Game of the Month: February 2018
DuckTales - NES / Game Boy
The name Capcom has special meaning for fans of videogames. Whilst Nintendo and Sega have, at some point in time, had seal's of quality on their game boxes, Capcom is the industry wide seal of excellence. When you stop and take a look at the gaming industry of now and look for the real heavyweights in terms of consistency there are several in the sales bracket but very few in the quality department. In days gone by companies like Atari, Activision, Konami, Gremlin, Ocean, Codemasters, Sega, Nintendo, EA, Psygnosis were each giants in the scene.
A glance over the release schedule of now will absolutely see some of those names appear however try to convince others that EA now are the same as EA in the 1990's and expect to have bricks thrown at your head by those who know better. Do they make more money now? Absolutely! Are they releasing the same industry defining moments as they did during the 16-bit and 32-Bit era's? Oh hell no! In fact every company mentioned previously suffer from this, with possibly Nintendo aside who are still releasing video games that push boundaries in what a game can be.
Possibly the most underrated company of those that still remain from the early days who are still, to this day dropping awesome game bombs all over the place are Capcom. From the arcade halls to the new gen systems like the PS4 and XBOX ONE they have been waving magic wands for what feels like an eternity. Recently some of the quality standards have been a bit wobbly here and there but Capcom is a company that absolutely makes fans of videogames sit up and take notice. There's something special about the moment you whack a game in your console and their logo pops up on the screen, it's almost like the videogame version of the saying "everything's gonna be alright" Much of this safeness or instant connection to them comes from two specific times, the first being the arcade halls and the second being the lifespan of the 8-Bit console that North America and Japan fell in love with.
The Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom, as everyone knows, was a true gaming phenomenon, a console that rejuvenated two huge regions industries it specifically made gaming cool and relevant again in places like North America. Now whilst Nintendo absolutely deserve credit for this they absolutely could not have done what they did for so long without the games from third party developers, specifically Konami and Capcom who seemed to have the magic touch for two generations of gaming consoles. Whilst the name Konami now seems to be spoken in whispers and draw faces of snarls and derision from newer gamers who have no idea or older gamers who should absolutely know better, Capcom's heritage is mostly intact.
For the month of February 2018 it's time to turn the RGG spotlight onto one of the games that helped earn Capcom their legendary status as among the world's elite game developers. A video game that merged two aspects of a generations culture into one absolutely perfect moment, a "wow" moment as we call them here at Retro Game Geeks. So sit back, get real comfy and let's all spin in our chairs and time travel back to the late 1980's, to a time when life really was like a hurricane. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys & Girls and everyone sitting on the floor 6 inches away from their TV screen singing along to a theme tune it's time to remember the one, the only... DuckTales!
After the release of Mega Man in 1987, Capcom knew they could make platform games, from the moment Super Mario Land launched on the NES it was this genre that was the talk of playgrounds all over the world. Although the first Mega Man game was well received by the critics it wasn't until the release of the second installment that Capcom had a killer franchise hit on their hands. With literally millions of kids flocking to Nintendo's 8-Bit wonder console, everyone was looking for a piece of the money making pie. In the 1980's everything popular was accessible on multiple levels and all connected under an umbrella of a franchise. From the moment Star Wars became popular it wasn't enough to have just a film, or a toy range, or a cartoon, or a comic, or a lunchbox. If you wanted to stick around for a long time you needed everything. With Nintendo now very much the king of a generation's lifestyle in the two largest sales regions on the planet (North America/Japan) it was inevitable that anything popular in other media's would get a game.
Enter Walt Disney...
