There was a time that Walt Disney thrived in the world of gaming. This is part and parcel due to their partnership with Capcom at the time that created some of the best classics money could buy. As result we saw several Walt Disney games in succession being regarded as some of the best NES games ever released, and Darkwing Duck was one of ’em.
Based on the cartoon from the early 90s, Darkwing Duck is your typical action platformer where you get to play as the hero himself. At the time of release the game was aimed at kids, but thanks to the difficulty spikes it quickly became something that older players enjoyed. Make no mistake, 25 years later and the game is still as challenging as it was back then. In fact, unless you’re a super child this is a game you stay far away from as a kid.
Let’s get dangerous!
As with most NES games the plot in Darkwing Duck is really shallow. Your task as Darkwing Duck is to protect your city from the fearsome five and their leader, Stealbeak, in their uprising of destruction. Beat all six and you’ll save your city! Yes, that is it. To help Darkwing Duck get to the various areas in his city (St. Canard) he has Launchpad McQuack to fly him to the nearest drop-off zone. At first you only have three stages to choose from, but you’ll ultimately make your way to seven stages in total.
Darkwing Duck plays and feels very similar to the Megaman titles, which makes sense as it’s been developed based off the Mega Man 5 engine. In this particular case, Darkwing Duck must use his gas gun to take down enemies. The gun can only shoot left and right, as result you can’t shoot enemies above you unless you jump up to their height. It can get a little frustrating as the game is tough as it is. There are pickups that upgrades your gas gun with thunder, heavy and arrow bullets, but these come in limited supply. Die, which you do often, and you’ll lose any pickups you might have gained. Darkwing Duck can also use his cape to reflect some attacks, but it’s something you’ll learn by trial and error by pressing up on the D-Pad. That’s just the start of it. You’ll also have to deal with outrageous checkpoints.
Darkwing Duck plays and feels very similar to the Megaman titles, which makes sense as it’s been developed based off the Mega Man 5 engine.
I am the terror that flaps in your NES!
Dying in the first minute of the game is not an unlikely event. It’s very challenging and checkpoints are far apart. The platforming is exceptionally precise, but it’s the ability to hook yourself on to platforms in mid-air that becomes the real cause of frustration. To acquire that very desirable extra life or weapon upgrade you’ll have to platform your way through some hard-to-reach areas and later in the game the ‘hard-to-reach’ platforming becomes standard practice. Combine that with pretentious enemy positioning (and those bastard checkpoints) and you’re left requiring pin-point accuracy to pass an area. No, I can’t see this being any fun for a kid. Thanks to it being an 8-bit game the enemies all have patterns, and this is its saving grace.
The more you play Darkwing Duck, the more you get to understand the pattern at play and the more you’ll improve your experience. The seven stages on offer will last you just over an hour if you know what you’re doing. In reality, you’ll likely spend over five hours trying to beat all that’s there, along with the boss fights that’ll take time to perfect. Graphically the game has aged quite well and the soundtrack isn’t quite as good as something you would have experienced in DuckTales or Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, but it’s still good enough to have you bop to the music.
If you’re after a challenge on the NES you’ll find that here. Darkwing Duck might seem like the impossible terror that flaps in the night, but give it the time it deserves and it’ll quack its way right into your library of classics.
(Darkwing Duck is also available on the PS4 and Xbox One via the Disney Afternoon Collection, and comes with a much-required rewind function.)