When I look back to my method of choosing games growing up—either with the questionable wisdom of Nintendo Power or the timeless strategy of finding the coolest cover art—I really feel for the kids of today. Licensed games have always been a thing, but at least the choices were narrowed down a bit in the 8- and 16-bit days. Now kids and parents alike have to deal with mounds of shovelware across all platforms, and most licensed material remains at best playable and at worst putrid, with little exception outside of the heavy hitters. While licensed games weren’t necessarily better as a whole in the past, there was a time during which you could count on at least one thing: Disney and Capcom were a golden combination.
The jump in quality was evident early on. Compare something like Mickey Mousecapade (1987) to DuckTales (1989) and you’ll see a major leap in design. While the former is actually a pretty fun little platformer, the latter is seen by many as the high water mark for Disney and Capcom’s collaborative efforts. DuckTales moves beyond the simple run and jump technique of most platformers, instead introducing a clever pogo cane mechanic that allows Scrooge McDuck to bound about the world and safely stomp on any enemy that gets in his way. It’s a perfect example of a mechanic that’s easy to pick up but quite difficult to master, proving that there’s more to the game than colorful levels and unforgettable music.
A year later Capcom busted out another platformer, this time based on the Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers cartoon. Rescue Rangers is even easier than DuckTales, but it’s the one I tend to revisit the most to this day. Composer Harumi Fujita (Bionic Commando, Strider) absolutely killed it on the soundtrack, serving up energetic tunes that perfectly complemented the two-player side-scrolling action. Just listen to this:
Heaps of praise could be tossed on games like this and DuckTales for their music alone, and I wouldn’t blame you if you took a time out from this to open up a separate tab and roll a playlist of all the accompanying jams.
Both DuckTales and Rescue Rangers received sequels, though neither are remembered as fondly by most as the originals. Disney and Capcom didn’t exactly fade out with the NES, thankfully. While Sega was busy with fun outings like Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse—which recently had a remake of its own released on consoles and PC—Capcom was creating a sprawling adventure in the form of Disney’s Magical Quest, also, as one might expect, “starring Mickey Mouse.” Full of fun costume-changing powers, this is the kind of stuff Warren Spector wishes he could have captured in the comparatively dismal Epic Mickey games.
This magical matchup didn’t last forever, even when the two were still producing games together. For every Ducktales or Chip ‘n Dale there was something awful like Adventures in the Magic Kingdom—seriously, have you tried playing this since you were a kid?—and the sequels steadily declined. With that in mind, it’s easy to assume even the good examples were merely a result of an easily entertained child’s twisted concept of enjoyment. Even for those who still play these games annually, is your love just a lingering product of blind nostalgia?
If developer WayForward (Contra 4, Double Dragon: Neon) and Capcom have anything to say about it, the answer is no… yes… maybe? It’s impossible to be entirely certain when your childhood is a kiddie pool overflowing with similar memories, but the recently released HD remake, DuckTales Remastered, certainly echoes the sentiment that platformers like this one, licensed or not, are simply well-made games with solid mechanics, controls, and level design. Even with the original DuckTales voice cast in place to constantly remind you HEY, this is from those wondrous days of enviable youth, there’s plenty of joy to be had as an adult beyond whatever deep recesses of one’s brain is tickled by phrases like “bless me bagpipes.”
In a time when one of the best Disney game experiences is a world-hopping adventure that mixes Walt’s characters up with angsty folks from the Final Fantasy world, it wouldn’t hurt to see some of that Capcom magic come back for a little something lighter on the side. Maybe DuckTales Remastered will inspire more remakes—or perhaps something new—but either way it’s nice to know that we’ll always have that magical, if brief, period in which everything seemed to click.