I don’t usually talk about a game’s music on this blog. The reasons for this are three-fold: One, I traditionally play the featured game, take a day or two to “digest” the experience, and then write. While I’m usually cutting through the video of the game at that time to make screenshots and gifs, I’m rarely actually re-listening to the music/sound at that time. As a result, unless the music is really memorable, I’m not really thinking about it while I write the article. Two, while I’m writing the article in question, I’m usually listening to my “work mix” of 6,000 or so MP3s, so, unless the game is already on my playlist, it’s not really in my head. This doesn’t apply to every game, because, completely randomly, Bloody Tears is on my Winamp (yes, seriously) as I write this right now. Go fig. And, finally, I try not to discuss the music too much on this blog because the blog is not an auditory medium. I’ve got gifs and such to remind everyone how a game looks in motion, but, short of embedding a midi into the article, the best I can do with music is throw out a basic, “hey, remember that one song?” This does occasionally make its way to the bullet point section of any given article, but even that is usually something of an afterthought.
All that said, after nearly 200 articles, I figure I can write one article about a game’s music.
Fly me to the moon, it’s time to talk about ducks exploring the lunar surface.
DuckTales was kind of inevitably part of my childhood. In this case, I’m talking about the series and the videogame, which, at the time, combined to be one of the few franchises that actually made sense on television and videogame console. Hey, you love Back to the Future, right? Well here’s a completely bonkers videogame version that involves bowling. What about bloody slasher Friday the 13th? Well get ready to pelt zombies with rocks! And it wasn’t any better when a mascot went in the other direction: the most groundbreaking platformer in history somehow turned into a show that closely followed the Bozo/Krusty the Clown formula, and the courageous and mute Link of the NES became an attitude-riddled teen in his animated incarnation. It took a few years, but we did finally get that Sonic the Hedgehog series where he was the forsaken prince of a kingdom and played in a rock band with his royal siblings. Point is that when the Disney Afternoon finally started churning out videogames, its offerings were actually related to the source material, and Monterey Jack or Darkwing Duck would actually be the same characters and do the same things whether or not someone hooked up a controller.
So both DuckTales and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers were integral parts of my childhood, because I watched the shows every afternoon, and played the matching games whenever available. I actually didn’t own either game, but one of my super best friends (the same kid I “saved” in The Legend of Zelda) owned both, and, yes, there was a lot of 2-player Chip ‘n Dale action. But DuckTales got its share of play, too, because, even as a one player game, there was a lot of… audience participation during our play sessions. “No, you butthead, go over there, get the diamonds! Don’t jump on the treasure chest, that’s how you get… oh, now you have to do the level over. Give me the controller, you suck!” … Hm I wonder why I don’t hang out with my childhood friends anymore…
Anyone that has ever played DuckTales knows that it’s a Capcom game that, like Mega Man, offers an opening stage select. This was a tremendous boon for us Nintendo kids, because, thanks to difficulty and underdeveloped attention spans, it was a rarity to see the later levels of any given NES game. A game that started with “here ya go, take your pick” was always welcome, because it meant you could actually see almost the entirety of a game without having to restart on Level One 12,000,000,000 times. So you might think, with five options available, we’d be all over playing any and every level.
We weren’t. We only played Moon. We only went for the cheese.
There probably are multiple reasons for this. Amazon has a very “grass world/level 1” vibe, and who wants to start on a basic stage when there are more interesting options? Duckuvania and The Mines both required some focused level searching to bypass various locks, so screw that noise. And the Himalayas had that blasted snow that hampered your pogo attack. The pogo cane was the second best thing about the game! Why is there an entire level that destroys it!?
But there was always the moon level, and that got played a lot. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly. Maybe it was the space environment that seemed more fantastic than any vampire castles or journeys to the center of the Earth. Maybe it was pounding on aliens, which is always a good time. Or maybe it was simply that ten second cameo from Gizmoduck. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that DuckTales’ Moon features the best music in the game, and, arguably, all of the NES.
I am not a “music” guy. I have been in orchestral and rock bands, I have written songs, and I have, on occasion, been a human beat box. But still, throughout the years, I have never really understood what “works” in music. I can watch Youtube videos explaining the differences between minor and major keys all day, and, still, I can’t tell you, from a musical perspective, what makes any given song better than another. I am entirely a subjective music listener, and, aside from “I generally like pianos”, I can’t really describe why my favorite songs are my favorite songs.
So, uh, just believe me when I say that the DuckTales NES Moon theme is the best thing ever.
And it somehow gets better! Against all odds, a licensed game based on a cartoon property from the 80’s got a remake in the 21st Century thanks to a bunch of dedicated nerds. Capcom and Wayforward (with seemingly an emphasis on the latter) worked together with Disney to bring back the NES DuckTales game in the form of a magnificent “HD remaster”. The whole “remaster” thing seemed like a misnomer, as this was practically an entirely new game. There’s a whole new overarching plot, dialogue, and two levels. And what has returned from the original is now gorgeous with hand drawn sprites and updated level layouts. And one of the Beagle Boys gets a new hat!
But the remastered music is what got my attention. The music was composed by Jake Kaufman, a man who, by his own admission, was a giant fan of the original. “”I’ve heard this stuff in my head, as arrangements, since I was 10, so I knew exactly what to do…” That sounds about right. I reiterate that I am absolutely not a music guy, and I don’t know how to describe this, but Kaufman nailed the moon theme (and every other song, but that’s neither here nor there). Whatever Moon was trying to do on its tiny little NES speaker was taken to new, otherworldly heights on DuckTales: Remastered, and, for the first time ever in a videogame, when I first reached the moon stage on my initial play of DuckTales: Remastered, I put down my controller, and just listened. I’m pretty sure I bought the soundtrack about ten minutes later. Then I hit Continue because I accidentally let Scrooge get killed by aliens. I was distracted!
DuckTales: Remastered made a great thing even greater. This description could be applied to the entire game, but for me, it’s always going to come back to the Moon. Who says there’s no sound in space?
FGC #198 DuckTales: Remastered
- System: WiiU, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 for the initial release. It also found its way to various computers and cell phones. There’s even a physical release! I own it!
- Number of players: You have to be smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies, so there really isn’t room for more than one.
- Favorite stage: Did you read the article?
- You know, you could have linked to the actual song in question somewhere around here: Oh, like you don’t know how to find Youtube. Teach a man to fish for songs!
- Just play the gig, man: Oh! And the moon theme became a persistent leitmotif throughout the other stages. That’s pretty awesome!
- Favorite boss: My one complaint about the Remake is that it makes the bosses very “stage-y” with repeated patterns and long periods of invincibility (i.e. why is that boss hiding in the background again). That said, I do like the Magica De Spell fight, because it’s hectic, varied, and occasionally drops some ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream!
- Did you know? Alan Young and June Foray reprised their vocal roles as Scrooge McDuck and Magica De Spell for this game. They were born in 1919 and 1917, respectively. When they were born, there was barely the concept of “video”, left alone a “videogame”.
- Would I play again: Yes, while anxiously awaiting that Chip ‘n Dale remake.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetris Blast for the Gameboy! It’s like a regular block game, but with more explosions! Please look forward to it!
This still makes me nervous