Whilst these days Disney are known for their animated feature films or having their logo over anything else popular, in the 1980's and early 1990's it was their cartoon shows that entertained millions of kids. Saturday mornings were absolutely defined by these shows with kids not even wanting to stay in bed on a weekend, instead choosing to get up to tune in. One of these cartoon shows was called "DuckTales" and was very much the TV show that would go on to define how the Saturday Morning programming era would take shape. This 22 minute animated cartoon was the first syndicated weekly Disney kids show and set the tone for every other show from both Disney and others from it's release. First airing in 1987 it lasted for four seasons until 1990 with a total of 100 episodes. Along with other hugely popular kids shows like The Transformers, He-Man, G.I.Joe etc DuckTales is absolutely engrained into the souls of an entire generation. it was beyond popular, it was inevitable a game would be made.
Although Capcom had previously worked with Disney by publishing the Hudson-produced Mickey Mousecapade in North America in 1988, DuckTales became the first licensed game from the company that they actually developed, and shared many key personnel with the original Mega Man series including producer Tokuro Fujiwara, character designer Keiji Inafune, and sound programmer Yoshihiro Sakaguchi. For any fan of the Mega Man series it's clear to see the huge influence taken from that first game into the development of DuckTales.
A platform game at it's core, DuckTales tells the story of it's central protagonist, Scrooge McDuck who is the richest person in the world and obsessed with money. The game set's the scene of Scrooge having to travel the world in order to collect 5 rare treasures in order to secure his position as the top duck. In his way stands his main rival Flintheart Glomgold who along with Magica DeSpell have evil designs of their own. On top of this the Beagle Boys and numerous other show characters pop up to add more depth and authenticity to the action. It's this level of character depth and use that first immerses you into the game as being literally another episode in the classic show and one of the first glimpses into why it's such an iconic and classic video game. One could also argue that the theme tune on the title screen let's you know something special is about to happen as well.
Unlike pretty much every other game in the platform genre DuckTales biggest game changing aspect was how you moved Scrooge McDuck around the games levels. Whilst most other games of a similar fashion would simply see you walk, run and jump, DuckTales introduced a real "wow" moment with Scrooge's cane. No longer just a walking aid this became a Pogo Stick which allowed the gamer to bounce his or her way around the screen, allowing access to higher areas and also to defeat enemies by either bouncing on them or launching nearby objects such as rocks at them. It was also essential for traversing certain obstacles such as spikes or large thorns protruding from the ground. This new gaming technique however came with a price tag, that being that skill was needed to avoid enemies on the ceiling or spikes located in the same areas. A superb way to control a character with equal levels of benefits and pitfalls.
DuckTales genius however went far deeper than it's excellent use of TV Show characters and the Pogo Stick element. The games 5 unique levels each had a whole host of secrets hidden in them, from invisible treasure gems and chests to whole rooms hidden behind those classic 8-bit "no so solid" level walls. It was also possible to re-visit them in order to search for more treasures after completion, in fact in order to complete the game two levels have to be returned to in order to collect specific game completion items. By doing this Capcom both padded the game length and also nicely broke up the flow of the game superbly separating it from about 99% of other games in the genre. A further benefit of this approach was how it helped make the game feel way more interactive, again taking you down the thinking that you were, in fact, actually part of a cartoon episode. it was subtle but it's there and it's a masterpiece of games design.
Graphically DuckTales was exceptionally impressive for the time and even now is ageing superbly. The sprite work is detailed enough to easily convey the level themes with each of the 5 areas, African Mines, The Amazon, The Himalayas, Transylvania and the Moon all looking absolutely glorious and authentic. Whilst the Master System is often noted as being well known for it's colour palette, this Capcom NES game stands out a mile with it's exceptional range and depth of colour usage. Whilst the Mega Man look and visual style is there for sure, DuckTales is absolutely it's own game, even if many of it's visual ideas originated or were inspired by Capcom's earlier offering. For those who like to find faults it is strange that the colouring for Scrooge McDuck's coat is different to that of the games's box art and the cartoon show.
Another string to an already astoundingly great game's bow is that of the game's soundtrack. Put simply this is one of the finest moments in 8-Bit gaming from an audio point of view. DuckTales sounds incredible. The iconic cartoon show's theme tune is recreated faithfully and each area has some fantastic audio. Things hit a whole different level entirely though when gamers head to the Moon where they are greeted by one of the best pieces of music in any video game of any era... ever!
