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: October 1991
Developer: SEGA (AM7)
Also Available For: Game Gear
Back in the nineties, it was tough to find better licensed videogames than those produced by Disney; bright, colourful platformers featuring their popular characters and adaptations of their film franchises are highly regarded as some of the best 8- and 16-bit action/platformers on Nintendo and SEGA’s home consoles. While their mascot, Mickey Mouse, obviously featured in the majority of these titles, Donald Duck had his fair share of pixelated adventures over the years as well. The Lucky Dime Caper was technically very similar to Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (ibid, 1990) with a few notable alterations; first was that Donald was afforded a melee and ranged attack and, second, was that he was exploring a version of the real world rather than fantasy lands. The Lucky Dime Caper was also one of the very first videogames I ever played and owned for the Master System; over the years, I have never managed to finish it so I’m very excited to be returning to it for Donald’s big day!
One day, while showing his prized “Number One Dime” to his nephews, Huey, Dewy, and Louie, Scrooge McDuck is attacked by the evil Magica De Spell, who steals the lucky dime and kidnaps his nephews! Donald hops into his bi-plane and journeys across the world to rescue his nephews, recover the Number One Dime, and put a stop to Magica’s evil aspirations of amassing her own vast fortune.
If you’ve played Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, you’ll be immediately familiar with the gameplay and controls in The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck; there are no options available to you to change up the game’s difficulty or controls and, following a brief and impressive little introduction video, you’re taken to a world map and given the option to play one of three stages right off the bat.
Whichever one you pick, you’ll be placed in the sailor hat and outfit of Disney’s foul-tempered fowl. Donald has a fairly fast standard walking speed, which is nice; he doesn’t race along but it’s also not like he has lead in his non-existent shoes, either. He can jump on enemies to defeat them, which is always a plus, and can hop up to higher levels by holding the 2 button when bouncing off enemies or certain platforms. Donald can also jump onto vines to swing over gaps, though it can be a little clunky to detach him once you’re over to the other side. Donald’s default method of attack is to swing a hefty mallet, which you can bust out with a press of the 1 button; pretty much every enemy dies after one hit and Donald can even smash enemies while in mid-air and can duck to avoid incoming projectiles (though many of these can be jumped on as well). The game is divided into seven stages, and every single stage has a number of different areas with the except of Stage 1, which consists of a simple trek through the woods to rescue Louie; other stages end at the entrance to a cave or other interior area, which Donald either automatically enters or will open with either a key or a press of up on the directional pad.
Although a number of bottomless pits are present in numerous areas, Donald can enter certain bodies of water and swim by furiously tapping the 2 button; luckily, this really doesn’t come up very often as Donald is completely vulnerable while swimming and has no method of fighting back. Donald is mildly durable; when hit my an enemy or spikes, Donald will lose whatever weapon he’s currently holding, leaving him vulnerable, and he’ll lose a life if he’s then hit a second time. As you battle your way through each stage, you’ll also be up against a constant timer; a bar decreases as you progress, turning from blue to yellow to red as you go, and you’ll lose a life if it completely drains. However, the bar regenerates to full when you leave one screen to the next in the longer stages and none of the game’s stages are long enough to drain it unless you just leave the game idle. Donald also carries his current weapon to each stage and even after dying, and he is even blessed with an infinite number of continues; however, you’ll have to restart the stage right from the beginning if you use a continue, as opposed to when you lose a life, which sees you return to the start of the last area you were in.
