In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1992’s Darkwing Duck for the NES…
As we’ve already established in this series, the 8-bit generation of consoles was a constantly-growing hotbed of TV show tie-ins. Many of these games were generally rushed in their development in order to capitalise on a show’s popularity, and as a result, they tended to be a bit crap.
However, one particular partnership during the late 80’s and early 90’s proved to be very fruitful indeed, and provided players with a string of fantastic games based on a number of popular cartoons; Capcom and Disney.
One of these titles was Darkwing Duck. For those who aren’t familiar with this caped crusader cartoon, the show is set in the same universe as Ducktales, and centres around the brilliantly named Drake Mallard (duck puns! oowoo-ooh!), who by night is a vigilante superhero named, you guessed it, Darkwing Duck. In his quest to rid the city of crime and evil-doers, he is aided by his trusty sidekick, Launchpad McQuack (who also makes an appearance in Ducktales).
The game, released in the spring of 1992, sees a mysterious crime wave hitting the city of St. Canard, and the intelligence agency known as S.H.U.S.H. has called upon Darkwing Duck for help in putting a stop to it, as it seems like this sudden crimewave is the work of his enemies, F.O.W.L. Over the course of six levels, players must guide Darkwing through settings such as the city bridge and the sewers, each with their own unique enemies to face and a F.O.W.L. member to take down at each respective finish line.
Darkwing Duck has a number of different weapon types to choose from, each with their own specific powerups to replenish ammunition. Darkwing can upgrade his Gas Gun to fire “Thunder” shots, “Heavy” shots and “Arrow” shots, in addition to a normal attack. These can be used strategically against enemies that Darkwing will come across, as the ammo types vary in effectiveness for each baddie.
Darkwing can also grab onto certain platforms, which raises the bar of the game’s platforming tremendously, and he can deflect oncoming projectiles by pressing up on the d-pad (a feature that’s absolutely vital later on in the game).
The first thing that is noticeable about Darkwing Duck is that it plays suspiciously similarly to Capcom’s MegaMan series, and with good reason, as the game runs on a slightly tweaked version of the MegaMan 5 game engine. This is to the point where the movement of the Darkwing Duck sprites all move exactly the same as a MegaMan title, and generally feels like a cut & paste job in most areas of the game.
Normally this would warrant some negative criticism, but the game engine works so well with this tie-in that it’s hard to knock Capcom for using a tried-and-tested formula again. Darkwing Duck isn’t a full reskin of an older game (like Krusty’s Fun House), but instead uses the best features of a much-loved game series to improve what is an already entertaining experience.
The graphics on display here are on par with MegaMan games too, boasting some very colourful and well-designed characters and some visually impressive level designs, which is to be expected from an NES game released this far into the console’s life cycle. NES games often run the risk of the characters looking a bit naff, but Darkwing Duck succeeds in not only being one of the better looking Disney games from this era, but one of the best looking titles on the system altogether.
Then there’s the sound. Darkwing Duck keeps things simple with its sound effects, but never to the point where it feels like there are bits missing or where it’s just relying on barebones bleeps & bloops. As for the music? well, we’re treated to a chiptune loop of the TV show’s theme. While the Ducktales theme tune is undoubtedly more of an earworm that is nigh on impossible to shake off, I always thought that the theme tune for Darkwing Duck was much cooler when I was a kid, so hearing it on a loop never gets too annoying at any point.
Overall, Darkwing Duck is an absolute delight to play through. The visuals are vibrant and colourful, and feel like they were ahead of their time, while the gameplay strongly evokes/is a straight up clone of many of the positive traits that we’ve seen in the MegaMan series (with a distinct Disney flavour added). The game’s tricky at times, but never impossible, and actually feels less challenging than a number of Disney & Capcom’s “Saturday afternoon cartoon” games (which, by the way, is not a bad thing).
The game’s older cousin, Ducktales, may be the more well-known NES experience, but Darkwing Duck is still one of the best games for the console if you’re looking for something a bit more casual.
Are you a fan of the Darkwing Duck game for the NES? Leave a comment below, or let us know via Twitter!