Tag Archives: disney

We can play this any way you want

Capcom and Digital Eclipse’s Disney Afternoon Collection has been out for a couple of weeks now. This rerelease of five beloved NES games (plus TaleSpin) has given players plenty to talk about, but a large part of the discussion has focused not on the games themselves but on a feature added in for the collection: the ability to rewind gameplay, undoing mistakes large and small at the push of a button. The concept is nothing new, having been incorporated into some emulators and even previous retro compilations like 2015’s Rare Replay, but Capcom shined the spotlight on it here, making sure to showcase it in the trailer that revealed Afternoon Collection to the world scarcely a month before release.

Over the last few years, quality-of-life perks such as this have become standard in rereleases of old games, from Nintendo implementing “restore points” in the post-Wii Virtual Console to M2 offering no fewer than thirty save slots in their PlayStation 4 rendition of classic shoot-’em-up Battle Garegga. But the inclusion of such permissive features has given rise to an ongoing debate as to whether such quality-of-life perks detract from games of yore. Players who experienced these games in their original form often question a tool they “know” isn’t necessary added after the fact. After all, they managed to go without, so why should anyone else need it? Similarly, those who have gone to great lengths to master games over weeks or months chafe at the thought of neophytes tapping an inexhaustible stack of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards to blunder to the end in a single session. For them, these games’ defining experience consists of overcoming tremendous hardships to eventually bask in an equally rewarding sense of accomplishment. But they’re not worried that fellow players will miss out so much as they’re concerned that this aspect won’t be counted in the collective consciousness’s appraisal moving forward. The fear is that games they’ve come to appreciate on a profound level will be dismissed as nothing more than the sum of their parts—that their reputation will suffer. Fans of shoot-’em-ups regularly wince at reviews chiding their supposed lack of content, knowing that every shmup can be as long and as deep as you want if you strive to see how far you can reach on one credit. “If only they knew,” they mourn. “If only…they didn’t credit-feed!”

At its ugliest, this sentiment ties in to fans’ elitism and existential yearning for validation—the reason reviews that fail to properly adulate are met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I’m not here to decry the purists, and if I seem to speak from authority about what runs through their minds, it’s because I’m one of them. I get it. For a variety of reasons, old games do tend to be quite a bit harder than newer ones; at the same time, new players tend not to be as patient with them. Judging with modern eyes, they expect their time investment to correlate to “content” as it consists of concrete assets, divorced from more intangible factors like player improvement and replay value. Lacking a personal history with a game comprising five or six short stages, they’re likely to approach it as something to blitz through and quickly scratch off their backlog.

Without even getting into cheats intentionally included in games by their developers, the means to cheat “externally” have existed forever, going back to emulator save states and even devices like the Game Genie that coexisted with these games in their heyday. For those means to not only be implemented but advertised in official rereleases now lends them a certain sense of legitimacy, as well. But with so many years gone by since these games’ original release, this raises the question: “Is this how these games were meant to be played?”

I admit, when I saw that rewind feature placed front and center in the Afternoon Collection trailer, it gave me pause. I flashed back to YouTubers petulantly swatting the Load State key as they repeatedly missed the same jump in Super Mario World. I anticipated the provocative hot takes of unwashed content tourists asking, “Were these games really ever any good?” Surely this was not the way they were meant to be played.

But then I took a moment to step outside myself. As thrilling at it is for me to narrowly seize a victory after hours upon hours of “putting in the work,” it’s just as comforting for someone else to breeze through a game and enjoy its inherent qualities with no constraints. It’s not that some people are less patient; everyone just has different priorities—what they think is important, what they find fun, and what they get out of any given game. Likewise, games ultimately exist for us to enjoy them, and that means doing so any and every way we can. There is no True Way. Maybe some players will overuse the rewind feature and miss out on what made Rescue Rangers great, but others might give up on it entirely if they didn’t have something to provide a leg up. We’re not looking at some moral choice between depravity and enlightenment but an opportunity for some to spare frustration for their own enjoyment.

