Developer: Digital Eclipse
Publisher: Capcom, Disney Interactive Studios
Genre: Action, Platform
Platforms: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Once upon a time, Disney outsourced its IPs to Capcom in order to break into the newly resurrected video game market. Far from being the rushed license games we used to see back in the day, these were all considered must-plays for one reason or another. But the nostalgia have enough appeal for what is a straight port of NES titles that is The Disney Afternoon Collection?
The games follow the adventures of a number of anthropomorphized characters. There are some settings that take place in haunted houses and refers to vampires. However, in keeping with the tradition of both Disney and Nintendo, these are designed to portray these types of characters as enemies as well as making them cartoonish in nature.
Enemies are jumped on, similar to Super Mario Bros., or attacked with projectiles, often causing them to fall off the screen. There is reference to the use of weapons; for example Darkwing Duck uses a “gas gun” and projectile weapons are fired from gun batteries and planes in Talespin. While no graphic representations are made, characters are presumed to die when they are removed from the game. There is also the opportunity to daze characters by throwing objects at them during multiplayer games of Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers.
Drug / Alcohol Abuse
There are references to alcohol, confined to the background images in levels such as Fat Cat’s Casino. This is also the location of a tobacco reference, as the main antagonist attacks you by flicking cigar ash at you.
The games all follow similar themes, whether they be fighting crime or adventuring for treasure, however the characters also provide strong positive role models. Each game portrays the main characters as valuing their friends and family above all else and their moral compasses are aligned with removing evil from the world.
Back in the early 1990s, there were two things I did that drove my parents mad. The first was me waking up early on a Saturday morning, pouring a bowl of sugary cereal and sitting in front of Saturday morning cartoons. The second was playing any and every NES game that I could get my hands on. Unfortunately for my dad, not much has changed since then. So, early one Saturday, I came across The Disney Afternoon Collection, and I immediately downloaded and began to play it.
The game itself is, in fact, six titles in one. Spanning five years of collaboration between Capcom and Disney, the companies managed to merge the platforming expertise of the former riding a wave of success with Mega Man with four of the most popular of the Disney Afternoon franchises in the latter: DuckTales, Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck. It would be naïve, however, to assume this is just a simple port to a much more powerful console as each game comes with new modes and mechanics.
In order to do the review justice, I plan to look first at the new mechanics and game modes that encompass all six titles before looking in depth at each one individually. With that in mind, there are two new features added for this release. Boss rush pits you against the end of level boss for each stage, timing you as you battle your way through. A loss of a character adds time onto your final score which, if good enough, is displayed online in the form of a leaderboard for international bragging rights.
The other game mode is almost identical in its design. A time trial mode does exactly what it says on the tin, timing your progress through each level and accumulating this to compare you with others. Again, a leaderboard system provides further bragging rights for the successful individual.
The final feature is the rewind button. In a world where games had to be short to fit onto the comparatively tiny game cartridges, there were two ways to ensure value for money: lots of very short levels or, more commonly, increasing the difficulty. Because of this, completing a platform game was often considered a badge of honor, but it also meant that games took time to complete and game over screens were often rage-inducing. With the rewind feature, players can enjoy the challenge that these games originally provided with the safety net of knowing that a poor choice can be easily corrected.
In terms of the graphics, all the games stay true to their original designs with little done to change the overall look, keeping true to the original games. However, there is the addition of a number of filters designed to mimic older CRT monitors and size options to truly relive the NES days gone by.
The first title of the six, in chronological order, is DuckTales. The crown jewel in Capcom’s NES prowess. DuckTales has had such a strong following that Wayforward produced an HD remake of the game based on the demand from fans. The original however has not lost its charm, ponging through the five levels (the Amazon, the Himalayas, an African mine, Transylvania and even the moon) like a duck-blur, your goal is to collect as much treasure as possible while looking for a specific prize. At the end of each level is a boss protecting said treasure who is usually defeated by using Scrooge McDuck’s trademark cane-bouncing. Once you have collected all the treasures, you have another trip to Transylvania to defeat two old foes of the series, Magika De Spell and Flintheart Glomgold.
The real draw of DuckTales isn’t the race cars, or the lasers, nor the airplanes but the simple Metroid-like layout to the maps, each containing little nuances that makes replayability an appealing prospect while solving mysteries or re-writing histories. The audio hasn’t changed from its chiptune beginnings and provides a beautiful nostalgic accompaniment.
