Saturday Crapshoot: Duck Tales
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, a Quest for Gold... and no, this isn't the NES Duck Tales version that's about to get a fancy remake. It's the other one. The forgotten one.
Life is like a retro game
Here in Duck Tales
Racecars, lasers, aeroplanes
They're all. Elsewhere.
But it's not a mystery.
Arcade and platform games and the PC took quite a while to make friends, and even familiar names like Megaman didn't so much make the jump from their home consoles as trip right over the edge and land hard on their faces. When people talk about the Duck Tales game, they think of the NES version, in which Scrooge McDuck bounces all over the world on a cane turned pogo stick to retrieve treasure from the Amazon, the Moon and a few other places, which is deservedly considered one of the era's better licensed games. Admittedly, there's a bit of grandfather-clausing in there as far as the pogo stick goes. It's hard to imagine anything similar simply being so casually added to a license these days...
This Duck Tales though isn't that game, but the version for Amiga and DOS - one that on the one hand was truer to the cartoon, but on the other has been mostly forgotten for reasons of being terrible. The DOS version, anyway. There's a chance the Amiga version was better, and at the very least it did offer better graphics, a few snippets of speech, and a version of the theme not played on the PC speaker - the only musical device in history designed to answer the question "what would happen if a robot could fart." Every game that ever used it became an unwitting advert for the SoundBlaster card.
The gist of this one is that both Scrooge McDuck and arch-rival Flintheart Glomgold are competing to be "Duck Of The Year" in Dime Magazine, with the winner going to whichever one of them can gather the most money in a month. This being Duck Tales, neither plans to do that with boring things like opening a new factory to capitalise on a suddenly noticed gap in the toilet freshener sector, but by travelling around the world to countries with very loose laws, stealing their stuff, smuggling it out of the country, and then throwing it into a massive Money Bin so that nobody else gets to benefit from it. This of course doesn't stop Scrooge claiming that he plans to win "Fair And Square", and nor does the fact that his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie actually end up doing most of the work in clear defiance of child labour laws. Really, if Glomgold wants to win this, he really just needs to slip the cops a few thousand bills.
Bills, because he's a duck, you see.
A big pile of blood-dripping bills, ripped from homeless ducks, because threats work better with props.
He could also just have Scrooge assassinated by a sniper.
Much like the NES version, everything starts with a map. Instead of just five levels though, The Quest For Gold has (counts) loads. They're all split between four basic gametypes though, none particularly fun. The best of them - slightly - is the flight game, in which Launchpad has to get Scrooge and co to their destination through an obstacle course of comic disasters, and often race Glomgold to the destination. If Glomgold get there first, he steals the treasure. If unopposed, it's just a question of getting to the end in one piece to avoid losing a couple of days to repairing the plane. The plane. Singular. Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, won't spring for a second plane on a worldwide tour to collect diamonds the size of his skull. Just saying. This is not exactly a deep understanding of risk vs. reward, financially speaking. Nor was buying a plane so fragile that it sometimes bounces off clouds...
The most common games are cave exploration, in which the whole gang wanders around with a flaming torch to collect gems while being hunted by an evil mummy, and platforming awfulness which is awful. In these, Scrooge's three nephews are treated as extra lives, with the Beagle Boys dropping anvils on their heads, rolling boulders tripping them up, and ascent handled by means of the worst grappling hook in gaming history. It finding its target is so rare, it's actually considered a harbinger of the end times, heralding the start of of an astronomic alignment that will bring doom unto the world and cause the nations of the world to cry a single note of fear before melting before the gaze of Bal Harathamagog.
Also, the controls are terrible, especially in the jungle levels. Those also lose a million points for forgetting something important about ducks - that ducks can swim. Luckily, humans can facepalm.
The other mini-game involves taking pictures of animals, so the least said about it the better.
Where Duck Tales: The Quest For Gameplay gets weirder though is back in the office, with the two other ways of making money. The first one... remember that this is the story of a duck whose idea of financial smartyness is putting all of his money into a big money bin, putting a giant dollar sign on the end, and then being surprised when people keep breaking into it... is to play the stock market. Yes, you can travel to Ali Baba's Cave or the Whatsamatterhorn, steal their relics, and then put the profits towards shares in the likes of Flubber and Hog And Duck Ice-Cream. Also Dime Magazine, which rather suggests that the best way to finish this game would be to buy all the shares in it and simply demand Scrooge be declared Duck Of The Year on pain of the whole editorial team being fired. But you can't do that.
If this sounds like an odd way of making money in a game... well, actually it's pretty smart. In fact, it feels distinctly like Scrooge's best plan would just be to invest some of the money in his Money Bin and hope that Glomgold returns from treasure hunting with a stomach full of tapeworms, or possibly goes native somewhere around China and ends his life as a Peking Duck. At the very least, it's better than the alternative, which is diving into Scrooge's money bin for a random chance of finding a rare coin or a ticking off for wasting time money-swimming when there are completely irrelevant ego-masturbation projects to be working on. After all, it's not as if Scrooge has even bet his fortune on the outcome of the contest, or anything is at stake for anyone. He just wants his picture on a magazine.
Really, we're only one step away from a game about Bill Gates peeing on the poor here; one where you get bonus points for only passing on the ones who happen to be on fire and screaming for relief.
Quite a big step, yes. Maybe involving seven league boots. But still only one.
Or maybe that's just what the game wants you to think. Maybe secretly, Scrooge knows that Glomgold has a bigger game in mind; that once he has the magazine cover, it will give him the publicity boost he needs to start working towards his ultimate goal - Project ARMAGEDDON. The richest ducks and maddest duck scientists will be drawn to his downy malevolence, unwillingly donating their money and brains to a giant laser grid with one target in mind - the Earth's crust. As the world cowers, Glomgold presses the button and the shaking begins; shaking that turns the sky a Satanic red and rains blood upon the unbelievers. The land cracks, a scream emerging as Bal Harathamagog himself, lord flayer of the elder gods, rises to take his true glory with his last apostle by his side. Maybe that's what Scrooge has been fighting to stop, as part of a war so terrifying that he's willing to risk his own flesh and blood, and more importantly, his money, simply for the chance to avert the global catastrophe.
Yes. Yes, that would explain everything. Justify everything.
I'd better check.