Blast me Bagpipes! A Duck Blur from the Past right on your Screen
(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.)
The Disney Afternoon Collection that was released by Capcom in 2017 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, as well as MS Windows came as a welcome surprise to 90s kids (who all caught a bad case of “adult” with symptoms like “responsibilities” now), retro gamers, and speedrunners alike. It is a collection of six NES titles – namely Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2, Darkwing Duck, DuckTales, DuckTales 2, along with TaleSpin. However, even though these games are old and short, talking about them here would be too much, so they’ll each get their own brief but dedicated review that will be linked to down below.
The Disney Afternoon and Nintendo Exclusivity
Since these 30-year-old licensed games are based on TV series of about that age, it might be necessary to add a bit of context to understand where they are coming from.
Between 1990 and 1997, kids in the USA got to enjoy The Disney Afternoon cartoon block, known as Disney Club in Latin America and Europe. It was created for syndication and featured cartoons ranging from highly memorable to mediocre. DuckTales (1987-1990), together with its spin-off Darkwing Duck (1991-1992), were two highly popular gems, while The Shnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show (1995) was an example of a truly bland, unpopular, and right out forgettable show that most people never even have heard of. There were also some localization differences as The Little Mermaid (1992-1994) TV series was not part of the North American Disney Afternoon, but was included in the German version of Disney Club from 1994 onwards. Overall, the block was very popular in many countries around the world and, like other thriving franchises at the time, gave way to tie-in products.
For the U.S. based Walt Disney Company this meant that the next step would be to produce video games based on its most successful series. However, bringing video games to the market took a lot of careful planning, which they did, because they opted for one of the arguably best partners on the console market at the time, the Japanese video game developer/publisher Capcom.
Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, another Japanese company, Nintendo, had a massive share in the global video game market. In its launch year 1986, the home console known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, (the American and European version of the Family Computer) sold 1.1 million units in the USA alone1. Then, during the 1987/88 Christmas season, the NES was the most popular toy in North America with the console ending up in around 12% of U.S. American households and estimates claiming it would reach roughly 20% during the course of the year2. In the following years, Nintendo sales right out exploded and by the time the Christmas season 1990 came around, nearly ⅓ of American homes (29 million), owned a Nintendo console3 and the Japanese giant therefore “[controlled] 80% of the video [game] market”4 by 1991. For a U.S. company, bringing a game to Nintendo therefore almost guaranteed it going viral, especially with the Disney brand name printed on its front. There was, however, a catch.
Due to the North American video game crash in 1983, which also caused the collapse of video game giant Atari, then president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi (山内溥) stated in 1986 that “Atari collapsed because they gave too much freedom to third-party developers and [that] the market was swamped with rubbish games.”5 Therefore, every third-party developer that worked with Nintendo was bound to several restrictions, two of the more notable ones were that they could usually only make up to five games for a Nintendo console per year and that games released for a Nintendo device could not be ported to platforms of other companies for an average of two years, resulting in a lot of third party exclusives for, along with creative control in the hands of Nintendo6.
Disney circumvented these restrictions by having multiple companies produce games for them simultaneously. For example, while Capcom made the NES versions of TaleSpin (1991) and Darkwing Duck (1992), Sega created a completely different TaleSpin (1992) title for their Mega Drive/Genesis all the while Turbo Technologies, Inc. developed their own version of Darkwing Duck (1992) for the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine. The result was that different consoles often had very distinct licensed games that had very little in common with one another.
The reason why Capcom became Disney’s partner for Nintendo was partly because the Japanese developer was already established in the industry with several successful titles on Nintendo’s home console. They not only had experience porting arcade games like 1942 (1985) and Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1986), but also had a line-up of NES-tailored productions, most notably Mega Man (1987), whose blue tone derived from the console providing more shades of blue than of any other color7. So to test the waters, Capcom published Mickey Mousecapade for Disney, a game that was developed by Hudson Soft in 1987. The game itself was pretty bad, but allegedly sold so well that it may have even inspired to land Capcom an exclusivity deal with the big D8.
So it happened that up until 1993, all Disney games on Nintendo’s Game Boy, NES, as well as the SNES were solely published and often times developed by Capcom with the last game in-line being Disney’s Aladdin (1993) for the SNES. After this, Virgin Interactive, which had already made games for the Walt Disney Company on the SEGA Mega Drive, took over9. And even though the partnership with the Japanese developer ended a long time ago, many of the games that came to be during this period are arguably among the best on the classic Nintendo home consoles. DuckTales (1989) in particular rang popular even decades after its initial release.
While giving context to these old games is pretty neat for trivia fans, it doesn’t quite answer why Capcom suddenly rereleased these 30-year-old games. If I had to make a guess, it might be that this collection, that came out in 2017, stands in direct connection to the reboot of the hit cartoon DuckTales, also from 2017, but after this bundle. Hype around the Duck franchise was first reinvigorated back in 2013 when developer Way Forward remade the original DuckTales (1989) game that originally came out on the NES and called it DuckTales Remastered (2013). Back then, Capcom producer Rey Jimenez said that they thought about including the original title in the remake, but weren’t able to10. Then in 2015, a reboot of the cartoon was officially announced with its cast then revealed in 201611. But since these events are already a bit in the past, putting the original game out there once again is a comparatively inexpensive tool for all involved to remind people of the upcoming series. Yet, while the game from 1989 is still surprisingly popular, it is also too short to sell on its own nowadays, which is where The Disney Afternoon Collection comes into play.
To be honest, when looking at this collection, probably everyone asked themselves why they should buy this instead of just downloading the ROMs for free somewhere on the internet. The answer to that is what developer Digital Eclipse and publisher Capcom call “a boutique package for fans and collectors”.
