Retro Review: DuckTales (NES)

DuckTales is a fondly-remembered classic Capcom game, and for good reason. It has fun and unique play control, great graphics for the NES, and is based on a property that was quite popular at the time. The only real issue DuckTales has is that it’s a very abbreviated experience.

You control Scrooge McDuck, armed only with a cane that doubles as a pogo stick. Much of the game centers around using this effect to bounce to high places or defeat enemies. As you might imagine if you know DuckTales, Scrooge is aiming mostly to earn money. Indeed a lot of the diamonds and health restoration items you’ll find simply appear when you walk or (more often) jump to a particular part of a stage. The game rewards a whole lot of jumping around in this way.

DuckTales consists of only five stages, which is perhaps its biggest weakness. However, these stages are atypical for the NES era in that they are generally non-linear, with branching paths and many secrets. This can be frustrating when you don’t know where to go, but generally makes this a very exploration-focused game, particularly when combined with the item appearing mechanic. The downside to this is that once you’ve found everything, the game does lose a little bit of its luster.

Capcom compensated for the game’s brevity by giving you limited lives and no continues. This seems a fairly odd choice considering the game is based on a children’s cartoon, but it works relatively well at keeping tension up. You can visit the five stages in any order (though you can’t return to completed stages), so the “one chance and you’re out” design doesn’t restrict you from reaching any part of the game except the final boss. Still, it feels a bit cheap, even by NES standards, to have so few chances before you need to start over.

DuckTales is undeniably fun, but its limited chances can be quite frustrating. It’s a game that essentially demands you find all its secrets and learn the levels, which is fine for the era, but can be a bit shocking by modern standards. Still, if you have any DuckTales nostalgia, the graphics and music of this game will be a treat, and its unique gameplay mechanics still hold up to this day.

Review Score: B+