Reboots, remakes, reimaginings: contemporary gaming seems to spend as much time harking to its past as looking to its future. A remaster, however, sounds like a relatively new idea: an old classic made to look and sound its best by those hoping to preserve, or even reaffirm, its place in history. At least, until you realise the same is true of just about every HD edition we’ve seen in the past few years.
In truth, such a description doesn’t doesn’t quite cover WayForward’s update of Capcom’s 1989 NES hit, based on the then-popular Disney cartoon; the core may have been preserved, but it looks and sounds quite different. It says much, however, about the respect with which the source material has been treated by the developer that it considers the original a master, even if the end result suggests either questionable taste or a rather rose-tinted memory.
Because the uncomfortable truth is that DuckTales is nothing more than a serviceable adventure, a colourful romp through a variety of bright and inventive settings that does nothing particularly interesting. As the cantankerous Scrooge McDuck, you explore a clutch of exotic locations from the Himalayas to the Moon, hunting down collectibles and snaffling gems to add to your already bountiful wealth. The twist is that you do so with a pogo stick, which naturally allows you to reach higher platforms than a regular jump will allow, and to bounce off enemies, destroying them in the process. It’s a deliberately awkward device at times, but crossing large gaps with consecutive springs off leaping enemies is as effortlessly entertaining as ever. Pity, then, that you’re more often forced to negotiate cramped environments with spiked or enemy-lined ceilings.
That’s not a new problem, of course, though two decades of progress later it’s perhaps more frustrating than it once was. The frequent narrative interruptions, however, are a fresh irritant. Much as some will delight to hear Scrooge’s original voice actor, Alan Young, reprise his most famous role, the script is flaccid and unnecessarily wordy: just about every item prompts a long-winded observation from Scrooge, while the interstitial chats with the likes of Fenton Crackshell and Launchpad McQuack will have fingers hovering impatiently over the pause button, where a skip option allows you to get on with it.
Happily, it’s not all bad news. Though the polygonal backgrounds are basic, the same can’t be said for the characterful sprites and splendid animation. The music, meanwhile, has been sensitively handled: some may balk at the remixes, particularly the Moon theme which is rightly treated with reverence by chiptune enthusiasts, but few will argue that it looks and sounds like a modern-day DuckTales game should.
That main theme is still as gloriously hummable as ever, of course, though to paraphrase the lyrics ingrained in the collective memory of a generation, it neither solves a mystery, nor rewrites history. We’re still unsure quite why DuckTales was deemed worthy of a remaster in the first instance, and in the latter case, the developer would clearly have been better taking a few more liberties with the source material. It’s easy to admire the developer’s evident love for the NES game – it’s clearly been handled with the kind of care only a genuine fan would provide – but after a few repetitive hours bouncing around DuckTales’ pretty but unremarkable worlds you’ll begin to realise that some treasures aren’t worth the effort of unearthing.