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Darkwing Duck (NES) artwork

Darkwing Duck (NES) review

"Play control is tight as can be. If you die, it's not because Darkwing Duck failed to jump where you told him to. He can hop with the best of them, grab onto beams above him, and fire several shots at a time. Switching to his special weapon is a snap, too. You'll find yourself comfortable with the controls to their fullest extent within the first five minutes of play."

Launchpad McQuack was known for crashing helicopters. Yet somehow he worked for Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in Duckburg. Things like that never made much sense. One thing that did make sense, however, was a Duck Tales spin-off. Known as Darkwing Duck, this show focused mostly on the oft-inept Darwking Duck, a superhero sort of a duck with a pilot who frequently crashes his vehicle. When it came time for the video game, Capcom did the honors, just as it had with Duck Tales, Rescue Rangers, and various other Disney licenses. And like most of Capcom's Disney ventures, Darkwing Duck is definitely something you'll want to experience, if only as a rental.

The plot is generic to the point of idiocy. Darkwing Duck is supposed to save the city from the chaos caused by his enemies, various opponents who seem like cuter renditions of characters from the world of Batman, Spider-Man, or any other mature superhero. This goes along with the cartoon nicely, and is appropriate for the younger audience one would assume Capcom's developers had in mind when they crafted this game. The ultimate opponent is Steelbeak, an enormous rooster in charge of the crime spree from his yacht. To get to him, you'll have to battle through stages occupied by his cronies. You can choose the order in which you complete these, to a certain extent. You're first presented with three stages. Complete them all and three more appear, then the final stage.

If this sounds a little like Mega Man, it means you're perceptive. This game obviously took some pointers from that franchise. However, the whole experience feels just a smidge shallow. Were it not for the splendid use of the Disney license, this would be only your average platformer. The game consists of only seven stages, less than any Mega Man title, and since you don't gain powers from the bosses you defeat, there's little point in taking advantage of the ability to replay those levels you've completed. In terms of special powers, you'll be relying on power-ups you pick up through the stages. These power-ups are truly lame, practically worthless. The only one with any real value is the giant arrow that allows you to climb to higher levels. Unfortunately, if you pick up one power-up, you lose the one you had before. The same is true if you lose all your lives in a level.

And it's likely you will. Despite what we may assume is the intended audience, this doesn't feel like a game made for children, at least not in terms of difficulty. There's no difficulty select, and quite frankly, the challenges you'll find here are likely more than you would expect. Each stage is quite lengthy, with numerous pits, enemies that take several hits and are likely to shield themselves or retaliate like crazy when hit, and so forth. There are medical kits scattered throughout the level, and some foes leave behind life canisters when defeated--or even extra lives--but there's no denying this is the most difficult of the Disney games, TaleSpin excluded.

The challenge in the stages often extends to the boss battles. Reach a boss and if you die, you continue from that point, provided you have some lives left. These bosses take a fair number of hits before they'll go down, and about half of them have some attack patterns you'll have difficulty catching. Once you do, though, there's only one boss that's all that challenging. When you defeat the final boss, you're likely to feel underwhelmed. Figure out his pattern and he's one of the easiest in the game.

With the flaws mentioned above, you might wonder how this game is worth playing. The simple fact is that it succeeds where many others of the generation failed. Play control is tight as can be. If you die, it's not because Darkwing Duck failed to jump where you told him to. He can hop with the best of them, grab onto beams above him, and fire several shots at a time. Switching to his special weapon is a snap, too. You'll find yourself comfortable with the controls to their fullest extent within the first five minutes of play.

Two other areas where the game excels are the graphic and audio departments. Darkwing Duck is one of the more impressive looking titles on the system. There's the map of the city where you see the little 'Help' bubbles that indicate an uncompleted stage, and there are the levels themselves. Each stage is colorful, with good detail on the buildings and some good depth to the backgrounds, which range from forest to wharf to warehouse and beyond. Really, visuals are all you can rightfully ask for. The music, while not quite as impressive, still supports the game well. You have the cheerful sort of Disney fare one might expect, and the theme song is in evidence, as well. As NES music can sometimes do, the tunes here get annoying, but this isn't a problem with Darkwing Duck any more than it is with any other title.

What all of this combines to create is a competently-designed NES adventure that should last the more experienced gamer an hour or two, and the children in the household several days. There are frustrating moments, certainly, but this is nullified by the realization that unlike most games aimed at children, Darkwing Duck is not handing you your victory on a silver platter. It's a fun little romp and if you find it, the cost to buy might well be the same as the price to rent a newer game. In that situation, this one is highly recommended. In any other event, see if you can borrow it from a friend or rent it from a video store that hasn't phased out its NES selection. Either way, give this one a little of your time.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 27, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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