By 1993, the Sega Master System was definitely a machine in decline. Having been supplanted by Sega’s own 16-bit Mega Drive console four years previously, and with the 32-bit Saturn console and 32X expansion due in the not-too-distant future, the future for the 8-bit Master System looked suitably bleak.
Fortunately, there was still enough of fan base in certain territories to warrant the development of new titles. One of these is Deep Duck Trouble Starring Donald Duck, another tie-in between Sega and Walt Disney Studios featuring everyone’s favourite duck with anger management issues. Considered something of a spiritual successor to The Lucky Dime Caper, the game was released initially in Japan, with other territories following in 1994.
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The game begins with a short but sweet introductory sequence that sets the scene for the game’s plot. Poor old Uncle Scrooge has been cursed by a mysterious pendant that he brought back from his latest treasure hunting escapade. Having inflated to the size of a beach-ball, his only option is to enlist the help of his nephew, Donald Duck, whom he instructs to return the pendant to it’s original resting place. Hoping that the return of the pendant will lift the curse, Donald sets out on his own adventure.
Things turn out to be more challenging than Donald was expecting, as it transpires that the amulet was retrieved from a magical temple whose entrance was magically sealed. Reading through Scrooge’s journal revels that the only way to enter the temple is to recover four magic gems that have been hidden in various locations around the island on which the temple resides. The player must help Donald locate and retrieve each of these gems, before heading for the temple itself.
Once the game commences, players are presented with a map of the island. From here, Players have the choice of tackling each of the initial four stages of the game in any order they wish, with the fifth and final level unlocking once each of the gems have been retrieved.
Each level features numerous platforms, enemies and obstacles to overcome. As is a staple for the genre, baddies can be dispatched by landing on their heads, or by hitting them with blocks that Donald can kick into the air with a substantial, web-footed kick.
Donald’s remaining health is represented by three small diamonds displayed in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, which vanish whenever he takes damage. Missing health can be restored by gobbling up ice-cream cones dropped by enemies, or hidden in secret blocks within the level scenery. It’s worth highlighting that these blocks are completely innocuous, only revealing their contents when kicked – it’s probably one of the few things in the game that feels slightly awkward as you feel inclined to kick at random parts of the scenery, just to see if there’s an item hidden there.
Also secreted in these blocks are special chilli peppers that will send Donald into a rage when eaten. Not only does he become invincible for the duration, he put’s his head down and charges like an enraged bull until the effect wears off. This state of psychosis is extremely useful for not just barging through enemies, but for also clearing out seemingly impassable walls of stone blocks. These obstacles crumble as if made of little more than chalk as Donald charges through, clearing the way ahead.
One of the most important elements for any game to be a success are the controls, but this was never more true for the platform game. Fortunately, gamers have nothing to fear, for Donald moves with a sense of speed and precision that feels just about right. There’s a small amount of inertia to account for when Donald jumps, but it lends the character a sense of weight that feels appropriate without being so severe that it forces you over the edge of platforms when landing.
At the end of each stage is a special ‘chase’ sequence where Donald will be pursued by some particularly fearsome adversary. The objective here is merely to stay alive, leaping over obstacles and dodging danger as he attempts to run for his life. Succeed here and Donald will be rewarded with one of the gems required to progress.
The graphics and animation on display here are truly excellent, upholding something of a tradition for Disney licenses. The main Donald sprite looks great, featuring high attention to detail even down to the colour of the lapels on his shirt and red neck tie! The animators went to great lengths to include some great incidental detail to the animations too, such as the way Donald will stamp his feet in frustration if he stands still for too long, or the way that his hat flies up in the air whenever he kicks an object. This quality and attention to detail extends to background artwork, enemies and just about all aspects of the game – if it weren’t for the lower screen resolution, this might even pass for a 16-bit title!
The game’s audio, however, remains distinctly 8-bit, although this is by no means a bad thing. Composed by Saori Kobayashi, the in-game music is never less than uplifting and the range of tunes always compliments the on-screen action. The chase scenes in particular stand out for featuring music that evokes moments of Flight of the Bumble Bee, as well as staying true to such scenes from actual cartoons. Factor in some decent sound effects and you have a title that sounds great in every respect.
Deep Duck Trouble really is a great title for Sega’s 8-bit console and offers plenty of uncomplicated fun, especially if you like platforming games. With excellent visuals, great sound and family-friendly license, this is sure to be a hit with gamers of all ages and comes highly recommended!