Rediscovering an Old Nemesis - Retro Review: Darkwing Duck GB

Friday, May 6, 2016

While wandering through Goodwill the other day and browsing through the aisles, I came upon their precious locked display cabinet where old gaming goodies sometimes show up. As Goodwill has migrated more of their in demand items onto their auction site,, fewer and fewer of these treasures show up, but on rare occasion an old game or comic might slip through to their display cabinet. That's when my eyes landed on an old and familiar Game Boy cartridge, Darkwing Duck.

My first thought wasn't a friendly one, "THAT fuckin' game!!" Darkwing Duck had been one of the more trying banes of my gaming existence when I was young. It felt (at the time) like I could have learned to fluently speak Mandarin had I spent my time and effort studying instead of trying desperately to master that incensing game.

Remembering all the frustration and pint-sized rage that game induced I found myself curious to try it out again and see if in fact is was as frustrating as a remembered. I picked it up for $4.99 and popped it into my purse with nostalgic glee. Might I now, as a 30 year old grown-ass woman, be able to get past Darkwing Duck's 6 challenging levels to make it to the final boss fight, or would I crumble as I did in youth, met with a mountain I could never surmount?

These screenshots are from the NES version.
To get the Gameboy look, just imagine it dimmer and more green.

Problem number 1 was that I had nothing play the cartridge on. It had been ages since I last owned a Game Boy of any type. So Steve and I took our hunt to Press Start to Play in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho our most local retro game store. They were more than up to the challenge, supplying several varieties of Game Boys in fine working condition, though gently used. We picked up a purple Game Boy Color and a couple other cartridges.

It was hard to suppress my excitement when I first booted up the cartridge. Hearing Darkwing Duck's theme song in tinny 8-bit was transporting. Several things came back to me about the Game Boy itself, as I selected my first level. The D-Pad really is very loose compared to the new DS and modern console controllers, trying to get the ideal angle to view the screen without a backlight can be really difficult, getting a comfortable grip on the awkward rectangle (though considerably lighter than it's predecessor) is really hard to manage, and the view-able screen is so, so tiny (just a mere 1 3/4" by 1 1/2"!).

As for playing Darkwing Duck, I was surprised by how much I remembered about it, though I did have to consult a PDF scan of the manual at one point to recall how to operate the GAS gun Darkwing wields.

The Darkwing Duck game, a platformer, is based on the beloved cartoon series (a spin off of "Duck Tales' and parody of "The Shadow") that I loved as a kid. It was developed by Capcom in 1992 for the NES and ported over to the Game Boy in 1993.  You play as the the Masked Mallard himself, fighting your way through 6 levels and villains as they wreak havoc on St. Canard to finally confront the mastermind of the organized assault, Steel Beak.

The levels and precision needed to successfully complete them is very unforgiving. You have a standard 3 lives and a heart representing your health with 4 quadrants. Your are able to pick up extra health, gas gun power ups and ammo, and the very rare extra lives to help you along. This is a game where failure is expected and required to build up your reflexes and skills, the type of mastery that many older games required of their players, and something that I did not appreciate at all as a youngin'.

It's not a single sitting game and requires experimentation to discover how best to deal with different enemy types and bosses. That experimentation comes at a high cost though, as there is no mechanism to save progress and precious few checkpoints. The game can potentially be played in about half an hour from start to finish, but it requires many play-throughs to get there, a high time cost for such a small game.

I still haven't gotten to the point of mastery for this game and have barely gotten through the first few levels. I've found that though Darkwing Duck is every bit as frustration as I remember, I enjoy it more. This may be because it is part of  re-discovered childhood memory, or perhaps because I have mellowed a bit as a player, or a little of both. No matter the cause, I am glad to have picked it up if only so that I can share my vindicated frustration with my family and friends.