It’s June 9th, which means that it’s National Donald Duck Day! Disney’s foul-tempered fowl first debuted in The Wise Little Hen (Jackson, 1934) way, way back on 9 June 1934 and has since become one of the multimedia conglomerate’s most enduring and popular characters, featuring in a variety of cartoons, videogames, and other merchandise.
Released: December 1991
Also Available For: SEGA Saturn
As I’ve said once or twice before, Disney had quite the reputation back in the nineties for licensing their popular characters and film franchises and producing some of the best 8- and 16-bit action/platformers on SEGA’s home consoles. Of all their enduring characters, Mickey Mouse, as the brand’s mascot, obviously featured in the majority of these titles but Donald Duck had his fair share of pixelated adventures over the years as well. Generally, Donald’s adventures were very similar to Mickey’s in that he would explore a fantasy world, generally trying to rescue his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and featured an abundance of jumping and platforming. QuackShot Starring Donald Duck was unique in that respect as, rather than bouncing on enemies and following a linear path from right to left, Donald becomes an Indiana Jones-type figure who travels the world in search of a lost treasure and the game featured a lot more backtracking and puzzle solving than most titles featuring Disney’s characters.
When flicking though a book in his Uncle Scrooge McDuck’s library, Donald stumbles across a map that leads to the lost treasure of King Garuzia, former ruler of the Great Duck Kingdom in ancient times. Alongside his three nephews, Donald hops in his biplane and heads out across the world to track down the lost treasure all while Big Bad Pete and his goons try to stop him at every turn and beat Donald to the treasure.
QuackShot Starring Donald Duck is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer with a heavy emphasis on backtracking, exploration, and puzzle solving. Players take on the role of Donald Duck, decked out in an Indiana Jones-inspired getup, as he travels from Duckburg to Transylvania, to the South Pole and the ancient tomb of King Garuzia in pursuit of a lost treasure.
Unlike other Disney titles, especially those starring either Donald or Mickey Mouse, QuackShot is a much slower, more methodical affair; Donald’s standard walking speed is painfully slow but, by holding down the A button, Donald will break out into what can best be described as a “spirited trot” for a few seconds, which really doesn’t speed things up all that much. When ducking, you can press the C button and Donald will slide forwards on his front, which is super handy for passing through small passageways and underneath spiked ceilings and can be a faster way of getting from start to finish.
Donald can also jump, as you might expect, but it’s more of a hop than anything else; Donald’s jumping height and distance is dependant on his momentum, angle, and the length at which you press the C button. Sadly, Donald cannot defeat enemies by jumping on them and is therefore entirely reliant on his special pop-gun to take out enemies. Donald’s gun can shoot out plungers to stun enemies so he can safely pass by or popcorn to permanently dispose of them; though he has unlimited plungers, Donald’s popcorn shots are limited and run out quite quickly as they fire in a spread. Plus, you know…enemies respawn after you leave the screen anyway so it’s better to just use the plungers.
When you start QuackShot, you are presented with a map and can choose to travel to one of three destinations: Duckburg, Mexico, or Transylvania. Where you choose to go determines how far you can progress in the game; for example, if you visit Duckburg first, you’ll be soon stopped as you don’t have the ability to scale walls yet; if you visit Mexico, you’ll be told that you need a key to progress further; and, if you visit Transylvania first, you’ll need special ammo for your gun to progress further. In each case, a non-playable character (NPC) directs you to one of the other locations so you can get what you need to progress. Donald thus plants a flag (essentially a checkpoint) and you are able to call your nephews in your biplane to return to the map and travel elsewhere. Once you’ve cleared these first three areas, the map will expand and you’ll be able to travel to four new locations where the cycle repeats itself again; you can’t enter the temple in Egypt without retrieving the Sphinx Tear from the palace of the Maharajah and you can’t clear the Viking Ship of its ghost infestation without a special key from the South Pole, and so on. This partial progression and backtracking format makes the game much slower and requires a little more brain power than the average platformer; while NPCs always tell you where you need to go to progress in a particular level, if you miss that message and travel somewhere else instead, the only way to remind yourself of where you need to go is to hope that you remember where you just came from.
Donald’s health is indicated by a small power meter in the game’s heads-up display (HUD); when attacked or otherwise hurt, Donald loses some of his power but can replenish his health by stunning or attacking enemies and picking up ice cream cones or a roast chicken (there’s something very disconcerting about a duck eating chicken to replenish its health…). Attacking enemies adds to your score, which is also displayed in the HUD, and you’ll be awarded with an extra life when you reach a high enough score; extra lives can also be found in levels as well and, if you die, you can grab these again to effectively have infinite lives but, should you exhaust all of your lives, the game has infinite continues so you can simply choose to restart from your last checkpoint. The HUD also shows Donald’s current temper; when he picks up enough red-hot chilli peppers, he flies into a berserker rage that renders him invincible for a few seconds and allows you to attack any particularly annoying enemies. These peppers are few and far between, however, so I didn’t find myself entering this state too often. Some levels feature bottomless pits and instant death traps (falling ceilings, water, or lava) as well so you’ll have to factor this in as you explore the game’s environments.
As you explore each area and speak to NPCs, you can access an in-game menu with the Start button. This is how you can call your aircraft (which can only be done when near to a checkpoint flag), use certain items (though these will only work when you’re right next to where they need to be used), and read things such as your map or other items to help you solve puzzles. The game’s puzzles are generally simple enough, requiring you to hop over moving platforms, stun moving blocks so you can progress, or hitch a ride on passing enemies. Probably the game’s more troublesome puzzle comes when Donald is about to be crushed by a falling ceiling and you have to hop on certain blocks in the right order in order to halt it and keep you from being flattened.