I mentioned keys earlier; this is about as complicated as the game’s stages will get, for the most part. Occasionally, you’ll come across a locked door and will need to progress a little further along to collect a key, and then backtrack to open that door. When in the Pyramids stage, you’ll be able to press up to open doors somewhat hidden in the background tiles, and Magica’s Castle includes a bit of a maze element where you can end up looping around the castle and having to trek back through it again to actually progress. In the Great American Forest, you’ll need to ride on a turtle to cross bodies of water, run down steep slopes making tricky last second jumps over enemies and blocks in the Andes Mountains as well as hopping over a spike pit while avoiding floating blocks that try to smack you out of the air, and avoid fireballs raining down from a volcano in the background of the Tropical Isles. A blizzard will push you onwards, and backwards, across the slippery ground in the South Pole stage (though you can use this to clear longer gaps), and you’ll be forced to duck under and make precarious jumps over spiked walls and ceilings in Magica’s Castle while avoiding a whole mess of obstacles just to reach an anticlimactic showdown with the evil witch.
Graphics and Sound:
The Lucky Dime Caper is a bright, vibrant, colourful little platformer for your favourite 8-bit home console. Donald pops out from the backgrounds and is instantly recognisable no matter what stage he’s in or what types of enemies are onscreen, and exhibits a great deal of character in his every movement. He bops along to the cheery in-game music, throws a tantrum when left idle, pants with heat exhaustion when inside the volcano, and shivers when in the South Pole. Sadly, the same can’t be said for his enemies, which are generally very basic, and I did have one instance where the music cut out after my invincibility status ended.
The same can also be said for the stages you’ll journey through; initially, you are presented with just three stages but, once you rescue Huey, Dewy, and Louie, you’ll have to take on three more stages to track down Magica and the lucky dime. It’s cool that you can freely select your stage from the map screen as some stages are trickier than others, but the stages fall into the same platformer clichés such as woods, deserts, and snow levels. While you’ll typically travel from the left side of the screen to the right, Magica’s Castle has you taking upper paths using moving platforms and you’ll drop down into water in the Great American Forest stage. Generally, though, the game is very colourful and surprisingly detailed; it’s all obviously a bit basic compared to 16-bit titles but there are little things to see in the backgrounds, such as a volcano and ice floats and so forth, and the music is very jaunty and cheerful. There is some slowdown here and there when there’s a lot of sprites on the screen, and a noticeable loading time to spawn in the stage boss, but generally the game is quite quick and stable. In addition to the opening and closing cutscenes, you’ll see big partially animated sprites at the end of each stage where Donald chats with his nephews or interrogates Magica’s lieutenants, in addition to using the in-game sprites to show him rescuing his nephews from their cages.
Enemies and Bosses:
I mentioned above that the game’s enemies are very basic and it’s true; you’ll battle killer mushrooms, bees, and spiders, club-wielding Mexicans, mummies, bats, and fire-spitting statues, yetis, bone-throwing skeletons, scorpions, and ghosts. Most of these can be defeated in one hit, while others (like the spiders) take two or can’t actually be defeated (like Magica’s skeletons and falling paintings); spikes will dog your progress later in the game and have quite a large hit box (they can even damage and kill you when you’re invincible), lava droplets will cause temporary ice blocks to disappear and drop you into lava, and you’ll also get stuck in rooms where the ceiling threatens to crush you until you open all of the Treasure Boxes contained within.
At the end of every stage, you’ll have to take on a boss to rescue one of Donald’s nephews or get information from Magica’s lieutenants. When rescuing Louie, you’ll battle a big bear with a bee’s nest on its head; simply jump over him when he rushes at you and whack him with your hammer or toss a frisbee at him and he’ll go down in just a few hits without any real difficulty. Dewey is held captive by a vicious lion that charges at you in a blur; you can use the nearby platforms to avoid this attack but you’ll also need to jump over him when he hops at you. Thankfully, he stops to taunt quite often, leaving him wide open to attack, though he’s noticeably a little trickier than the bear, at least. Finally, you’ll need to take out a couple of possessed statues and an odd floating head to rescue Huey; this boss is actually easier than the bear in a lot of ways as all you have to do is stay to the far left or right of the screen to avoid the boulders they throw and then jump up and smash each statue, before whacking the head as it pinballs around the arena in a slow and predictable pattern.
