The Disney Afternoon is a nostalgia mainstay in the hearts and minds of many young people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. As the block progressed it evolved, becoming more focused on action-centric programming after spending a few years showing childish tripe like The Wuzzles. The success of Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers and (most of all) DuckTales gave us yet another entry in the Disney Afternoon lineup: Darkwing Duck. A superhero-inspired comic animated action series, DW was exciting funny and honestly still holds up today in my not-so-humble opinion. It is at least as good of a series as DuckTales and as a kid it was easily my favorite until the premiere of Animaniacs a few years later.
As far as NES adaptations of animated series go, Darkwing Duck is one of the absolute best. After from the masterful DuckTales, it is arguably the second-best Disney game on the NES. Obviously taking its inspiration from my favorite NES franchise, Mega Man, Darkwing Duck is a platformer shooter where the player makes use of a variety of weapons and skills as well as a handy grappling hook that lets you hang from and grab onto certain objects in the world. The grapple is what makes this game stand out. It sort of blends a simplified version of the climbing element from Capcom’s Bionic Commando with Mega Man-style platforming and sets those in multi-tiered, complex levels like the ones found in Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers.
The strongest element of Darkwing Duck on the NES for me is the nostalgia factor. Instead of doing what a lot of these licensed games do and give us vague interpretations of the worlds that inspired them, DW takes its characters and ideas straight from the series. You get to duke it out with the most famous villains in the series with one exception: there is a strange absence of DW’s arch-nemesis Negaduck, which I can only attribute to the game’s development overlapping with the introduction of the character, leaving him too new to make the cut. The boss battles are simple-yet-challenging and do well to complement the characteristics of each recognizable supervillain.
As for the music, the soundtrack to Darkwing Duck is only “okay”. Despite being composed by Fujita “Bun Bun” Yasuaki (composer of the spectacular OST for Mega Man 3), Darkwing Duck lacks the memorable character of many of the themes from that game, going for more of a 60’s spy action soundtrack that attempts to recreate the tone of the series and it really doesn’t resonate as well with me as other games, especially when compared to the music from DuckTales. Sound design as a whole is fine, though. The game favors the music over world sound effects, which is common for Capcom, and has the appropriate feel, I just wish the themes had more of a hook.
The graphics, however, are spot-on. Sprites and animations look like the characters and have a lot of expression for NES actors. Animation frames are numerous and attention was paid to give the world a sense that it is lived in, as opposed to just being an obstacle course to traverse on the way to the boss. Also, smart graphical choices like thick outlines and brighter colors do well to distinguish objects in the foreground from those in the back, a marked improvement over the flawed world design in TaleSpin.
In all, Darkwing Duck is an excellent platformer for the NES. It has the right pacing and challenge to be a fun game to learn to speedrun and in that area it has grown steadily in popularity over the last few years. The release on the Disney Afternoon Collection gives it its first official rerelease since its launch on the NES nearly 25 years ago, so it’s easily available for a new generation of players to enjoy! This is good news because since 2014, Darkwing Duck has seen a dramatic spike in price, going from just under $20 to well over $40 in the span of just a few years. There will be some stabilization of this price due to the release of the aforementioned Disney Afternoon Collection but collectors really want this game. It has been in high demand for some time but it is possible to pick it up cheaper (I’ve seen it show up for as low as $10 in recent years) and is definitely worth a look if you are in the market for an exciting platformer to play on your NES hardware and given its accessible design elements, the game is a solid introduction to NES action games for younger audiences today, so it’s a great game to pick up and share with your kids.