I still remember the Christmas of 1989 as the year that I got DuckTales for my NES. Once all the presents were open, I immediately ran to my room to play this latest of new games.
I beat it that same afternoon.
My Dad got really upset about that, thinking that he had wasted money on a game that I had already beaten in less than a day, and would likely never touch again.
After 28 years, I am still playing the game, making Dad’s holiday purchase well justified.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, playing Disney based games was a hard point to criticize, especially when premiere publishers such as Capcom were developing them. DuckTales was the first of a series of games based off of Disney Afternoon properties (Capcom released nine Disney related games for the NES overall), and remains of the crown jewels of the entire line-up.
The game premise is familiar to the show: Scrooge McDuck is on a worldwide quest to find some of the most fabled treasures in existence. His travels take him to the Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, the Himalayas, and the Moon, which shows the lengths Scrooge will go to amass more wealth.
The game is presented as a side scrolling platformer (the most common genre of the time), and is based off of the Mega Man engine. While Scrooge wasn’t generally known as a physical fighter in the show (though he most certainly was in the comics), his method of attack was unique and inventive. Using his walking cane, Scrooge can utilize it as a pogo stick to hop on enemies or cross hazards safely, or use it as a golf club to hit rock and cans into enemies or clear debris. Scrooge’s pogo jump has become one of the most defining features of the DuckTales games, and has inspired modern platformers such as Shovel Knight. For this game, the control is tight and responsive, allowing players to really experiment with the pogo cane’s control.
The game makes you hunt every nook and cranny of each level, as secret passages and offscreen pathways are commonplace. In fact, the treasure hunting makes the player play as greedily as Scrooge himself. A few leaps of faith and jumping offscreen results in secret rooms, hidden treasures, and even a few life boosts, so it’s absolutely worth poking and prodding every wall and corner. Depending on how much money you amass, there are multiple endings, and it is possible to lose the game due to this, even with completing it.
Graphically, the game is excellent. All of the characters are instantly recognizable, and Scrooge is well animated. Due to the limited NES color palette, Scrooge doesn’t wear his trademarks reds and blues from the DuckTales show, but instead opts for the comic red and black version. He has a lot of great animations such as his eyes becoming stunned when he hits an unbreakable object, or getting frustrated by becoming stuck in snow.
Musically, the game is excellent, from the bright and cheery DuckTales theme at the title screen, to the catchy themes displayed throughout each level. The Moon’s level music has become a popular theme among NES music aficionados, due to its detailed and high energy presentation. But the whole soundtrack is solid without any repetitive themes or “duds”.
The game’s legacy was further explored in 2013, when Capcom released DuckTales Remastered, which looked exactly like an episode of the show, and reunited the original DuckTales voice cast, including Alan Young in one of his final roles as Scrooge. The new game also attempts to reconcile some of the sillier “video game logic” elements of the original, such as Scrooge being able to breathe in the vacuum of space without a helmet.
DuckTales and its incredibly rare sequel DuckTales 2 were released again in 2017, with the Disney Afternoon Collection presenting the games in their original 8-bit style (more commentary can be found within our reviews section courtesy of our own Kaiser).
DuckTales is one of those great NES classics that has truly stood the test of time, has inspired facets of modern gaming, and is still revered even today. Finding an original cartridge is still relatively easy today (be prepared to shell out some serious money for the sequel), and the Remastered version and Disney Afternoon Collection are easily found digitally (though the latter is perplexingly not on Nintendo systems). The game is still as fun today as it was 28 years ago, and in retrospect, was one of the best long-term investments that my Dad had ever made.