Today, “licensed” is practically a dirty word in the game industry. It refers to any game based on a story or characters from a different medium such as television, movies, books, etc. The terms of these license agreements often require the game’s release date to coincide with that of a related piece of media. Therefore, budgets are slashed and corners are cut in order to meet deadlines. These sacrifices, as well as the fact that development studios are often given limited creative control over licensed projects, are why licensed games have developed such a bad reputation. Therefore, the notion that a licensed game could be remastered 24 years after its corresponding TV show was cancelled isn’t just unlikely, it’s insane.
In 1987, two years after the massively successful North American release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Disney was elbow-deep in high-quality TV animation. After the success of The Wuzzles and Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Disney created DuckTales. Considerably more expensive than its predecessors, the show was a massive success. Over the course of 100 episodes, the show inspired a feature film, a comic book series, and went on lead multiple Disney animation programming blocks which famously included Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck. To capitalize on its ever-increasing popularity, the authorization of a Ducktales videogame was a no-brainer.
As Capcom owned the rights to all Disney NES games since their publication of Mickey Mousecapade two years earlier, a Ducktales game was their responsibility. Unlike Mickey Mousecapade (developed by Hudson Soft), Ducktales was to be the first Disney title both published and developed by Capcom. Producer Tokuro Fujiwara, character designer Keiji Inafune, and sound programmer Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, all of whom had recently cut their teeth on the Mega Man series, were brought together to work on the project. Hence the brightly diverse color palette, precision platforming, and classically timeless soundtrack found in both games.
Ducktales also featured a difficulty select option (very rare for the time), and Scrooge’s multifaceted, pogo-stick enabled cane, for which the game is perhaps most famous. These details all help to make Ducktales an amazingly fun and different experience, but they alone don’t ensure its place in video game history. One detail that does however, is the nonlinear nature of its levels. Ducktales expounds on Mega Man’s architectural concept of allowing players to play levels in whatever order they wished by offering level-specific nonlinearity. Within individual level lay multiple pathways, hidden areas, optionally collectible items, and even the option to return to the level select screen by way of everyone’s favorite cleft-chinned pilot, Launchpad McQuack. By making careful use of this option, players could replay levels multiple times, vastly increasing their total score. In a pre-Internet world, a high score was typically nothing more than an arbitrary (and often unprovable) number allowing for little more than bragging rights among friends. In Ducktales however, the score could actually alter the game ending.
Nearly two decades before Fallout 3 or the Mass Effect series, Capcom was offering up alternate endings, player choice, and rudimentary open-world gameplay in one game – and a licensed game at that! While the modern concept of nonlinear gameplay obviously doesn’t solely owe its existence to Ducktales, the game played an undeniable role in the evolutionary path of modern game structure.
Ducktales has not been officially available in any form since its original release over two decades ago. While I, like many others of my generation, have longed to see it remastered, we all new deep down that there was no logical reason it would happen. However, despite the fact that most kids today don’t recognize Scrooge McDuck, Ducktales Remastered was announced at PAX East in March and is slated for release this summer. Developed by the masters of the modern 2D throwback, WayForward (Double Dragon Neon, Mighty Switch Force), Ducktales is getting the facelift it so readily deserves. Demonstrating a love and commitment to the original property, WayForward has replaced the sprites with gorgeous, hand-drawn animation, added content on top of the original level structure, and even went so far as to include the original cast of the TV show as voiceover talent.
In an industry guided by mammoth publishers and million dollar financial projections, there is something intangibly pure about Ducktales Remastered. Its completely illogical existence validates the childhood obsession turned lifestyle of an entire generation of gamers. Well, it does for me anyway. Now excuse me; I think I hear some racecars, lasers, and aeroplanes calling my name.