Ducktales / Rescue Rangers
It was 1990. Summer. Most likely an overly-hot one that made you feel sticky and sweaty after only a minute or so in the sun. I was ten years old and there were only about three or four things that mattered. Nintendo, Cartoons, Dr. Pepper and, seeing as it was summer, anything to do with with water.
I never got that super soaker…had to settle for sprinklers.
What I did have, though, were those first few things, and nothing was bigger than Nintendo and The Disney Afternoon. The Disney Animated shows, in case you aren't of my generation, were cartoon shows syndicated on television that consisted of the likes of The Gummi Bears, the first I remember watching (and the first one made, if I recall), Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin and a handful of others that weren't nearly as good as any of those. (Sorry Goof Troop fans, though I will admit Darkwing Duck is an underrated one). All those would be later packaged together in what is known as The Disney Afternoon, but early on it was primarily the big two: Ducktales and Rescue Rangers. Other than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don't think there were any shows as popular as those two.
So, naturally, my ten year old self jumped for joy when, as was always the case back then, I saw this image on a cover of Nintendo Power:
Yeah, it's actually not all that good of a cover.
It was an unsaid rule: If it's on the cover of Nintendo Power, it was a must-play game.
Now let me go back a step. By this point, there had already been a video game of Ducktales. Thing is, I never played it. It, going by my research here, had already been out for about a year, maybe less, before I jumped in with Rescue Rangers first, but for some reason I never picked it up. I remember the screenshots, I had that issue of Nintendo Power (where, again, it was on the cover) yet either I never saw it to rent or buy, or maybe I just didn't have the money to buy it. Either way, it was off my radar for some reason.
But no matter. Point being I played both around the same time despite the release date differences and, truth is, I was a bigger Rescue Rangers fan in the first place so I remember taking more notice of that than Ducktales. In both cases, my 1990 summer days were about to be full of excessive Disney cartoon overload. This was the same summer that Ducktales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was released as well. The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out that same year. You know, the good one that surprisingly still holds up fucking 20+ years alter and that everybody in the theater gasped at when Raphael said "damn?" Damn...that makes me feel old.
And Vanilla Ice was the biggest star in the world, for some inexplicable reason. He has not held up at all. Poor Vanilla.
Yo, you can't say Rescue Rangers or Ducktales without thinking of the theme songs in your head, can you? It sits there, like a cold can of Surge waiting to be popped, because eventually it escapes your head and the next thing you know it's in your mouth and you're singing it. It starts as a hum, but you're full-blown dancing in your Air Jordans and singing out loud in a matter of seconds. Then you realize you've been singing it for three days, you even missed that very special episode of Full House. Seriously, if I say "Life is like a hurricane…" then you're screwed, because you not only are singing it, you're back in 1990.
It's in your head, isn't it? Rattling around like the last jellybean in a jar. You're humming it right now. Click here to remove it from your memory.
It was that damn music, you know. There's actually a psychological aspect to it, and pop songs, where certain mathematical structures of music makes it "catchy" and it gets inside your head because your brain allows those particular structures in easier than others. It's not per individual either, it's part of human evolution. I bet Disney knew this. I wouldn't put it past them. They did convince Europe it needed Euro Disney, after all. A catchy tune and jingle is the best marketing tool you can have. No wonder I couldn't say no to Rescue Rangers. I was being manipulated and didn't even know it. Just like those poor bastards in the Coo-Coo Cola episode.
I'll also save my analytical discussion of the lyrical artistry and Orwellian motifs of the Coo-Coo Cola episode of Rescue Rangers for another time as well.
Another thing I didn't know at the time was that Ducktales and Rescue Rangers were both made by Capcom. During this era, and especially at that age, nobody really paid much attention to who made what, which explained why everybody probably owned a copy of horrible games like Back to the Future or Roger Rabbit, both made by one of the worst game developers in history, LJN. Kids went towards the things like liked and were familiar and were popular. Nobody could know because the internet didn't exactly exist and Nintendo Power rarely talked about "bad" games. They just blurbed them and moved on.
None of that mattered. We still went out and bought what we wanted. Saved our allowance. Hunted down a copy. Bought or rented it. Played it. Crap shoot each time on whether or not our weekend is stuck in front of the television until Monday or if we're trying to find other things to do by Saturday morning - like wondering and hoping your No Fear T-Shirt is "cool" enough and never knowing until you went to school to wait judgement. But there was something charming in those 8-bit graphics. Dale looked like Dale. Chip like Chip. It had all the characters. Even if I didn't realize Capcom made it, it was still Disney and it still looked like the show. Visually, I was sold.
I have to assume I saved for Rescue Rangers, or maybe I had some money already saved. I think I got ten dollars a week for allowance around that time, as long as I earned it by helping around the house and generally not being a little shit. I had to have bought it new, too, because I remember having the box and looking over the cover numerous times. Come to think of it, I don't think "used" games were all that trendy at the time other than garage sales. I just loved the art and the world of Rescue Rangers. There was something about taking stuff like thimbles and spools and making furniture and dishware for smaller people/rodents to use.
