Darkwing Duck
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    NES
    • US June 1992
    • UK 12/09/1993
    GB
    • US February 1993
    • UK 1993
Score: 75%

This review was published on 02/20/2017.

Darkwing Duck is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in North America in June 1992 and Europe on December 9, 1993. The game was also ported to the Game Boy in North America in February 1993 and Europe in 1993. As implied by its title, the game is based on the Disney animated television show of the same name, which first aired on September 8, 1991, and ended on December 5, 1992. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Disney licensed Capcom, the company behind Mega Man, to create a bunch of NES games based on its animated works, like DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, The Little Mermaid, TaleSpin, and Mickey Mouse. Being that it was Capcom's best selling title on the system, most people are familiar with the first DuckTales game on the NES, though the first Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers NES game is also fairly well known. However, Darkwing Duck didn't sell as well as those games, and so it isn't as widely recognized today. It's pretty decent, though.

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Since it wasn't nearly as popular as the DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers TV shows, not as many people know about the Darkwing Duck cartoon. Basically, it stars an anthropomorphic duck superhero known as Darkwing Duck and his sidekick, Launchpad McQuack, who's from DuckTales. Due to the crossover of characters, fans believed Darkwing Duck to be a DuckTales spinoff, but the creator, Tad Stones, stated in 2016 that he considers it to be an alternate reality, not a spinoff. Anyway, Darkwing Duck's secret identity is Drake Mallard, who lives in a normal suburban house with his adopted daughter, Gosalyn. The show is a parody of the superhero genre, as Darkwing Duck is kind of an incompetent egomaniac who mostly does the superhero gig for fame, but he's good at heart. This game plays out like an episode of the show, with Darkwing Duck being asked by the intelligence agency called S.H.U.S.H. to defend his home city of St. Canard from the terrorist organization, F.O.W.L. Steelbeak, the second-in-command at F.O.W.L. and one of the show's antagonists, is spearheading the attack. It's now up to Darkwing Duck to save the day.

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Along with most of the other Disney games Capcom has developed for the NES, Darkwing Duck uses an engine similar to the one used in the classic Mega Man games, plus many of the people that worked on those games also worked on this one. As a result of that, Darkwing Duck looks and plays a lot like Mega Man. In other words, you spend a lot of time running, jumping, and firing Darkwing's gas gun, which shoots out yellow pellets similar to Mega Man's arm cannon. However, unlike Mega Man, you can actually duck in this game, and you can even shoot while ducking! You can also press up on the d-pad to have Darkwing use his cape as a shield, blocking certain projectiles. It's even possible to guard while in the air. The controls have a level of precision that's comparable to most Mega Man games, so they're fairly precise. There is one problem, though: unlike Mega Man, you can't shoot while walking or running. It's still possible to shoot while moving in the air, but not being able to do it on the ground is a real liability.

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Darkwing's main signature ability is the ability to latch onto hooks, hook-like objects, and beneath certain platforms. All you have to do to latch onto a hook or platform is jump into it. When hanging underneath a platform, you can press the jump button to get on top of it, or press down on the d-pad to drop off. If you're standing on top of a platform, you can hold down on the d-pad and press the jump button to hang underneath it. Darkwing can still shoot his gun while hanging around, too. You'll be making use of this ability frequently, often jumping from hook to hook. The ability to hang is used in other, more creative ways, however. For instance, you can hang onto some levers to trigger mechanisms that cause new platforms to appear, or hang off a hook that automatically moves back and forth along a wire. This adds a little more depth and creativity to the stages, plus it gives the game a slightly different flavor from Mega Man.

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Suck gas, evildoer! In addition to his normal attack, Darkwing can equip three different special gas adaptors to change the properties of his gun. These adaptors are found scattered throughout the game, but you can only have one at a time, and they get replaced whenever you get another one. If you press the select button, you'll switch from the normal gun to the special gas adaptor you currently possess. The catch is that the gas adaptors use up varying amounts of your gas energy, either two or three units per shot, but you can get more by grabbing gas canisters usually dropped by enemies. As for what the adaptors do, one shoots projectiles that travel along the ground, another one shoots two tiny lightning bolts that travel in 45 degree angles, and the last one shoots out arrows that Darkwing can latch onto and stand on like platforms. Unfortunately, only the arrow adaptor is any good. The gas adaptors are like a miniature version of the special weapons from Mega Man, except not as good.

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Like Mega Man, you've got a stage select screen, though only the first three stages are accessible from the outset. Upon completing those, you'll unlock the second set of three stages, and finishing those ultimately opens up the final stage. Despite the slight nonlinearity in the stage order, the stages themselves are completely linear. Darkwing must jump and shoot his way through each stage, defeating any enemies that get in his way. Some enemies are heavily Mega Man inspired, like these caped ducks that are essentially clones of Sniper Joes from Mega Man, in that they use their capes as shields and lower their guard to throw knives at you. Almost all the environments are urban, like a bridge set in a city with a starry night sky, a town with tall buildings, a sewer area, and the like. You do visit a forest at some point, however. The stage design isn't anything special, but some bits are neat. There's one stage where you jump onto a pump to inflate a balloon, then you ride the balloon by latching onto its handle. The stages aren't as intricately designed as they are in Mega Man, but they're still decent.

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All the bosses are recognizable villains from the show, like Quackerjack, Megavolt, Bushroot, Wolfduck, Moliarty, and the Liquidator. Every one of these guys is a spoof of a popular superhero villain; Quackerjack is like the Joker from Batman, Liquidator is similar to Hydro-Man from Spider-Man, and so on. Most of the boss battles in this game are actually pretty cool. Quackerjack doesn't actually attack you directly, instead opting to run away from you while his toy sidekick, Mr. Banana Brain, showers harmful banana peels from the top of the screen. There are three height levels to the arena, and whenever you get on the same level as Quackerjack, he jumps up or down one level to get away from you. Moliarty also doesn't really attack you, simply opting to repair any of the nearby turrets you destroy. As his name implies, Wolfduck transforms into an invulnerable werewolf whenever the moon gets exposed in the background. Luckily, clouds will cover the moon every so often, reverting Wolfduck to his vulnerable form. The bosses are the main highlight of the game.

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Surprisingly, the Game Boy port of the game stacks up quite favorably to the NES original. Obviously, the Game Boy version lacks color and has a lower resolution on account of the small screen, but outside of that, the graphics, sound effects, and music are all nearly identical to the original. There are minor differences to the some of the sprites and backgrounds, but overall, it looks very close to the real thing. Some minor tweaks were also made to the enemy placement, and some of the stages have been shortened a bit, but all of that is fairly close to the original, too. However, Darkwing's jumping height has been reduced, and you need to hold the button longer to make sure he jumps at all, which is a little annoying. Other than that, the port is basically the same as the NES version, minus the color. The NES version is still better, but the Game Boy port isn't a bad substitute. There was also a Darkwing Duck game released for the TurboGrafx-16 in 1990, but it was made by another developer and is completely different. It's also absolutely awful. Without a doubt, the best Darkwing Duck game is the one on the NES.

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Most of the Disney licensed, Capcom developed NES and Game Boy games are good, and Darkwing Duck is no exception. It may not be up there with DuckTales or Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, but it's still one of the better games on the NES and Game Boy. It's got good graphics, great music, precise controls, nice stages, and the boss fights are neat. There are also infinite continues, which is always a selling point for games like these. While it's basically a Mega Man clone, Darkwing Duck is still a solid game.

Word Count: 1,605

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