When you’re checking out the lists of top NES games made by various publications and websites, there’s one title that’ll be awfully consistent in a lot of top 10’s and top 20’s. That game, of course, is Duck Tales, developed and published by Capcom in 1990 throughout North America, Japan, and Europe. It might not rank #1 for a lot of folks, after all it has some stiff competition, but if you narrowed that list down to licensed games, I’m willing to bet it would top the chart for just about everyone.
And with good reason too! Duck Tales provided me with a lot of enjoyment as a kid and fan of the show growing up, and while it’s certainly not the longest game out there, with an overall completion time bordering on an hour or less, it’s just a really fun and remarkable experience on Nintendo’s original console. Part of that comes from the showy graphics, which featured lovingly rendered 8-bit versions of the TV show cast, with some pretty large sprites to boot and a great use of the limited color palette on the NES.
Another part of it comes from the stage design, which is far more open ended than you might expect. I’d venture to say a lot of that is thanks to the big Capcom franchise that came before Duck Tales, which was Mega Man, released in 1987. There’s a whole lot of Mega Man’s design sensibility found in Duck Tales, like the open ended stage select that allows you to choose what order you tackle the levels in. There are also certain areas that are blocked off from access unless different requirements are met, and boss fights that start off in more enclosed spaces and have very set patterns to memorize and exploit.There’s not a lot known about the staff behind Duck Tales creation, other than Kenji Inafune of Mega Man fame was a graphic designer for the title, and Tokuro Fujiwara (Ghosts n’ Goblins creator) is listed as Producer. Composer credit goes to Hiroshige Tonomura, who wasn’t employed with Capcom for very long, and jumped over to Taito shortly after the release of Duck Tales.
And the loss of Tonomura for Capcom is kind of a shame, considering how great the soundtrack to Duck Tales is. Duck Tales is home to one of the most iconic 8-bit tracks, the Moon theme that plays throughout the level of the same name. It’s a catchy as hell melody that’s instantly recognizable for anyone that grew up with this particular game.
It’s also unfortunate to note that this is one of those games that will probably never get a Virtual Console release, as I’m sure the licensing involved is a nightmare. It is easily one of the best platformers on the NES that’s not actually published or created by the Nintendo themselves, and is certainly one of the top licensed games of all time. It paved the way for a slew of great platformers themed around Disney titles for Capcom, with 8-bit releases like Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, and even the 16-bit Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.
Also, thankfully, it’s not particularly hard to find out in the wild, and won’t cost you a pretty penny to pick up. Which might be disappointing to Uncle Scrooge, but it’s a boon to everyone that loves revisiting the games of their youth. There’s little as satisfying as picking up an old game and coming to realize that it’s pretty much as great as you remember it, and Duck Tales is certainly one of those experiences.