Top 100 NES Review: #28: Duck Tales (1989)

Anthropomorphic Capitalism

If you value hoarding world treasures to enrich one’s net/self-worth, it’s time to start living out your dreams in this side-scrolling adventure!

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Globe Trotter: Scrooge McDuck risking his life in the Himalayas facing an Amazonian spider.

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #28/100
Developer:  Capcom
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

There once was a cartoon called Ducktales that had a very catchy intro, and I guess it was so popular, it needed to be formatted into a video game — Uncle Scrooge wasn’t the only one trying to cash in, obviously.

This game is a rather unsettling experience: be prepared to have your idea of reality challenged. This game is a perfect blend of authenticity and phantasmagorical adventure, sometimes leaving me wondering how I am supposed to check the consistency of my conscious perceptions after having the veil pulled back by the McDuck family.

For a game consisting of only a few maneuvers (pogo-cane-jump and cane slap), the thrill of reaching new financial heights will keep you more than entertained as you travel in a world eerily similar to our own finding lucrative treasure such as the lost crown of Ghengis Khan, Scepter of the Incan King, and the Green Cheese of Longevity.

First, the game is ahead of its time. Instead of being linear, it is much more choose-your own-adventure as you can decide which locale fits your venture capitalism tastes. This is where the blended reality begins: the places to select are real life locations, but the map represents them on some sort of Pangea continent. This anachronistic approach made it hard for me to keep the story straight, feverishly taking character development notes on a legal pad on my desk.

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The Original Home Computer. 

This Pangea map also conveniently includes the moon that is always in a state of lunar waxing, meaning that this world does not have the same astrological implications for our characters as we would expect. Without having the reliance of birth signs, I put fate into my own hands and decided to go to the moon first. This is where we are introduced to maybe the best feature of the entire game:

Within moments, as multiple synthesizers are layered to support the licks n’ riffs of a solo guitar (???), our autonomic nervous system ramps up and brings us to new heights. Thus, begins the adventure for that green cheese of longevity. The gameplay is pretty simple: explore with your two moves and get the treasure. The game offers very little in the way of variety outside of this, and where it tries to get tricky, it only seems to disorient more.

McDuck using his best move: a pogo-cane-stomp to rule the animal kingdom physically and financially. 

For instance, there is a particular level that you go to that is locked from the onset. The game automatically directs you to another level to find the key so you can progress further, but the key is easily encountered after just a few moments, making this roundabout task completely futile adding no gameplay whatsoever. My first inclination was to think this was a statement on nihilism (in full support of), but then I realized that this game has enough wacky things for it to probably be chalked up to poor planning or a quick development timeline. Other examples include:

  • Some of the enemy sprites show up in multiple locations, but no one bothered to change the colors for them to fit in with their new environment.
  • There is a hidden outcome of the game that you can achieve through specific steps but not accessible via normal means.
  • The auxiliary characters, such as your nephews (Hewey, Dewey, and Louie) or Luanchpad MacQuack, serve no purpose and sometimes confuse with their dialogue (which I have to admit is to be expected from an adolescent duck being held against their will in a vampire manor).

All in all, I think this game more so harkens back to a time when a video game did not have to be as polished or make much sense to be good. While we expect video games today to be entirely consistent in story and form, back then it was good enough just to be fun. Probably just enough gameplay to be entertaining for a weekend, Duck Tales for the NES is worth it, if only for the important message that $ = love.

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I don’t know what’s worse: the message that he only loves them because they helped him make money, or the fact that they didn’t help at all and he is boosting a false sense of self-worth.


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