Sunday, October 14, 2007


Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck

Oh my God. Do you remember Duck Amuck? Yes you do. It was the cartoon where Daffy Duck is being harassed by the animator. Erased, redrawn, put in silly situations... see? See? You remember it.

They made that into a video game.

You play the animator and the object is to drive Daffy crazy.

If that lead-in doesn't tickle you, then turn back now.

Go on.


How to Piss Off a Cartoon Duck

The first time you turn the game on, you're treated to an extended animated sequence. It begins with Daffy Duck starring in a platforming video game, but it isn't long before the background runs out and turns into a Duck Dodgers setting. Surprised, Daffy changes outfits and pulls out a blaster, firing at imaginary video game enemies. The background changes once again, placing Daffy in a disco. Somewhat more annoyed, he changes outfits again and begins dancing. Finally, the background vanishes altogether, and Daffy finally confronts you (in the role of the... programmer?) regarding the fact that this is a handheld video game, and that a little more structure would be appreciated.

Too bad for him.

Okay, let's get this out of the way right now. Duck Amuck the video game can't keep up with the frantic pace and surreal reality breaks that made Duck Amuck the cartoon such a well-loved masterpiece. You're not writing your own cartoon. There's technical limitations. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?!

But it keeps the spirit of the cartoon intact. First of all, through gorgeous animation. There's more cutscenes in this game than in all of the Final Fantasy games combined, and they're fully-animated, fully-scored, and fully-voiced. Things being as they are, you couldn't get any closer to the feeling of a real cartoon without ripping out the interactive aspects.

And second of all, the game is all about screwing with conventions. There's essentially no fourth wall in the game. There's spoofs of classic video games all over the place, usually with Daffy as the player, where your objective is to make him lose. And, of course, the main attraction -- your quest to blow Daffy's top -- is presented in a completely unstructured way.

Let's see if I can explain how it works. The object of the game is to blow Daffy's temper (represented by a thermometer that pops up every time his mood changes). To do this, you engage him in "gags" -- little minigames where you try to blow him up. And you trigger gags by...

Well, the main screen of the game is just Daffy against a white background. If you wait a few seconds, a random cutscene will start to unfurl, sometimes with some sort of interactive element. For example, a switch will appear over Daffy's head, and you can use it to mess with the lights. This will lead to a minigame where Daffy is trying to light a candle, and you have to trick him into picking up a piece of lit dynamite. His rage meter will go up or down depending on your success. Of course, there are also lots of cutscenes that are just there to be amusing. Daffy will count the pixels on the screen, you'll get a chance to sketch an anvil to drop on his head, and so on.

Then there are ways to proactively trigger gags. Poking Daffy, for example, will inspire him to bring out three buckets of paint. One possible outcome is to paint him up as Robin Hood, triggering a minigame where he flings himself through the air like an arrow, and you have to blow into the microphone to affect his trajectory.

If you win enough minigames, Daffy will finally blow his lid, you'll get another cute cutscene, and the credits roll. And then you'll return to Daffy on the white screen, calm and placid once again, ready for another round of abuse.

The whole concept sort of reminds me of Feel the Magic, especially with the bonuses that are on offer.

And Extras!

Several of the cutscenes have "secret spots" that you can poke with your stylus to find Character Coins. Gathering them all is probably the longest activity in the game. For, you know. People who like long things.

Also, if you flick Daffy off the screen, you'll open up a menu where you can access all of the minigames that you've unlocked. A couple of them are amusing outside of the game's larger structure, and all of them feature "advanced levels" that you can only reach if you play them through the menu.

There's a coloring book feature where you can color a picture of any character you have a coin for. There's a few soundboard toys that you can play with. And there are two "bonus reels" with some behind-the-scenes goodies -- one obviously a gag, the other more serious -- about the making of the game.

Hooray For Toys!

The game isn't very long. You can play it start to finish in the space of half an hour. The joy of the game is in its variability. You can get through it any which way you like. You can sit back and watch Daffy entertain you in his own iniminimitable fashion. You can reach the end in one sitting, turn it off, put it away, and pull it out again the next time you feel like engaging in an interactive cartoon.

And that's exactly what this project should be. It's like a Flash cartoon that's stuffed with Easter Eggs. You'll spend a pleasant afternoon finding everything that's in it, and then revisit it just for the joy of watching it again.

And there's an awful lot to do.

Not everyone will want to own this game, but I firmly believe that everyone should try it. In a world where characters licenses usually indicate a lack of ambition, it's refreshing to see a developer go after a license in order to try something new.


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