In his presentation during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2016, the head of restoration at Digital Eclipse, Frank Cifaldi, pointed out the necessity of preserving old media and how it can be a viable business model12. After all, literature, film, along with music are not only preserved for future generations, but are in fact converted to standardized formats that can then be played on basically any contemporary device and be sold in stores, no matter their age. The rise of DVDs in the early 2000s even saw the inclusion of director commentary together with other extras for movies. It is therefore a shame that video games often don’t receive this treatment and that old titles that went out of print, well … went out of print. You can’t buy them any longer. This happened in part, so Cifaldi in his talk, because some companies rallied against the creation of an industry standard to preserve old games and make them accessible across platforms.
Digital Eclipse thusly attempts to tackle this issue and bring out old productions not through emulation, but by having the games work through C++, which allows them to not only run like they did on old consoles (they even have filter options to mimic old CRT television sets), but also modify them to introduce new features. During casual play of The Disney Afternoon Collection, for example, each game can be rewound to remedy any of the player’s mistakes. Additionally, they all come with an added boss rush and time attack where one’s performance will not just be uploaded to the leaderboards, but also be watchable for other players.
These added modes are whole flurry of fun and add a lot of variety to what would otherwise be a collection of very short, old video games. It was especially enjoyable to check the playthroughs of other people to see how they overcame certain hurdles. However, while playing I noticed one thing askew with the casual mode: Even though being able to rewind in the casual mode definitely makes Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin a whole lot easier to play, the ability also drastically alters the way all of these games will be approached altogether.
Since I could just undo any slip-up, I didn’t have the need for 1-ups, continues, or health pick-ups during my first playthrough. Consequently, I naturally didn’t even think about looking for bonus stages or hidden trinkets. Because of that, I missed out on a piece of a treasure map needed to get the good ending in DuckTales 2 and didn’t see the bonus stages in the other games. Kids in the NES days would have definitely found these though, because they might have relied on them to get through the games in the first place. It thusly would have been nice if The Disney Afternoon Collection had an achievement similar to the “A Few Gears Loose” one in DuckTales Remastered (2013), which serves as a sign post to that directs players to the game’s bonus stage.
The Disney Afternoon Collection also comes with the soundtracks to each title, a museum where players can look at the original U.S. American and Japanese box art for the games, an Odds & Ends section that has some neat trivia for each production, as well as the Pencil to Pixel segment which shows what Disney concept art Capcom used as reference, and Original Artwork for each game.
The collection ran perfectly fine on my toaster, a 32-bit Windows Vista PC with an Intel Core 2 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT graphics card, 3070 MB RAM and DirectX 11. The menu itself runs at 60 frames per second (fps) but slows down to around 30 while playing the games themselves. Though this might seem odd, it is probably because NTSC television sets ran at around 29.97 fps while PAL and SECAM ran at 25 fps. The framerate within the games also drops wherever it would drop on an old NES console, which definitely speaks for the developers attempt to deliver an authentic retro experience. Sadly, when turning on the filters to mimic an old TV set, the framerate drops down to 10 fps, which is a bit of an issue for who would like to check out how blurry everything looked like back when people had to walk up hill both ways on their ways to school and back.
Depending on one’s personal preference, the aspect ratio can also be switched between 4:3 and 16:9. Furthermore, a cartoony frame around the games can be toggled on and off. At first I thought that the borders looked goofy … … … (get it?) but they later on grew on me since they really do look nice.
The “emulator” also allows players to freely switch between keyboard and gamepad, although, not all controllers work effortlessly. I was lucky that I played with a wired Xbox 360 controller and did not run into any issues. The collection further offers two-player local co-op and indeed two of the games, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2 were specifically designed to be played with another person (the other games are single player titles). Yet, at time of writing, these game will only let me play co-op if both players use a controller (two wired 360 gamepads in my case).
If both want to play using the keyboard, or if one wishes to use a keyboard while the other prefers a gamepad, player 2’s character just won’t move. The game also won’t let player 2 access the button remapping menu, so that they cannot adjust the controls. Lastly, when going to the menu by pressing the RB button on the gamepad, the menu tends to jump to the filter setting, which is a minor bother, so it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. A much bigger concern should be that the second player ought to be able to join and remap their keys, even if both people share a keyboard. Regular emulators can do so and that is definitely a point on their side.
As mentioned in the introduction, seeing as this review is already rather long, each game will get its own dedicated review which will be linked to here:
- Gao Li Reviews DuckTales
- Gao Li Reviews Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
- Gao Li Reviews TaleSpin
- Gao Li Reviews Darkwing Duck
- Gao Li Reviews DuckTales 2
- Gao Li Reviews Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2
Fans of platformers, Disney nerds, 90s kids, and retro fans eat your hearts out. The games themselves were already solid gold for the most part, but the way they were packaged in this is almost superb. It really is a neat “boutique package” and definitely something worth looking at. The only downside is that the 2-player local co-op doesn’t work properly unless both players use a controller. That’s definitely something that should be fixed. Beyond that, this is clearly how you do rereleases. Here’s to hoping that the Disney-Capcom-Digital Eclipse trio will do another one, maybe this time including Goof Troop (1993), Aladdin (1993),and definitely the most important title: The Little Mermaid (1991).
The Disney Afternoon Collection is available for U.S. $19.99 or your local counterpart and is available on Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
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.
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- Capcom Database, Aladdin, Capcom Database, accessed 2017 March 6, retrieved from http://capcom.wikia.com/wiki/Aladdin
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