Graphics and Sound:
As a Disney title on the SEGA Mega Drive, QuackShot looks just as gorgeous and appealing as the rest of their titles released around this time. Disney’s games are always bright, vibrant, and eye-catching and QuackShot is no different, with Donald, Pete, and the game’s various enemies and environments popping out and full of charm. When you leave Donald idle for some time, he’ll tap his foot impatiently like a certain blue hedgehog and he is full of life as he waddles and hops along. Levels aren’t quite as varied and unique as in some of Donald’s other outings, or those that feature Mickey; instead, you’ll visit more real-world locations than fantasy environments, which will see you walking through the streets and jumping across the rooftops of Duckburg, exploring the haunted lower depths of a Viking Ship, and traversing dangerous jungles.
They’re all pretty standard locations for your average action/platformer and they’re not especially teeming with life or background elements but they’re serviceable enough and generally quite short; you’ll play half a level and then have to jet off to another location before you can proceed any further, making playing both short and sweet but also quite long and complex. The game’s music is equally fun and lively and catchy enough but nothing especially ground-breaking or memorable. The game’s plot is told through a combination of stationary cutscenes and in-game dialogue boxes between Donald and recognisable characters like Goofy and Gyro Gearloose; they’re large and cartoony, though, and perfectly in keeping with the cartoon aesthetic of the videogame and certainly a lot more in-depth than those of other platformers from the same time period.
Enemies and Bosses:
While Mickey generally had to deal with some fantastical and outlandish enemies, Donald is faced with more lacklustre and generic enemies sucu as vampire bats (that travel along a straight line and are easily avoided), incorporeal ghosts that cannot be harmed, and birds that drop wasp nests or bombs on you. Donald will also butt heads with a number of Pete’s goons who shoot at you or toss bombs at your head, Vikings who hide in barrels and try to shoot you full of arrows, kangaroos (complete with boxing gloves), evil cactus plants that break apart for added annoyance, and even skeletons who try to throw their heads at you.
While exploring Dracula’s Castle, you’ll also encounter a giant ghost who floats just out of reach and cannot be harmed; every so often, he breaks up into smaller ghosts before reforming and, rather than try to damage him, you actually have to find a certain platform that will take you to the castle’s upper levels and out of harm’s way. You’ll also come up against a few bosses on your travels, none of which really pose that much of a threat as long as you have enough health, ammo (if necessary), and can avoid their simple attack patterns. Donald has to fight against Count Dracula (easily dispatched by standing beneath him when he opens his cape and shooting plungers upwards), a ferocious fire-breathing tiger (dispatched by firing bubblegum shots when it’s jumping), and a possessed suit of Viking armour that constantly shields against your attacks and can only be harmed by hitting its head.
Eventually, you’ll face off against Pete himself in a bid to retrieve the map; this battle sees Pete circling the area in a massive press machine and attempting to squash Donald into a fine paste. Pete’s goons are also stationed around the arena to make hitting Pete in the face that much harder as you climb higher and higher up the arena but, like all the bosses, this is simply a test of patience rather than being an exercise in frustration.
Once Pete is taken out, Donald heads over to the Great Duck Treasure Island, where the tomb of King Garuzia lies, to do battle with the knight guarding Garuzia’s treasure. As final battles go, this is a bit of a disappointment; the knight basically stays in the centre of the screen, twirling his sword and trying to fling it at you, and causing blocks to fall from the ceiling. He leaves himself wide open for your attacks, meaning it’s pretty simple to dodge the falling debris and blast him with your plungers or other weapons until he finally gives up King Garuzia’s treasure.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
The only real power-up you can get through regular gameplay is the aforementioned red-hot chilli peppers; you can also collect bags of cash to increase your score, though, and find some cheeky shortcuts peppered through stages that lead either to stockpiles of items and ammo, extra lives and health, or hidden doors to progress further.
As you explore, you’ll receive two upgrades for your pop-gun; the first changes your yellow plunger to a red one, which allows you to scale vertical walls with temporary platforms, and the second changes it to green and allows you to hitch a ride on flying enemies. Gyro also supplies you with bubblegum ammo, which allows you to break open walls and certain blocks so you can explore a bit more of the map and the game’s locations. These bubbles are quite slow and linger around the screen for some time, which can limit your firing speed (which is already quite slow to begin with).
There’s not much replayability in QuackShot beyond playing through a perfectly acceptable action/platformer over and over. There’s no difficulty settings to choose from, no additional characters to unlock or play as, and there aren’t even any cheats or passwords to input. While this does mean you have to rely on old school gaming and memorisation to play through the game’s relatively short length, it also means that you can’t save your progress or jump to a later stage in the game if you have a power cut.
Generally speaking, QuackShot Starring Donald Duck isn’t especially challenging but its pacing really ruins the many positive aspects of the game. Donald is so slow and clunky and the gameplay is so plodding and sluggish that there’s no real sense of urgency or agency to the game’s plot or action. QuackShot looks great and isn’t especially punishing or unfair but it’s nowhere near as action-packed or appealing as other Disney titles, even ones that also feature Donald Duck. Instead, you’re left with a perfectly average little title that looks and sounds great but doesn’t exactly leave you clamouring for more or especially excited.
Could Be Better
What did you think of QuackShot Starring Donald Duck? Where do you rate the game compared to other Disney titles of that era? Do you agree that it’s not as appealing as other Disney videogames on the Mega Drive or did you find it to be just as enjoyable? Which was your favourite, or least favourite, and who is your favourite Disney character? How are you celebrating National Donald Duck Day? Whatever you think about QuackShot, Donald Duck, or Disney in general, drop a comment below and have a great Donald Duck Day!