Critical Intel

Critical Intel
D-D-D-Danger! Watch Behind You

Robert Rath | 4 Jul 2013 16:00
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ducktales remastered 7

Having scaled the peaks of the Himalayas and despoiled the Amazon basin, Scrooge literally decides to shoot for the moon. Scrooge is ideally suited to the harsh lunar environment, symbolized by the fact that he needs not wear a helmet. Space seems to suit the old duck in a way Earth never did. Perhaps his soul feels a kinship with the Spartan emptiness of its surface, a sense that the desolation inside him has taken shape in a physical manifestation. Perhaps he sees a new, fresh world to conquer. Most likely it is the great void of space that excites him - after all, even a Money Bin has walls, but the black, endless universe gives him the perfect vessel to fill with his greed: vast, empty, infinitely expanding. Without making contact on behalf of Earth, he sets to work beating alien intelligences with his cane, set to subjugate their unfamiliar race in the same way he subjugated the Amazonian tribes.

Having conquered the known world, Scrooge takes on another obstacle: his own mortality. He is no longer a young duck, and like all elders he struggles against the inevitability of his own demise - even more terrifying for him, since it means leaving his coveted riches in the hands of relatives that may lose it through incompetence or neglect. Unable to face this intangible terror, he instead travels to Transylvania to battle the living dead themselves. He destroys momento mori like the ambling skeletons, knocking them away with a golf swing to show his youthful virility. Ghosts do not unnerve him. He strips mummies bare of their bandages - a particularly potent conquest, since Scrooge likely wishes he, like the pharaohs of Egypt, could take his gold to the afterlife. In his fight against death he loses his nephews to kidnapping and leaves Webby alone in a dangerous place, but he defeats the castle's undying master.

Finally, in a desperate attempt to stop Scrooge's rampage, Magica De Spell attacks him with mirrors hoping that they might trigger self-reflection and contrition in the old miser. She fails. Scrooge the robber baron defeats Magica and outpaces his rival Flintheart to the final treasure, winning the accolades of the world press and the misplaced affection of the nephews he continually leads into harm's way.

Now some would say that all of these things are perfectly above-the-board and normal. They might claim that there is absolutely no ludonarrative dissonance in DuckTales, because all of these things - the enemy animals, child sidekicks, kidnappings, and exotic locales - are simply conventions of platforming games and Disney adventure stories. Or they'd point out that Scrooge doesn't have a helmet on the moon because Capcom simply didn't want to animate one. They might reason that it's a game about a globe-trotting duck who walks around with no pants, made by a company primarily known for developing a game about a robot boy with a cannon for an arm. One might even say it's stretching a point to talk about ludonarrative dissonance in a game that contains only one cutscene, with pretty thin dialogue. Or they might say that this sort of tension is a consequence of a growing medium that hasn't fully learned to tell stories while shaking off old mechanics. Some might even claim that ludonarrative dissonance, though a real thing, has been misapplied and stretched to such a point that the term has become almost meaningless - the cheap, one-size-fits-all suit of game criticism. They'd be wrong though, because I'm completely convinced that in 1989 Capcom knowingly packed DuckTales to the gills with post-colonial deconstructionist narratives and ludonarrative dissonance that's really interesting and makes me look really smart to write about.

DuckTales Remastered gives us the opportunity to revisit and reevaluate this lost work of interactive literature and once again see the tragic Greek heroism of Scrooge McDuck, the Jason of the digital realm. But when we play DuckTales we cannot think restrict its artistry to the screen, because it reaches us. The dark poetry of the theme song tells us as much: "D-D-D-Danger! Watch behind you," it warns. "There's a stranger out to find you." When we play DuckTales, we find that this is indeed true.

The stranger is us.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Austin, Texas. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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