Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-08-17 09:23:49
Frustration in the Form of DuckTales: Remastered
DuckTales: Remastered is a strong reminder of how difficult games used to be. While challenging games still exist today, of course, there has been a shift (for the better) towards more practical ways of making progress in a game whilst keeping the difficulty level high. Platform games such as Donkey Kong Country Returns can be incredibly difficult, but modern mechanics such as checkpoints are always there to ensure that failure is never particularly frustrating; you can just have another go. In DuckTales: Remastered, you don't have this luxury - losing your small pool of lives in a level takes you back to the hub world and discards all progress made in that stage up to the point of death.
This wouldn't be such a concern if the levels were shorter, or perhaps had more opportunities for checkpoints and 1-ups. This isn't the case with DuckTales, though - you can get to the boss of a thirty minute level, die, and then have to repeat the entire level again before giving the boss another go. This is antiquated design to the extreme, and while certain players may get a kick out of having to repeat an entire stage when they die, less patient players will judge the difficulty spike as being too extreme and will likely rage-quit.
Given that platforming is my favourite video game genre and that I tend to be pretty good at them, I foolishly decided to play DuckTales in Hard Mode during my first playthrough. I do not recommend this - you'll die frequently and lose a lot of progress at the same time. There's little more frustrating than reaching the end of a level and messing up on a boss (all of which have been made harder than in the original), only to have to repeat mountains of content again; a sentiment also felt by Wired's Chris Kohler. It doesn't help that the myriad cutscenes in the game have to be viewed on subsequent attempts every single time. While you can skip them, it's incredibly irritating to have to skip through dialogue every few minutes on a level you have already attempted several times before. Chances are that after watching these cutscenes once you won't want to watch them again, so forcing the player to do so is a pain.
On the plus side, the cutscenes are great. Some reviewers have complained that they feel out of place, but I don't believe this to be true. While they do get annoying for the above reasons, when you're actually invested in them they play out really well, delivering bite-size stories with heartfelt messages. The characters are fully-voiced by the original cast and each level feels like an episode of the classic cartoon. I had no objections to the cutscenes the first time I had to see them, and they add a layer of narrative depth to the game that many platformers lack. You can certainly argue that DuckTales has more personality to it than a Mario side-scroller, particularly in its animations, which look as if they have been plucked straight out of an HD cartoon.
I suggest playing the game in Easy Mode first time through so that you can enjoy the cutscenes and the more laid-back nature of the game without having to get frustrated in the process. Even Normal Mode gave me a headache when I had to keep repeating content. In Easy, however, you have unlimited lives, meaning that you can keep trying levels until you beat them without having to return to the hub world with all progress up to that point lost. While Easy does, perhaps, make things too easy, it also eliminates a lot of the frustration that comes with playing DuckTales. Even the hardest games of this generation haven't relished on making players repeat the last half an hour of content - a game can be difficult without being unfair, and DuckTales' ancient design, despite its modern coat of paint, often feels precisely that on the harder difficulty modes: unfair.
I found that issues such as wonky collision detection (enemies sometimes seem to hit you even when you jump on them with the pogo stick) and the failure of the pogo stick itself to deploy at random times were negated somewhat in the game's Easy Mode. Sadly, I do feel as if DuckTales' faithful replication of the original games' formula serves to highlight areas in which games have been improved upon in modern times. DuckTales' design is, predictably, convoluted at times, forcing dated level design upon the player. From backtracking through stages to unfair spikes in difficulty (things appearing out of nowhere that can instantly kill you without prior warning), DuckTales intentionally feels like the NES game it's emulating, but not always for the right reasons. In addition, despite the environments being pretty to look at, the platforming here is as generic and dated as it comes - most levels recycle the same sort of gameplay assets, putting the 'platform' back in 'platforming' by forcing the navigation of simple platforms upon the player with little in the way of mechanical diversity.
DuckTales: Remastered feels like an old game. It invariably frustrates with its dated mechanics and lack of checkpoints, and in terms of its core gameplay it offers less of an experience than most modern platformers. However, its focus on story and characters is charming and unique, and fans of the original game and the TV series will lap up every cutscene, at least the first time they have to watch them. While WayForward Technologies have put a lot of effort into making the game play out like an interactive cartoon, the pleasing aesthetics aren't able to mask the games' old-fashioned level design and punishing difficulty. While there are plenty of extras for players to spend acquired gold on in the game, I do question whether DuckTales: Remastered is worth the price of admission when there are far better platformers on the market. It's a game that will appeal to fans and has more in the way of nostalgic value than the majority of its contemporaries, but for casual and curious investors, it will likely disappoint.