Imagine my predicament: There I was, newly accepted as an official member of the Just Games Retro staff; given unrestricted access to the private Lockheed jet, the mini-golf course, the macro-golf course, the homemade rhubarb pie, along with all the other benefits every JGR employee receives; and I had no idea what to review. I love superheroes. I survive on a daily dose of comics and cartoons, so one of the Spider-Man or X-Men games seemed a natural fit. But I also love obscurity. Such well-known characters wouldn’t set the proper tone for my first review. So I searched high and low for a game worth of my time and yours, and after much arduous clicking and a super sized Dr. Pepper, I finally found it. Action. Adventure. Based on one of my favorite 80’s ‘toons. Darkwing Duck.
For those of you who were listening to Styx and White Snake in the 80’s, allow me to clue you in. Disney’s Darkwing Duck series takes place in the same “universe” as Duck Tales, where talking animals abound. By day, our heroes are mild-mannered Drake Mallard and clumsy assistant Launchpad, but when night falls and evil rears its naughty head, the two become the mighty Darkwing Duck and… well, clumsy assistant Launchpad. The fact that no one ever discovered their secret identities even though they hung out together all the time and Launchpad didn’t even have a costume was only one of this series’ clever digs at the old Batman show. The flamboyant villains and the ineffectual police chief were the icing on the cake.
Everyone caught up? Good. The NES game released to capitalize on the series’ success begins with a spiffy digital version of the show’s theme song. The police guy (who’s name I don’t feel like looking up) then appears to inform our hero that there are all sorts of goings-on in the city that require his attention. Loyal sidekick Launchpad then pops up and asks the player where he wants to go kick some evil tailfeather first. He’ll wax poetic on exactly what’s up at each “trouble spot” but it makes no visible difference where you begin. Choose any location on the map and you’re dropped into conventional side-scroller view.
Here’s where we get to the gameplay. How is it? Well, it’s fantastic, actually. But that’s no surprise considering that it’s Megaman. Yup, this was a Capcom cartridge, and brother, it shows. Almost every aspect of Megaman’s gameplay has been transplanted onto ole’ Darkwing. Anyone hungering for yet another Megaman sequel need only download this ROM and blur their vision slightly. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sure, this is stuff we’ve all seen before, but so what? It’s still fun, and in Darkwing it’s a lot easier. This makes Darkwing more of a casual gaming experience as opposed to its more involved brother. Veteran gamers may find breezing through Darkwing’s levels a welcome and nostalgic respite from the latest time-sucking Final Fantasy sequel.
On a more specific note, if you like hanging on stuff then this is your game. It appears that everyone at the Capcom offices thought the hanging feature really transferred well from robot to fowl. In fact I challenge you to set your digital watch to chime every five minutes while playing this ROM. I guarantee you’ll be hanging from something every time that alarm goes off. Alas, however, our web-footed avenger cannot perform Megaman’s neato “jumping-from-wall-to-wall-shimmy-up-a-shaft” trick. (That trick’s illegal in Utah…)
As for the villains, none of the level baddies are from the TV show, but they are designed well enough and with adequately interesting gimmicks (most stolen from a certain android’s rogue’s gallery) that you’ll be sufficiently interested and challenged throughout. At the end of each stage you’ll face off against one of the famous TV foes such as the Riddler-inspired “Quacker Jack”. Here’s a transcript of what I yelled at the computer screen to give you an idea of the experience:
“Quacker Jack, eh? Heh, well too bad Frank Gorshin’s not alive to supply you with second-hand jokes anymore! Eh?! Funny boy! Haha…man, I wish someone was around to hear my clever Frank Gorshin reference. Ah well, time to mop the floor with this guy.”
“How could anyone get down these girders fast enough to shoot him…”
“FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST!! STOP IT WITH THE DAMN BANANA PEELS!!!”
“HA! You’re going down this time, duck! I got the skills now! You haven’t got one shot off at me since—OH SON OF A–!!”
And that was all in the span of like 10 minutes. As most of you have figured out by now, the bosses aren’t really that hard, they’re just annoying. Plus DW only takes 4 hits before croaking and the levels are devoid of power-ups. Nothing new, and Megaman was still harder, but the boss fights do offer a nice kick in the shins after sailing through the main levels.
And speaking of powerups, those in Darkwing are probably the strangest in any game I’ve ever played. Throughout the game I found myself picking up everything from the standard “health box” to gas cans, lightning bolts, diamonds, and boxes with arrows on them. All of these latter items had absolutely no noticeable effect (except perhaps to add to a “Secret Points” total which also had no effect). Even stranger is the health meter; a heart that will either have no letters at all, an “HG”, a “TG”, or an “AG”. These also were indecipherable, but I decided they meant “Health Good”, “Teeth Good”, and “Ass GREAT”.
***UPDATE: I later found out what those goofy acronyms stood for, but it’s funnier if I don’t tell you. Suffice it to say that you never think of using the SELECT button until someone mentions it.***
But I digress, perhaps the only real “mistake” made with this game is the dreaded “GO” sign. Picture this: I had just overcome a particularly challenging portion of the game when I came upon a flashing sign that read simply “GO”. Never being one to turn down the opportunity to “GO”, I “WENT”. Immediately, I was treated to an animation of the police guy explaining that while he hated to interrupt my mission, there had just been a robbery and he needed me to help recover the stolen goods. As little capsules of loot (powerups) fall from the sky, Darkwing is instructed to blast them open and collect their contents. “Cool,” I thought, “Mini-game.” Despite the obvious question as to whether allowing a vigilante to keep stolen property is any better than letting the crooks take it, I played along. Then time ran out, and I was returned to the game. Guess where. Go ahead, guess. Yup, at the beginning of the level! Now that’s no reward kids, that’s a poison mushroom if I’ve ever seen one.
If you liked the show, you’ll enjoy seeing DW in digitized form and the gameplay’s nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s largely swiped.
Do NOT touch “GO”, do not collect $200. Also, seasoned gamers will find nothing new here. Plus, the game never got around to answering how Launchpad could be the sidekick on both “Duck Tales” and “Darkwing”…weird.