Bytes & Flops 3.22.12: Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck
Posted by Vince Osorio on 03.22.2012
Based on the iconic Looney Tunes short, Duck Amuck is an interactive, uproarious cartoon that doubles as a mini-game collection. But is it worth playing?
For as iconic as the Looney Tunes have been in our culture (though unfortunately less so these days), it's kind of depressing to think that there has yet to be a definitive video game featuring the exploits of Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the crew. Disney has had an insane streak of good-to-excellent games based on intellectual properties that have spanned the original Nintendo to our current generation of consoles, though not without a couple of stinkers in-between ( PK: Out of the Shadows anyone?). The Looney Tunes haven't had the same amount of luck, unfortunately. The games ranged from mediocre knockoffs of more popular titles ( Looney Tunes Racing) to simplistic film tie-ins ( Space Jam) to abhorrent crimes against humanity ( Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal). I've heard some love for the PS1 Looney Tunes titles but I can't say that those are the defining games for the property.
Enter Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck for the Nintendo DS. Based on one of the most beloved (and still riotiously funny) cartoon shorts of all time, developer WayForward has brought you an interactive cartoon that doubles as a kinda neat mini-game collection.
As you can see above, the main conceit of the short is that Daffy's animator is having far too much fun screwing around with him, changing his body, his backgrounds, anything really to set Daffy's gasket off. That's the main gimmick of the game as well. Daffy appears on a blank white screen when you first encounter him, and it's up to you to figure out how to, for lack of a better term, piss him off.
This is the game's biggest strength and (and at times, a weakness). You're thrown into the game with no context whatsoever, so you've got to decide what to do by just interacting with the screen. For example, you can tap at the white screen a bit, causing a tear to appear. Daffy will then berate you, pull out a wad of "duck tape" (and yes, that pun is made abundantly clear when you first encounter it), and cover the tear. You can pull off that tape to enter a mini game, or keep tearing at the screen to enter another one. What makes this work is the seamless transition from cartoon to gameplay. It truly looks and feels like you're interacting with a cartoon in real time. It helps keep the illusion in tact, which is really important in this game specifically.
Most of the mini-games are based on classic Looney Tunes shorts, but like I mentioned before, you're given little to no instructions on how to advance to the next mini-games. Sometimes, you'll have to poke at Daffy's head, which'll allow him to bring out paint buckets. Use the paint buckets to paint Daffy & change his outfit, and you'll relive some classic cartoon moments (Daffy as Robin Hood, as a rootin', tootin' cowboy in the Wild West) along the way. Some games require different achievements to be met but are worth the pay off. For example, you'll have to unlock the ability to play the "piano" mini-game, which is loosely based on this segment from a classic cartoon short:
Other times, you'll just have to not do anything and wait for Daffy to talk. When he talks, an eraser will occasionally pop up, which will allow you to erase his beak or his body. This adds a Drawn To Life segment of the game where you use the stylus to draw and color in a new body or beak for Daffy (or in the cowboy segment of the game, a trusty steed) which will be used in the mini-game that proceeds. It adds a neat do-it-yourself aspect to the game, but it's only for those particular games, which is kind of a bummer.
Screenshot from the original cartoon, or the video game? You decide! (It's the latter.)
My personal favorite parts of Duck Amuck deal with the self-aware video games that are introduced throughout. Since Daffy is breaking the fourth wall by talking to you, the player, he is fully aware that he's the star of his own video game. So he asks you whether the game should be an adventure title, a contempoary game "with all those polygons" or a "brain training" game. Needless to say, the games Daffy thinks of are represented in extremely funny parodies. The first of these games is a hilarious Adventure rip-off, complete with Atari 2600 graphics, an eeriely accurate fake Atari title page on the top screen of the DS, and Daffy in the shape of the weird dragon/duck enemy from that title. The second game puts Daffy in a Tempest type polygonal game, and the last is a pretty funny Cooking Mama type game with a fake Brain Age overlay, replete with a polygonal, floating Bugs Bunny game (as opposed to that of Dr. Kawashima). These games are the highlights of the title, because they get the video game referential humor down pat (something that games like Eat Lead stuggled to do).
Most mini-games are pretty self-explanatory (as they should be, considering you're not given instructions unless you pause the game). Some have you slicing away at multiple Daffy Ducks until they disappear. Others have you swiping cards on the top screen to deal them to players at the bottom screen. The more inventive ones have you use the DS's other special features. The Robin Hood game has Daffy catapulting himself into the air, and you need to keep him airborne by blowing into the DS's microphone. Another really neat game occurs when you put the DS in sleep mode by closing the system. Daffy will warn you of a terrifying monster that only appears when you close the system, and he'll tell you to press the left and right trigger buttons in the right order as to direct Daffy's attacks against the threat. It's really kind of awesome and smile-inducing when you first figure it out. The same can be said for most of the mini-games, really. The more mini-games you beat, the angrier Daffy gets, and when he fills up a temperature meter, he'll blow his gasket, and the credits will roll.
However, the game's biggest problem is that there is just not enough content to fill out the cartridge. There are less than 30 mini-games total, games that'll take you anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes to complete, max. Even still, these are games that you've seen before in titles like Warioware: Touched! or other collections on the DS, just with Looney Tunes window-dressing. It was an absolute accomplishment to fit gorgeous (by DS standards) animation on that tiny cartridge, fully voiced animation, mind you, but at the end of the day, it might take you 2 hours to see all of the content. For a $30 game, that's absolutely doesn't cut it, especially when the games aren't as infinitely re-playable as what you'd find in a WarioWare or Feel the Magic title.
And this game failed because?
Like I had mentioned before, the Looney Tunes brand was (and to an extent, still kind of is) in shambles at the time this game was released. The last big project for the franchise was the box office bomb Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and most of the characters were stuck in poorly conceived cartoon spin-offs. The games weren't selling, and Duck Amuck's high price point, mediocre reviews and low re playability kind of buried the game before it saw release. I never saw any marketing for the game, only hearing about it during an episode of The 1Up Show years back, so needless to say, this game was not about to saturate the market anytime soon.
I love the idea of Duck Amuck, it's an absolute accomplishment on the DS. I don't like it as a game. I definitely don't like it as a full priced game. With the advent of digital e-shops on the rise, and the PlayStation Vita/ Nintendo 3DS making real cases for digital-only titles, I think this is the right time for a downloadable Duck Amuck redux. A $7-10 interactive cartoon with a handful of mini-games is the absolute sweet spot, especially for a game with laughs that put blockbuster comedies to shame. I can't recommend Duck Amuck as anything more than a rental. It's really not worth your time otherwise, since you'll play it once and be done with it. But as an experience, it's a remarkable one, one that will hopefully stand the test of time and show that the DS was a more than capable system.