And for all practical purposes, the individual’s enjoyment is all that’s at stake. One player’s rewind-assisted run of Darkwing Duck doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of another player’s one-life clear, and DuckTales will probably still have fans after thousands have made a mockery of its difficulty. It might not be much fun to watch someone else rewind over and over, but most people are playing for themselves, not performing for an audience on YouTube. …And for those who are, rewinding does at least provide some visual continuity setting the player back where they were. Beats loading a two-second-old state any day.

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Today’s Gintendo plan: Billionaire ducks, Millionaire cocktails

I’ve been a little lax on streaming lately, I realize, but I’m back in action this afternoon. The next Gintendo broadcast will take place this evening at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT), and will feature a highly relevant game: Disney’s DuckTales. Ah, but this isn’t the game that just saw a re-release last week via the excellent Disney Afternoon Collection! (Review forthcoming, by the way.) This is the game that was acknowledged in the Collection but not included, which is to say, the Game Boy port.

As usual, you can watch this afternoon on YouTube.

I’ll be digging into the design of DuckTales for Game Boy in an episode of Game Boy Works next month, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and complete this game for once. I skipped DuckTales back in the day; the wretched Mickey Mousecapade turned me off to the prospect of pairing Disney and Capcom altogether, so I missed out on a game that turned out to be pretty good. So I’ve never actually finished DuckTales, just played it in fits and starts since first trying it out a few years ago (but never in fits and finishes, if you see what I’m saying). Maybe today will be the day? Or if not, you can at least marvel at a rare NES-to-Game Boy conversion done right.

This being Gintendo, I could think of no more appropriate drink pairing for a game starring Scrooge McDuck than the classic Millionaire cocktail. Yes, I know, Millionaires don’t contain gin, but whatever. Considering the scale of Scrooge’s wealth, I suppose it would be more appropriate to go with Employees Only’s variant recipe, the Billionaire, but that calls for a rather esoteric ingredient, absinthe bitters… so no go. Anyway, it’s a classic game based on an even more classic comic, so the classic cocktail seems the way to go.

So join me! Or check in sometime later to watch the archive! It’s all the same in the end.

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My First Time: DuckTales

In the My First Time series, we tearfully confess the shameful gaps in our personal gaming heritage. No one’s perfect, and there are only so many hours in the day — we can’t play everything. Here, we try to fill in the holes by spending time with the ones that got away.

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DuckTales (NES, Capcom)

I’m not really sure how I’ve missed out on DuckTales all these years. Widely regarded as an NES classic, with visual design by Keiji “Mega Man” Inafune and one of the most beloved tunes ever to see the light of day in the 8-bit era, DuckTales seems like one of those games everyone has played and everyone loves… except me. I guess I was just a little too old to care about the Disney Afternoon by the time this one rolled around — not to mention that I had been left deeply unimpressed with its apparent (but not really) predecessor, Mickey Mousecapade. So, today marked my very first session with this soon-to-be-remade adventure.

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I went into DuckTales knowing, basically, three things:

  1. Pogo stick
  2. Cane golf
  3. OMG the moon theme

And, as such, my first few minutes with the game proved to be shockingly frustrating. Despite his much-vaunted skills, Scrooge lacks direct, easily accessible offensive capabilities. You can’t simply jump on an enemy’s head the way Mario does, as you’ll take damage when you land. And simply tapping the action button doesn’t cause him to swing his cane, either. It’s a surprising design choice, but I assume it has something to do with the limitations of the license. Scrooge isn’t a combat-oriented kind of character, and Disney imposes massive restrictions on the use and presentation of its characters. Most likely the entire game was built around what Scrooge wasn’t allowed to do.

With a little experimentation, though, I started to figure things out. I realize that in the olden days, I would have spent 15 minutes poring over the manual during the car ride home and therefore would have gone into the game fully equipped with the knowledge to properly wield the power of McDuck, so I don’t hold the slightly unintuitive offensive mechanics against the game. It was crafted with the expectation that players would have been able to read the instructions first, not fumble around with a vaporous digital file divorced of its proper context (shh, don’t tell). Fair enough.

