogoing wasn’t a priority. This update has gotten rid of the “down” requirement for the pogo, relegating that control scheme to a “hard pogo” selection in the options screen (which is actually required on the unlockable “Extreme” difficulty level) and making the pogo accessible to us mere mortals via a simple button-push.
In addition to an easier control scheme, WayForward has also “remixed” the levels, making the game less about left-to-right platforming than the original and more about exploration. In most levels there are collectibles to find before the level can be finished (with the help of a map), and there are lots of hidden places where gems and life can be found. Boss battles have been upgraded as well, usually combining the pattern recognition of the original NES versions with new patterns to be discovered and avoided. The final boss battle against Dracula Duck is a particularly impressive showing for the mentality of bringing 8-bit action to current-generation machinery. If anything, Dracula Duck’s various transformations bring to mind the boss battles in the 16-bit Contra games, huge intimidating things that nevertheless aren’t that difficult to get around.
There’s a bit of an issue with the controls here, and it’s hard to pinpoint the root cause. But it seems that there are some moments where you think you’re going to pogo, and then you don’t. I don’t know if it’s an issue of timing or if it’s simply an issue of the engine trying to do too many things at once, but missing a pogo is deadly in many cases, especially toward the end. If you’re sure you pushed the button, but the game says you didn’t, you’re left with little recourse, especially in the game’s hardest, continue-less difficulty level.
Still, this is an intermittent problem that mostly stays hidden. For the most part, it’s not unfairness that’ll kill you so much as a deviously-placed enemy that knocks you into a bottomless pit (the Mega Man special) or a large, rolling rock in a tricky spot.
The final level of the game is really where all the potential of an updated DuckTales game is realized. Instead of relegating the dialogue to stopping points, Scrooge and arch-rival-turned-tentative-ally Flintheart Glomgold trade one-liners and insults as the action is happening, never stopping the player, but adding to the setting. It’s not a massive difference from the rest of the game—and hearing the same jokes over and over again as you use your supply of lives over and over again does get a little tiring—but it’s the closest the game comes to taking the old game and updating it to feel like you’re playing a new episode of the old television show. Much of the rest of the game suffers from stop ‘n start syndrome, a problem magnified by the lack of a one-button “skip cutscene” function. It’s not enough of a problem to negate everything positive that WayForward has done, but it is a very clear caution to the nostalgia-focused developer that sometimes trying to do too much with too many retro ingredients can be your game’s biggest stumbling block.