Toping off a game that by this point needs absolutely no more positive aspects to secure it as a classic, DuckTales has 3 different endings that depend on your in-game performance. Those gamers who simply go through each level are greeted with a "regular ending", whilst those who clear the game and collect the two super secret hidden treasure and get at least $10,000,000 get a "great ending". For those who end the game with no money the not so great "bad ending" is your reward. Once again Capcom going further with a platform game than even some developers do now, to do it in the late 1980's deserves huge praise.
Releasing initially in North America on September 14th 1989 DuckTales was met with both critical and commercial success. Various magazines such as Nintendo Power and EGM were very positive about it and word of mouth spread like wildfire around school playgrounds that this was the game to have. On January 26th 1990 Japan got their hands on this Capcom classic and once again that regions gaming media lavished it with praise. Later in the same year on December 14th Pal territories would finally get to see what all the fuss was about with magazines such as C&VG, Total Nintendo and Mean Machines falling in love with it instantly. DuckTales would go on to sell an estimated 1.67 million units on the NES and become the companies most successful title for that format.
In 1990 the Nintendo Game Boy console got a conversion of the game with essentially the same concept and style but with new level layouts in order to take into account the Game boy's hardware limitation and also screen size. Whilst very faithful to the main game it's not as good as it's NES counterpart however it is absolutely an excellent game and very much worth playing if you are yet to experience it's delights. This version of the game would go on to sell roughly 1.43 million copies worldwide. In total that meant Capcom delivered this game into an estimated 3.10 million homes, not bad going for a game connected to a cartoon show. Even more impressive when you factor in how much smaller the gaming industry was back then (apparently) compared to how many gamers there are now (again, apparently).
Fast forward to 2013 and WayForward Technologies delivered a stunning 2.5D HD remake of this Capcom classic to owners of consoles such as the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U and of course Windows PC. Later releasing on mobile phone formats iOS and Android. With gorgeous 2D hand drawn sprite visuals on rendered 3D backgrounds and a soundtrack to die for it was also blessed with a more detailed back story to really flesh out the cartoon show experience. Known as DuckTales: Remastered it also included the voice over work of those (at the time still living) who originally appeared in the cartoon show. With a few extra features included such as concept art to unlock, new level area, new boss fight, Scrooge McDuck's Money Bin area and some helpful gameplay additions to novice gamers it was both well received by the critics as fans of the original. For those at RGG it's one of the best examples of how to take a classic game of old and make it both relevant and essential for gamers of now whilst keeping the original fans happy.
Whilst's most would (rightly) point at games like Street Fighter or Mega Man as to the pinnacle of Capcom's development it's impossible to really just single out that one game or one franchise that helped create and cement their legacy. it's just impossible to pick one golden moment from what seems like the world's biggest piles of top class gaming moments. Picking you favourite Capcom game is like a parent picking their favourite child if they have more than one. Sure, we have moments where one kind of stands apart from another but ultimately Capcom seem to sprinkle that endless supply of memory making magic dust in every single thing they do. Having said all that though, DuckTales is one of those pinnacle moments. Even whilst writing this feature I can't tell you why, it's not one specific thing, it's everything, it's just that good.
A platform game that really adds in the "adventure" aspect, a licensed game that set's the bar so high that very few have ever managed to reach it. A game that somehow feels like an episode of a cartoon show, a cartoon show that was one of the happiest parts of their childhood. DuckTales is very much the moment when Capcom snuck into our hearts and whispered into our ears " Hey folks, remember we were part of your childhood too". Ultimately that's where the magic of DuckTales lies, because whilst playing it you will feel so good and so happy that for a split second you are right back there.
The crazy thing is, that in that moment you will be convinced that DuckTales was a Capcom thing and not a game based on something Walt Disney created. That's their defining masterstroke, that's how incredible this game was. Like I said right at the start, this companies name has real meaning to fans of video games...