The game played with that notion. After buying it, wherever that was but probably the one Wal-Mart in my one-horse hometown, I was thrown into the world of the Rangers. Everything was from their perspective as you went through levels, ala Mario 3 and its over world map, and saw all sorts of strange things. Then you realize "oh, it's because I'm tiny, and that's just a sink." It was as simple and straightforward, and easy I might add, as games could come. As much as I loved the game, and enjoyed the two-player co-op which always ended with my brother and I fighting because we kept picking each other up in the game and throwing the characters off ledges, it wasn't exactly challenging. Even at ten, I felt it was one of the easiest games I ever played.
Not like that goddamn Ducktales. Ducktales was exactly the opposite. Click here to totally not listen to the Ducktales theme again.
I only recall that I got the game after Rescue Rangers, and I think I might have just rented it a few times and not actually bought it. I know it was later that same year because a) as I said the Ducktales movie was out and b) Rescue Rangers was still fresh in my mind and I actually took notice of the Ducktales game sitting on a shelf at Video Express, a small rental store that went out of business a few years later. There was also another video store called Express Video where I worked in high school. Neither have anything to do with each other, but think of your typical late 80s/early 90s local video store that you probably feel a little nostalgic for and you get the idea. Note: they're not as good of stores as you probably remember. Seriously, how long wsa that Pumpkinhead standee in the window? And how many posters of Ghost do you need?
And neither were raking in McDuck-esque moneybins of cash. And neither are around today.
Anyways, unlike Rescue Rangers, Ducktales challenged me to no end….and by "Challenge" i mean "really pissed me off." Some of my earliest "throwing controller gamer rage" memories stems from that goddamn Ducktales game. For some reason, I just couldn't do it. I don't know why, maybe I was expecting something super-easy like Rescue Rangers, but Ducktales just confounded me and unlike Rescue Ragners, which I beat in a week at most (and can beat now in about an hour), I could not beat a single level in Ducktales. Not one. I loved so much else about it, from the controls to the graphics to the awesome amazing music that will make you wet your childhood pants. But I hated it equally as much.
I do remember thinking to myself "Maybe it's the order of levels." You see, Ducktales had a level select option right from the beginning. I thought it would be a little like Mega Man, which I quickly figured out had a certain order you should play the levels at so you get the best upgraded weapons to make the next level and boss easier. Unlike Mega Man, though, Ducktales only had about four levels you could choose from and while I thought it would be easy to figure out which to do first, it never ended up that way because I couldn't beat a single one.
That's right, not a damn one.
Here's the kicker, though. I was playing it wrong. Like…entirely wrong.
See that? How Scrooge is hunched over with his cane in that picture above? That's the "pogo cane" move that you can have Scrooge McDuck do in the game. It makes you jump higher, but more importantly is your primary attack if you come down on an enemy with it. If you go and watch youtube videos of any Ducktales play through, you'll see that regular "walking and attacking" isn't used - the player almost plays the entire game in this state.
Well, guess who didn't? Guess who didn't even know the damn maneuver existed until he was probably in college and had his mind blown?
It was by happenstance, actually. I know I was in college, but when I was in college this little website "Youtube" didn't even exist. So it had to be some early gaming website that had video on it, because I remember squinting at the monitor, turning my head slightly like a dog hearing a whistle, and watching someone playing Ducktales and using that pogo-move almost exclusively. "What the fuck is that?" I thought to myself. It's hard to describe how odd this was. I played the hell of this video game, yet my world was turned upside because it occurred to me I had played it completely wrong. No wonder I couldn't kill enemies, I wasn't pushing "B" + "Down." I was just trying to whack them with my McDuck cane like an idiot.
I would say it's embarrassing to admit all that. "Oh, you didn't push down." - that sounds silly. But here's another little revelation: it occurred to me that the reason I liked Rescue Rangers more than Ducktales was because Rescue Rangers never pissed me off in a video game. Seriously, as much as I like Ducktales (and still do), it took a hit in my ten-year-old eyes because of the frustration the Ducktales video game put upon me. It was like finding flaws in a diamond. Sure, it's a diamond, but this other diamond has no scratches whatsoever.
Thanks to emulation, though, much of this issue was resolved and I was able to play Ducktales as it was meant to be . Though I still had an NES, which I re-bought later, I got rid of a lot of my old NES games (which you should never ever, ever, ever do) and any and all games. If I did own Ducktales, it was probably in the same lot as Rescue Rangers in a garage sale back in the early 90s. A Nintendo emulator helped me go back and rectify all my misgivings about Ducktales, because I finally played it the way it was supposed to be played…
…and I still have never beat it. I think the time of my platforming-reflexes abilities to play these games has passed. Games like Ducktales or Mega Man are better played when you're longer. Your reflexes are sharper, button-mashing thumbs in better condition, you don't feel tired and aching from sitting too long. At least now I know, and at least now I can watch videos of what I could have achieved in my youth if I had figured out something sooner. Bittersweet? Yes. Still unfulfilled? Probably. But at least I can go through my life knowing the game wasn't horrible, I just sucked at playing it.
At least there's always Rescue Rangers to make me feel like I'm actually good at something.