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Mini-Review: DuckTales: Remastered

Scrooge McDuckHigh definition remakes of popular games of yesterday are popular right now, but of all the games out of the past that I expected to return, I never reasonably considered we'd see Capcom's 1989 release DuckTales for the Nintendo Entertainment System reappear.  After all, the licenses and property rights are tied up between Capcom and Disney and the property itself is dead and buried.  When is the last time you saw anything new with the DuckTales brand on it?  Still, miracles do happen as Disney, Capcom, and WayForward have teamed up to give the classic title a revival for the Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC as DuckTales: Remastered.  Featuring hand-drawn animation, backgrounds created by legacy Disney artists, and the voicework of the surviving cast of the original cartoon, DuckTales: Remastered brings the nostalgia along with a few new elements that require veteran treasure hunters to learn a few new tricks.

At heart, DuckTales: Remastered is the same basic game as released all those years ago, but it's been slightly expanded and refined to better reflect advances in storytelling.  The original game's bare bones plot has ballooned into something of a lost episode of the cartoon.  When the Beagle Boys raid Scrooge McDuck's money bin, Scrooge discovers a treasure map while fending them off.  The map leads Scrooge, his pilot Launchpad McQuack, accountant Fenton Crackshell, inventor Gyro Gearloose, beloved nephews, and other members of the extended McDuck family to exotic locations such as the Amazon jungle, the Himalayas, and even the moon itself.  Each location uses the same basic layout as the original NES game, but additional objectives have been added to prevent players from taking a beeline to the stage boss.  Every corner of the map will need to be explored as Scrooge collects various McGuffins required to open the way forward (for instance, the Amazon level includes eight coins that open the way to the boss's temple).  Some of the original game's design loose ends have been cleaned up as well; it's no longer required that Scrooge take a detour back to Transylvania in order to open the lock at the African Mines, for example.  The changes encourage additional exploration, and more time on each level increases the likelihood of finding hidden treasures (which are pretty much everywhere).

DuckTales: RemasteredAside from the returning levels, WayForward has added two new stages.  An opening tutorial level at the money bin teaches players the controls and a few of the game's gimmicks, while the final confrontation that was previously set at a reprise of the Transylvania level now takes place at Mount Vesuvius.  The final Vesuvius level is the most challenging of all as one would expect, but I found the difficulty curve took a sharp spike right at the final part of the level.  Without spoiling anything, by my count I attempted to complete the last piece of the final part of the game forty-six times before I finally succeeded.  Mark this down to either my inability to properly jump from hanging chain to hanging chain or the game's inability to recognize my control inputs.  Had I not been playing on Easy mode which provides unlimited lives, I'd have walked away in frustration long before my forty-sixth attempt.  I found Easy mode the best way to experience the game, in fact; I started out on Medium mode assuming my classic DuckTales skills would carry me onward and was quickly proven wrong by the game's reworked bosses.  I cannot imagine how much the Hard or Extreme modes would break me.

Speaking of the reworked bosses, each encounter has been expanded to include new tricks.  The guardian waiting at the end of the Amazon level is no longer just a small stone statue, but is now a massive monolith that sits in the background out of reach.  Its giant stone head leaps into the foreground where Scrooge can attack it with his trusty pogo jump, but when the head retreats, the floors and walls attempt to crush Scrooge.  Likewise, fighting Magica De Spell in Transylvania adds flame columns to her repitoire of attacks.  The King of the Terra-Firmies in the African Mines can call for reinforcements.  Do not go into DuckTales: Remastered assuming that you know the bosses based on their attack patterns from the original game.  You will have to study the new patterns and learn how to react.  It felt strangely refreshing to see that DuckTales still had new things to teach me after all these years and while there is a significant challenge to the new boss encounters, I'm glad that WayForward freshened things up.

DuckTales: RemasteredDuckTales: Remastered truly shines in the audio department.  The original game's soundtrack has been rearranged by Jake "virt" Kaufman to bring new sounds while respecting the NES compositions.  I'm especially fond of the theme for the African Mines and the boss fight music.  Should you prefer the NES soundtrack, it's unlocked after completing the game.  New cutscenes advance the story between and during levels, and each character is voiced by the original surviving DuckTales cast where applicable.  Alan Young returns as Scrooge, Terence McGovern is back as Launchpad, June Foray voices Magica De Spell again, Frank Welker brings Bigtime Beagle back to life, and many other characters sound spot-on.  Series newcomer Brian George does a downright uncanny Flintheart Glomgold.  The only weak link in the voice department is the new actor behind Fenton Crackshell, Eric Bauza, who does a decent enough impression, but sounds just a bit off compared to the original actor.  That's a nitpick though.  Some in the community have complained that the cutscenes interrupt the flow of the game, but I found them charming and entertaining the first time around and easily skippable with the Start button and the X button in quick succession thereafter. 

Here's the truth behind DuckTales: Remastered: if you have fond memories of the original NES game and/or the classic cartoon series, then you will absolutely love this game.  It hits all the right tones with nostalgia and solid gameplay.  The new elements fit wonderfully.  There's a lot to love here and I was all smiles while playing (expect for that final Vesuvius portion!).  Those without a childhood love for the franchise may not be drawn to it in the same way.  DuckTales: Remastered is, as the phrase goes, Nintendo Hard.  It can be unfair at times just as the NES game was all those years ago.  It is challenging.  You will have to learn enemy attack patterns and tricks without that knowledge being spoon-fed to you.  Checkpoints are rare and 1-ups can be scarce beyond Easy mode.  Expect to replay levels several times before completing them.  As a remastering of a NES game, all of this is to be expected and even welcomed.  This is how we used to play games in the old days.  If that's too much to take, then this game is not for you.  For those of us who grew up with a NES controller in our hands and Scrooge McDuck on our televisions each weekday afternoon, however, DuckTales: Remastered is a lovingly designed throwback to the 8-bit glory days presented with a modern shine.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Now, bring on Darkwing Duck: Remastered!