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Scrooge’s primary mode of attack is to leap with his cane leading. Not unlike like Link’s downward stab in Zelda II, but it’s slightly more complicated in this case. You can’t simply press down as you jump to pull this off as you do in Zelda II; you have to hold down and the attack button as you jump. It’s a curiously complex control scheme for an NES game, especially given how limited Scrooge’s available actions are.

Yet after playing around with the game, I think Capcom made the correct choice in adding such complexity to Scrooge’s basic skill. Because the pogo-jump is so powerful, being able to whip it out effortlessly would make the game too easy. Not only does the pogo attack defeat all but a handful of foes with a single attack, it also allows Scrooge to leap about twice as high as his standard jump does, covering far more ground in the process. On top of that, it cracks open treasure chests and certain kinds of rock as well. If you could do all of that without a second thought, DuckTales would become almost laughable in its easiness.

Instead, the pogo leap requires some consideration. You can’t simply go bounding around without a care, because hazards lurk all around: Spikes ceilings, respawning aerial foes, loose-packed snow that’ll trap you briefly, and more. By creating these pogo-oriented hazards and requiring players to press a slightly complex combination of buttons in order to go on the offensive, DuckTales becomes a game of skill and finesse that belies its seemingly simple cartoon-based nature. This is good stuff.

But really, the game didn’t click for me until I started roaming through the interconnected and somewhat nonlinear caverns of the Amazon and backtracked to a space I had previously bypassed. There, I encountered a tall grey statue that begged me to leap on top of it but was too high for Scrooge to reach even with his pogo bounce. So I pushed against a nearby barrel that looked for all the world like a Mega Man E-tank (except orange) and noticed Scrooge changed his posture. A tap of the attack button and he whacked the barrel, which went sliding toward the statue. Not only did this allow me to reach the statue’s upper edge (thereby giving me a path to a hidden treasure chamber by bouncing into the scoreboard and traveling “over” the playable space), it also revealed the intricate nature of the alternate McDuck attack.

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Again, Disney probably didn’t want Capcom to turn Scrooge’s cane into a weapon in and of itself, so you can’t simply wander around smacking things with his walking stick. Instead, you can only shift into attack position by pressing against a static object. This causes Scrooge to rear up into a striking position, and pressing the button once he changes posture causes him to whack the object (jarring him silly if it’s non-interactive scenery, but more often than not launching a brick or revealing hidden treasure). Flying bricks and rocks make very handy and very deadly projectiles, but as with the pogo jump, the added complexity of the action forces you to think about how you use it. You can’t just whip it out. There’s a certain time investment required for each of these actions that sets it apart from simple arcade twitch action.

But then, DuckTales isn’t really an arcade game. It seems like it at first glance, but the play mechanics require a more methodical touch. On top of that, the seemingly straightforward levels contain myriad secrets that you can only uncover through experimentation and exploration. If I were to peg DuckTales as belonging to any one particular genre or school of game design, I’d put it in the same family as early 8-bit PC and console games that revolve around blind luck and trial-and-error to discover essential items hidden invisibly in obscure locations…but DuckTales is far friendlier and more playable.

What sets DuckTales apart from NES predecessors like Milon’s Secret Castle or even The Goonies (not to mention countless MSX- and C64-based antecedents) is the solidity of its design. Crafted by classic Capcom at the peak of their 8-bit glory, it controls perfectly despite its intricate interface, and the hidden elements feel neither arbitrary nor unfair. You can finish the game by blundering through without grace… but take the time to master the controls and figure out where the secrets lie, and you start to reveal a game that’s far better and far deeper than anyone had any right to expect from an NES game based on an afternoon cartoon.

In summary: A really nicely made game featuring some sophisticated design choices. I’m looking forward to seeing what WayForward does with their remake.

Screenshots courtesy of HG101

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