I am the terror that flaps in the night, I am the surprise in your cereal box
(Note: This article is part of the Disney Afternoon Collection review set, in which all games included in the package, as well as the package itself, get a review of their own.)
While European fans of the Disney comics were already wholly familiar with Donald Duck’s alter ego, the Duck Avenger, a masked vigilante who first appeared in Paperinik il diabolico vendicatore (Paperinik the Diabolical Avenger) on June 8, 1969 – created by the Italian authors Guido Martina, Elisa Penna, as well as the artist Giovan Battista Carpi – the first caped crusading duck most American audiences got to see was in the form of Scrooge McDuck in the DuckTales episode The Masked Mallard (S03E17), which was aired on November 17, 1989. That episode, together with Double-O-Duck (S01E48), which featured the crime syndicate F.O.W.L., then arguably led to the creation of Darkwing Duck (1991-1992)1, a spin-off series of DuckTales that basically is a persiflage of Batman (1939 ongoing).
Darkwing, known in his private life as Drake Mallard, is the semi-competent caped crusader and self-proclaimed defender of justice in the city of St. Canard. Unlike most super heroes, he is so into himself that he always wants to be the center of attention (cf. Just Us Justice Ducks [S01E20-E21]) even narrates his own actions like a little child playing make-believe. What’s more, unlike other protectors of all that is good and right, one of his key motivations is to get rich, famous, and recognized for his actions, which stands in stark contrast to his attempts to be a good role model and responsible father to his daughter Gosalyn. Luckily for him, most of the villains were just as colorful as him, which leads to a lot of enthralling episodes.
The series became very popular in Central Europe, where, thanks to the beloved Donald Duck pocket books series, fans were already onboard with duck-themed heroes. The game’s composer Yasuaki Fujita (藤田靖明) even recalls that “[Darkwing Duck] was mainly produced for the European market”2.
Unfortunately, at time of writing I was unable to find out which of Capcom’s designers were responsible for the pixel art as they truly gave their A-game with this licensed title. Fans of the show will rejoice with the Eggmen appearance as regular enemies, as well as series staples like Quackerjack, the Liquidator, Dr. Bushroot, and Megavolt as the boss enemies. Even better is that Darkwing’s allies, J. Gander Hooter, Launchpad, as well as Gosaylin showing up on the side. When booting it up, the game even has a cartoon-like introduction sequence, plus Darkwing says his catchphrase “I am Darkwing Duck” before the start of every level.
Even though it’s a fun platformer, Darkwing Duck can be right out infuriating and is definitely not meant for beginners. The game runs on the Mega Man 5 (1992) engine and throws lots and lots of tough enemies and trickily designed levels at anyone brave enough to try. Add to his arsenal that, just like Scrooge in DuckTales (1989), Darkwing can … duck. Even better is that his trusty gas gun allows him to shoot even while he squats and his outstanding cape can deflect enemy projectiles. Villains truly won’t stand a chance … so long as players know what they are doing actually doing.
Projectiles can be warded off both while standing or in mid-air by pressing ↑ on the gamepad. However, because some enemies’ hitboxes require this caped crusader to jump while shooting, lowbrow players sometimes end up leap-blocking instead (which was already an issue on the NES3. As I was playing this title with a wired Xbox 360 controller, I also noticed that the analog stick might have had a negative effect on the experience, as shifting from → to ↓ in on motion, in order to get Darkwing from a walking to a ducking animation, had no effect whatsoever. The game really was designed with a d-pad in mind and players therefore ought to stand still before crouching.
Other issues arise whenever it comes to getting Darkwing to hang off any strategically placed ledge. In order to latch on to a platform, this masked mallard either has to jump from below on to them, or he has to drop down from above by pressing ↓ + Ⓑ. While hanging, to plunge down even further, players then have to press ↓ and not ↓ + Ⓑ, as the latter combination will make Darkwing jump in the air instead. Within stages this won’t be too much of a problem, but it will become confusing quickly during boss stages, which sees the hero jump from platform to platform.
Just as this mechanic is mastered, however, the next hurdle becomes obvious: Even one-tile sized platforms – like lanterns – have different spots on to which Darkwing can cling. This makes some platforming sections quit unintuitive as this means that the protagonist might not be able to jump on to the next platform, because he grabbed on to the wrong part of a one-tile platform. During the boss fight against Moliarty, for example, each floodlight has four spots Darkwing can hang off of. From some spots, he can shoot the weak spots, from others he cannot. From some he can get hit by projectiles, from the others he cannot. Add to this that the duration of Darkwing’s invincibility frames (i-frames) is not only too short , but that fireballs alongside hammers are thrown at him from all directions, and you’ll have yourself one frustrating encounter.
Finally, the last hurdle in combat is that Darkwing Duck is ever so slightly tougher than Mega Man, as the mallard can only get hit four times before dying while enemies have a larger health bar than in the blue bomber games. Baddies like the tortoises and robot dogs even need six shot and the terminators (just go with it) require eight hits. Darkwing can power up his shots, of course, by collecting either power-ups scattered throughout the stages. However, he can only carry one of these upgrades at a time and cannot collect the abilities of his opponents. All of these things combined make Darkwing Duck one tough cookie to eat and way too difficult for beginners.
While Darkwing Duck could have been a great game overall, with its exceptional music and creative enemy designs, it is held back by a flurry of small things, be it the health meter, the hanging mechanic, the i-frames, or the RNG. A bit more polish around the edges would have done this title some good, but as it stands, it is still a fun game and one that Mega Man fans will probably enjoy. The game is currently available as part of The Disney Afternoon Collection together with another five other titles for the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and Steam. The bundle itself costs U.S. $ 19.99 or your regional equivalent.
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Thank you for reading my article. If you like, please do feel free to leave a comment. There’s no need to register or login. Also, all screenshots shown here were taken by me during my playthrough. You can also follow my reviews on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/curator/8839524-Gaos-Corner/ Have a nice day.
Links to the other Disney Afternoon Reviews
- Gao Li Reviews The Disney Afternoon Collection
- Gao Li Reviews DuckTales
- Gao Li Reviews Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
- Gao Li Reviews TaleSpin
- Gao Li Reviews DuckTales 2
- Gao Li Reviews Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2
- ChannelFrederator, The DuckTales/Darkwing Duck/Quack Pack Theory – Cartoon Conspiracy (Ep. 48), YouTube, Alphabet Inc., posted 2015, March 13, accessed 2017, March 6, retrieved from https://youtu.be/2GhrSIoejhg
- Capcom Database, Darkwing Duck, fandom, accessed 2017, March 6, retrieved from http://capcom.wikia.com/wiki/Darkwing_Duck
- Stop Skeletons From Fighting, “Happy Video Game Nerd: Disney/Capcom Games Pt 1 (NES), YouTube, Alphabet Inc., posted 2009, October 20, accessed 2017, March 6 retrieved from https://youtu.be/StNbJDGB_9A