Once they’re saved, you’ll need to visit three more stages to retrieve their lucky dimes from Magica’s lieutenants, each of which is a large black crow. The Tropical Isles crow flies around above you dropping bombs as it passes, but you can simply stay on the middle platform and either whack it as it flies by or toss frisbees at it without ever being hit. The Pyramids boss can be a little more frustrating; this crow flies around dropping musical notes and a big snake will rise up to spit fireballs at you. If you have the hammer (or no weapons at all), you’ll need to use the snake to get high enough to hit the boss but you’ll need to watch out for the snake’s tongue attack as well, but the boss is a complete joke if you have the frisbee as you can simply toss them upwards to hit it and all you’ll have to do is dodge the projectiles. Finally, at the end of the South Pole, another crow will drop an ice block into an enclosed arena and then try to take a dive at you. However, you can destroy his ice block and simply attack the bird as it lowers itself down to drop another, making it ridiculously easy to defeat once you get into a routine.
The final battle against Magica herself is equally just as simple; she positions herself up on a ledge and out of the way and conjures a bunch of different magical attacks to rain down into the arena. However, all you have to do is attack the crystal ball in the middle of the arena and she’ll be defeated; a weapon will help with this but you can just as easily jump on the crystal ball a few times and that’s it. I don’t think I got hit a single time during this battle, meaning that some of the previous bosses were actually harder than the game’s final boss! However, Magica’s Castle is easily the game’s trickiest and most frustrating stage; not only do you have to work out which route actually allows you to progress, you also have to get around the respawning enemies and make pixel-perfect jumps and ducks to avoid spikes and progress through the stage, which can be very annoying.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are a number of random items for Donald to collect as he defeats enemies in each stage; although time is against you, you can easily backtrack ever so slightly to respawn enemies and farm items if you need to, which makes stocking up on extra lives or gaining an invincibility pretty simple and key to progressing through Magica’s Castle, which can get very unfair near the end.
As mentioned, Donald’s default weapon is a mallet but you can also grab a frisbee that allows you to perform a ranged attack; you can also press up and 1 to fire a frisbee upwards, which makes fighting the three crows a complete joke. You’ll also grab two gems for a score bonus if you like racking up a high score, extra lives, and Star items. Each Star will increase the speed of Donald’s attack but will also make him invincible for a very brief period of time once you collect five of them (though don’t get cocky as you can inexplicably still be hurt by spikes while invincible).
There’s nothing, I’m afraid to say. The game doesn’t even have any credits when you beat it, so the main incentive to go back to it is to try and earn a better high score or simply to replay a fun, colourful platformer. There is apparently a push-button cheat to grant Donald infinite lives on the continue screen but I couldn’t get this to work, and you can play the stages in a different order on each playthrough if you like, but it won’t change anything significant about the game.
The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck has been a staple of my Master System library for about thirty years; I played it over and over as a kid but could never complete it. I don’t really remember if I ever actually managed to make it through one of the three stages after rescuing Donald’s nephews, so I was very excited to come back to it and actually finish it for this review. Considering the game has infinite continues, I must have just gotten frustrated with some of the game’s harder sections and not stopped to stock up on extra lives, which doesn’t take very long to do and makes it a simple test of patience and memorisation to get past those trickier sections. The game is bright, cheery, and full of character; Donald controls really well and has a nice range of attacks, the music and Donald’s animations are terrific, and the stages and bosses are pretty decent in terms of the level of challenge on offer. It’s not really doing anything other platformers, especially those produced by Disney, weren’t doing at the time but there’s enough here to keep you busy for about an hour and a half and it remains a fun and colourful little platformer for SEGA’s 8-bit system.
What did you think of The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck? Where do you rate the game compared to other Disney titles of that era? Which of the game’s stages and bosses was the most difficult for you? What game/s did you struggle to finish as a kid and have to revisit years later? How are you celebrating National Donald Duck Day? Whatever you think about The Lucky Dime Caper, Donald Duck, or Disney in general, sign up to drop a comment below or let me know on my social media, and have a great Donald Duck Day!