Sometimes, some crimes go slipping through the cracks. But while enjoying Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, you and a friend can pick up the slack. Like Bubble Bobble before it, this was an early adopter of cooperative play. Almost immediately my nostalgia was triggered, memories of picking up my younger brother’s character and throwing him off the edge when he irritated me or throwing a crate at him to stun him in place. The port has stayed true to tradition and two players can control either Chip or his brother Dale as you travel through a number of levels to reach Fat Cat’s Casino. For part of the game, you are trying to save your friend Gadget Hackwrench who has been kidnapped by Fat Cat. Later on, he escapes and your goal shifts to chasing him down, choosing which order you complete each individual level along the way.
Each level pays homage to a different episode from the series, such as the kitchen where you are fighting the aliens from the planet Fleeblebrox who will transform into whichever character you are currently playing. There are also cameos from Monterey Jack, who chases cheese in order to open up new areas, and Zipper, who gives you a brief stint of invincibility. Fans of the show will love reminiscing about their favorite episodes and those too young to remember may be tempted to learn more.
While the music isn’t as memorable as in DuckTales, the songs will stay in your head for a while after playing and the rendition of the original theme tune is incredibly catchy to anyone who enjoys chiptune music.
Next up is TaleSpin. Baloo takes on the role of courier for Higher for Hire, again with cameos in the opening cut scenes from Rebecca Cunningham and her daughter Molly, usually telling Baloo to watch out for Don Carnage and his band of space pirates as you work through a variety of stages.
The beauty of TaleSpin is that it is both a shooter and a platformer due to one minor alteration in its gameplay. Baloo can flip the plane upside down which causes the plane and its associated camera to reverse with it. This is both innovative and necessary as it allows you to collect items you miss by following a specific path.
Items are vital in this game as in the first few levels you are given both a weak plane and barrage of enemy fire to deal with. At the end of each level, you are treated to an upgrade screen, hosted by your mechanic Wildcat. The money you generate from collecting items and delivering your cargo can be used to upgrade your plane in terms of the amount of damage it can take or the rate in which it can fire for example.
TaleSpin is a perfect example of the need for a rewind function. The enemies in game send such a stream of projectiles your way that dodging all of them is a challenge at best. This is reflected in the boss battles where some, such as the baseball, send a regular pattern toward you which can be dodged but others require some knowledge of quantum mechanics. The rewind function, however, allows players to complete these difficult portions without running out of continues and having to start the whole game over.
Darkwing Duck is our final franchise. In a similar vein to DuckTales and Chip and Dale, you are able to choose the order in which you complete levels, having Launchpad fly you to your destination. The levels play similarly to Mega Man, which is understandable considering the original developers. However, unlike Mega Man, Darkwing can use ledges and platforms to suspend himself above the ground. This allows for more challenging platforming moments.
Darkwing uses his trademark gas gun to attack enemies, sending circular projectiles while using his cape to deflect some damage from enemies. During the levels, you can collect upgrades to the gas gun that fire arrows, multiple gas pellets, and thunderbolts. Once you’ve cleared the three levels, another three are presented before the final confrontation in F.O.W.L’s floating fortress between Darkwing and Steelbeak.
The final two games are sequels to the more successful of the four franchises and are considered hidden gems. Both DuckTales 2 and Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers 2 were released around the same time as the Super Nintendo, and Super Mario World. These were released release so late in the NES’s life that they might have been undiscovered by those who had moved on to new systems.
Both games aim to build on the mechanics and themes from their previous incarnations and to a degree, they do this well. Playing them feels as though they are expansions of the previous rather than new games entirely and there is an increase in the desire to tell stories through the in game dialogue rather than a few screens of exposition.
Overall these games are a fun trip down memory lane for any nostalgic gamer. However, their level of challenge is high and often have a steep learning curve synonymous with platformers of the time. Newer players should take heart in the addition of save states and the rewind function whereas hardcore and speed run fans can challenge themselves further with the leaderboard functions. Personally I enjoyed the experience but I would have liked to see an HD filter similar to the recent release of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap to just add that last little bit of polish.
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The Bottom Line
The Disney Afternoon Collection is a fun and beautiful piece of retro NES nostalgia, showing that there was a time when tie-in games weren't something to be avoided.