It may be hard to remember that the Capcom seen on the N64 in no way resembled the Capcom that powered the Nintendo consoles of an earlier generation. While N64 users saw the well-respected development house release licensed crap (cough*Magical Tetris*cough) and two-years-late ports (Resident Evil 2), the Capcom of the NES years continually provided top-notch, original material. It was the Megamans, the Bionic Commandos and the Ghosts n’ Goblins that wowed gamers and solidified Capcom’s reputation. Perhaps even more amazing was how, saddled with a Disney license that most gamers would frown upon today, the Japanese wonder-developer spun hit after hit. Chief among the Disney bumper crop was an underappreciated little platformer loaded with playability and fun. That title was Duck Tales.
If you ever watched the Duck Tales cartoon, it detailed the adventures of wealthy Scrooge McDuck and his globe-hopping exploits. Duck Tales, the game, casts the player as Scrooge McDuck as he travels all over the world in search of rare treasures to add to his collection. The level variety is unsurpassed; Scrooge frequents the Amazon, Transylvania, African mines, Himalayas and the Moon in his travels. Perhaps even more inspired is the level design. While most 2D platformers are confined to straight linearity, that’s not the case with Duck Tales. Even the most linear level, the Amazon, offers at least two ways to get from Point A to Point B. Others are even more wide open. Transylvania uses transporting mirrors that warp the player all over the place, and the result is a multitude of ways to explore the level. The Moon holds a spaceship with several different routes to explore in all. This allowed Capcom to populate all sorts of nooks and crannies with hidden goodies, many of which the player might not find. Still, even with all this exploration, most levels take no more than an hour to explore in full, so things keep hopping and the levels stay fun.
Control varies from the normal shoot-and-jump mold of platformers. Scrooge can use his cane as a pogo stick to jump on enemies’ heads, killing them. The pogo stick also allows him to cross treacherous areas, which he could normally not walk on, as well as gain extra height on jumps to access out-of-reach places. He can also use his cane like a golf club, turning inanimate blocks and rocks into projectiles that kill nearby enemies. Scrooge can never “shoot” anything, so he must rely on his maneuverability and jumping skills to get out of harm’s way. Capcom brilliantly models the gameplay around the control scheme. The best example is in the Himalayas, where Scrooge cannot pogo on the top snowy layer without getting stuck, forcing the player to time the jumps so that the pogo stick lands only on enemies. Scrooge only starts out with three health points, and though goodies can be found to restore health, the player can lose a life very quickly. Since the player is only three lives away from the dreaded “Game Over” screen, precision in exploring the levels is a must. Difficult it may be, but half the fun is knowing you have to be on your game to beat a level.
Obviously Duck Tales was not a game that set the world on fire when it was released, and it certainly cannot compare to the Marios and Zeldas in terms of sheer impact on the industry. But Duck Tales is an exquisitely fun game, with interesting level design, appealing control and a familiar license that players can get into and enjoy. It definitely is not a long game, but that is representative of many games on the NES, where the fun came fast and didn’t last long. This is the Capcom we all knew (the Capcom that owners of present non-Nintendo systems know as well as we did), and we hope that this is the Capcom we will see once again on Gamecube.