You only get one childhood, so it is equally impossible for me to relate to a generation that spent its afternoons watching Howdy Doody (don’t GIS that) as the current generation that watches Uncle Grandpa when it gets home from school. There was only one cartoon block worth watching when I was a tyke, and that was the Disney Afternoon.
Hell, I can barely type that phrase without hearing the theme song in my head.
In its prime, the Disney Afternoon might have been the most inadvertently video game friendly block of cartoons ever produced. Right from the start, the Gummi Bears’s theme acknowledging “bouncing here and there and everywhere” may as well have described Mario as your average energetic ursine. Ducktales was the story of a duck with unlimited resources and an unquenchable thirst for adventure. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers featured a bunch of woodland creatures exploring the globe in a quest to do good for all furry kind. Talespin saw the lovable Baloo flying around a 1930s pulp world of thrills. And Darkwing Duck was basically “funny Batman”, a concept that, I’m sure, needs no further explanation.
There were other, later Disney Afternoon shows that fit the same “all adventure, all the time” mold, like Aladdin, but the majority tended to veer into the sitcom mold that was popular in primetime: Bonkers, Timon & Pumbaa, Goof Troop, and the dismal Quack Pack were all amusing in their own way, but they couldn’t beat the wham bang action of the original(ish) lineup. Compare the Goof Troop video game to its Ducktales counterpart to properly illustrate this shift.
The Golden Era of the Disney Afternoon was opposite Nintendo’s rise to fame, so it was only natural these shows would get tie-in games. The kids lucky enough to own NESs at the time were about to become double-lucky, as Capcom scored the licenses to the Disney Afternoon, and proceeded to create games that are still amazing today. Ducktales, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Talespin, and Darkwing Duck all received games far more attractive than many other games at the time, and all Capcom had to do was take the “essentials” from the spotlighted show, marry it to some excellent gameplay, and then cut the chafe from the program in question to fit it to a reasonable length NES game.
Unfortunately, it appears the number one thing that got cut from television to video game was the women.
Ducktales was probably the “best” in this regard by making Webbigail just as “essential” as Huey Dewey, and Louie. Magica de Spell is a boss, practically the big boss, and Mrs. Beakley is even more valuable than Duckworth with her endless supply of cakes. So good on whoever was in charge of NES Ducktales’ characters and plot.
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers is where we see some cracks. Gadget, the sole female ranger, is simply kidnap bait past the first level. Chip and Dale are obviously players one and two, while Monterey Jack and Zipper appear randomly during levels to help out. Gadget, meanwhile, just gets stuck waiting to be rescued, but does help out by building a rocket to access the final level. I want to say the literal rocket scientist could have a more useful impact on the story than the mute housefly, but what do I know?
Rebecca of Talespin is seen in a cutscene or two doing nothing while Baloo and Kit take to the skies. I guess she made it in over Louie, which is something, but not much.
And then there’s today’s featured game, Darkwing Duck. Darkwing Duck, for those of you that had sullen childhoods, is the story of the titular Darkwing Duck, masked vigilante by night with his generally trusty partner Launchpad, and, by day, Drake Mallard, father to the precocious Gosalyn. Gosalyn is rather rambunctious, though, and finds herself involved in her adopted father’s adventures more often than not. She even possessed her own alter ego as Quiverwing Quack (also Crimson Quackette) (also Yucky Duck on one deviantart friendly occasion), and, lifetime average, may have been a more effective crimefighter than DW.
And, fun fact, it is entirely possible to beat the entirety of Darkwing Duck for NES and never see Gosalyn.
Gosalyn appears in bonus stages that are hidden in a manner similar to Milon’s Secret Castle: shoot everything and everywhere, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll open up a hidden door that leads to a bonus stage. Assuming you’ve miraculously discovered an area featuring Gosalyn, she’s there to catch any loot you collect. The end. Gosalyn is an integral part of the show Darkwing Duck, but video game Gosalyn basically holds the same position as a moving basket in a few completely optional areas.
And, of course, none of Darkwing Duck’s female villains appear. Splatter Phoenix, The Bugmaster, Camille Chameleon, and Ammonia Pine (who I seem to remember appearing in every other episode thanks to an atrocious syndication schedule) are all completely absent so the game can feature baddies like Wolfduck, who… didn’t even appear in the show. At all. Someone could have saved us all from having to deal with Moliarty with an Isis Vanderchill fight, but noooooooo. Come on, Capcom, you love ice levels!
Games like Darkwing Duck are what spring to my mind when there’s discussion about women in video games. Yes, everyone can see right off that Ivy of Soul Calibur is dressed… incorrectly, or when Lara Croft is seductively moaning her way to victory, but this is something even more subtle, perhaps even more insidious. This is a situation where the source material isn’t exactly a feminist utopia, but it at least involves women, and notes that, in many cases, the women can be better at their jobs than the men. For the game, though? The women have almost entirely been removed, because this is a man’s story for men. It’s really no wonder that gaming has become known as a boy’s hobby after years of games subtly dropping the female cast to focus on the males.
Adventures are for boys, cutscenes are for girls. Press start to skip the yapping. That’s what I learned during my childhood.
FGC #31 Darkwing Duck
- System: NES. Though there is a Gameboy version that is much the same, and a TurboGrafx16 version that looks like a cartoonish nightmare.
- Number of Players: One desperate duck.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second? It’s basically Mega Man, but with a very limited health bar (four hits) and way too short mercy invincibility. As a result, the game is a lot more difficult than it needs to be, but it is still fun. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for some NES Mega Man for some reason…
- Like Mega Man, eh: Yep. There’s a stationary turtle enemy that throws its shell in a boomerang manner that I swear has to appear somewhere in a Mega Man game. Maybe in the SNES games? It seems really familiar.
- So they left out Gosalyn. Anybody else? Negaduck is also strangely missing. Double strangely for a video game, as you’d expect the “same as the main character, but different colors” character would be a shoo-in even if he wasn’t Darkwing’s number one nemesis. Also might have saved us from the underwhelming final boss fight with Steelbeak, whose entire skill set seems to be “sits” and “walks around”.
- Favorite Boss Fight: Quackerjack’s battle with Mr. Banana Brain attacking vertically and Quackerjack attacking (and dodging) horizontally makes for an interesting game of, basically, platformer tic-tac-toe. It’s at once simple and strangely complicated, which is all I can hope for from a NES boss fight.
- So, were there any Disney Afternoon shows where the heroine far outshined the men? I don’t know, that was like a thousand years ago, when superstition and the sword ruled. I’m drawing a stone cold blank. Not a big deal, though, it probably doesn’t Maza.
- Did you know? Darkwing Duck, the show, was originally set to be a more James Bond-inspired spoof called Double O Duck. It apparently got pretty far into the planning stages, and then the people behind James Bond put the kibosh on the idea, presumably to preserve the image that Austin Powers would eventually shatter. This is likely why there’s such an emphasis on S.H.U.S.H. and F.O.W.L. and alike in some episodes, while the rest of the scenario and villains scream Batman. Suppose it’s a credit to the writers that the audience was never asked to consider the ramifications of a masked vigilante that is technically government sanctioned.
- Would I play again? It’s a lot like playing a Mega Man game, so I’m probably just going to play Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 instead. Even from the Disney oeuvre, Ducktales and Chip ‘n Dale are going to win out. If it makes DW feel any better, though, Darkwing Duck would be my first go-to Disney Afternoon show to watch (for laughs, anyway).
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Sunshine. Hey, good choice, robot, play the vacation game at the tail end of Summer. Grab your best water gun, and let’s wash down the town. Please look forward to it!