The Disney Afternoon Collection PC Review
Since the early days of Atari, console games based on licensed properties would carry the stigma of hastily-made shovelware that sacrificed quality gaming for quickly cashing-in on the latest cartoon or movie fad. Despite the legendary failure of E.T. nearly killing videogames altogether, the 8-bit renaissance brought forth by the NES only increased the frequency of train wreck titles that would swindle many children of their allowances with promised box-art of X-Men, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and anything else that was hot at the time.
Fortunately, fans of Disney’s afternoon syndications were spared from the mediocrity of games made by D-list developers. Indeed, Capcom’s NES output of Disney-approved games may have been one of the biggest factors to help put their name on the videogame map, with Ducktales alone being fondly cited as one of the earliest inspirations for many of today’s modern developers (including Yacht Games’ highly acclaimed 8-bit love-letter Shovel Knight). The partnership between Capcom and Disney would continue forward in the 16-bit era, even as Capcom would put out their own original titles to cement their name in gaming history (including such classic franchises as Street Fighter and Mega Man). For now, this latest collection of legacy titles, from the team behind Mega Man Legacy Collection no less, re-releases the company’s NES output of Disney titles, appropriately naming this collection after The Disney Afternoon (thus gaining nostalgic attention from old-school gamers and classic cartoon lovers alike).
The Disney Afternoon Collection includes six games: Ducktales, Ducktales 2, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers 2, Talespin and Darkwing Duck. For many fans, the first game alone would be enough to entice people, but there is just as much old-school charm and challenge to be found in the other games as well. All six titles are reproduced faithfully, down to their original technical limitations (including slowdown, sound glitches, and so on), which should be particularly good news for anyone unimpressed by the recent Ducktales remake (a solid modern day interpretation, despite complaints that developer Wayforward didn’t just simply remake the original). Aside from the usual screen options, filters, boss rush and time attack modes, the most notable gameplay addition to this collection is the ability to rewind gameplay at any point during each game. Like Rare Replay, the rewind feature can overturn any missed jump, out-of-reach treasure or unfair boss battle as many times as the player desires (or requires).
Regardless of whether the concept of a rewind feature takes the fun out a challenging game, the difficulty of these six titles can potentially break even the most dedicated players, earning the fan-made moniker of “NES Hard”. All the classic killing tricks are here: bottomless pits, unfair enemy placement, fast-moving bosses and a small health bar to boot. In truth, much of the difficulty stems from the technical limitations of these games, including the age-old annoyance of enemies immediately re-spawning when players move back and forth between screens; defeating an enemy on the right corner of the screen to move forward, only to briefly turn back left and running smack-dab into that same resurrected enemy is a common problem that plagued many players back in the day.
Then again, the brutal difficulty is also part of the charm of these classic games, in addition to their aesthetics and faithfulness to their respective source material. Ducktales alone is fondly remembered for its digitized recreations of Scrooge McDuck in addition to his friends, family and foes, not to mention a memorable soundtrack that many people are still humming to this day (theme song included). But what defined the quality of this licensed title was its unique gameplay mechanic in the form of Scrooge’s pogo-stick: despite being able to run, jump and crouch with the best of them, Scrooge cannot harm enemies with his feet alone. Instead, he uses his cane to hop and bounce on top of enemies in addition to spikes and other harmful traps. Scrooge’s cane can also be used to swing at the side of rocks, soccer balls and other nearby objects, causing them to fly in a diagonal arc. With the right aim and timing, Scrooge could use a nearby rock to knock a treasure chest in the air, causing it to also land on an enemy’s head, beating Breath of the Wild’s physics-based gameplay by several decades.
Though not quite as innovative, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers also includes a unique mechanic in the form of lifting and throwing objects to take out enemies. Everything from crates, barrels and even apples can be picked up and thrown multiple directions to knock out enemies from the sides or up above. In two player mode, players can even throw each other, though this often hinders more than it helps, no doubt leading to much arguing and physical retaliation depending who is playing. Talespin is a much more familiar type of game in the form of an on-rails shoot-‘em-up in the vein of Gradius and its ilk. The big difference is that Talespin also gives players the ability to turn Baloo’s plane upside down, allowing him to shoot enemies from his rear as well as reverse the scrolling in most levels. This unique control would have put the game higher in the list of classic side-scrolling shooters were it not for one detracting control flaw: while moving up or down while stationary, Baloo will arc his plane in an angle, which can allow for horizontal shots but frequently gets in the way of targeted shots.
The last game in the collection, not including the sequels to Ducktales and Rescue Rangers, is Darkwing Duck. In what must have been a first, Capcom ended up making their own Mega Man clone before it became an Indie trend decades later. One look at Darkwing Duck’s gameplay and even the most casual observer can see the game’s ties with the Blue Bomber’s traditional gameplay, from the way DW’s multiple weapons work to the behavior of certain enemies and bosses (including a recurring enemy that is by all accounts Sniper Joe with a beak). There’s a bit of Bionic Commando influence as well, with DW being able to latch onto certain platforms to reach higher elevation or to reach hidden power-ups (and even more hidden bonus stages). In truth, Darkwing Duck is just the most noticeable example of the Mega Man influence prevalent in most of the Disney games collected here, with some games going so far as to borrow direct assets from Capcom’s flagship platformer…not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.
In the end, regardless of the varying degrees of innovation, The Disney Afternoon Collection still represents some of the most treasured third party titles of yesteryear, and solid proof that not every licensed game should turn out to be disappointing garbage. That’s a lesson today’s developers should learn, just as this collection should be checked out by nostalgic adults and curious kids alike.