An Underappreciated Classic
If you have never played QuackShot and consider yourself a Sega Genesis fan, you should immediately go about securing yourself a copy. Donald Duck, dressed as Indiana Jones, goes on an adventure to retrieve the lost treasure of King Garuzia. Pete's gang is there to get in your way and shoot tomatoes and slimes from their rifles at you, but the enemies aren't really what stands in your way, so much as the environment.
Details about the game
A Little Personal History
I am not a true Genesis enthusiast. I grew up with the NES and SNES primarily and that's where most of my nostalgia comes from. My older brother did briefly own a Sega Genesis, but in less than a year, the system somehow failed beyond anything that we were able to repair (oddly, I have never heard of this happening to anyone else. Everyone I know that had a Genesis still has one and it works perfectly.) So, while I did play the Sonic games, I have much clearer memories of the Mario Bros. games. A friend of mine owned QuackShot and I remember borrowing it from him several times during that brief period when I had access to a Genesis.
Recently, I started wanting to explore some video game history that I knew very little about. I picked up an Atari Flashback 7, wondering what video games were like at the dawn of the industry. I might discuss my experiences with that system in more depth in another article, but let's just say that I wasn't as enthralled as I hoped I would be.
I decided to try something that had a more direct evolutionary connection with my childhood memories, and picked up a Sega Flashback HD. While I had fun playing the Sonic games and Golden Axe again, what really caught my attention was Shining Force. I didn't realize that there were some legitimate RPGs and tactics games on the console. It seemed like there were undiscovered gems (well, undiscovered by me, anyway) lying in the Sega library that I could experience.
Naturally, I started getting curious about exploring the cartridge slot on the top of the Flashback and wondered what game I wanted that wasn't already on the system. QuackShot was the first one that came to mind.
Note: The first copy I purchased was dead. I'm told this is a common problem with Genesis cartridges, so that's always a risk when you buy it from marketplaces like Amazon or eBay. I purchased a second copy from GameStop and the Mega Drive version arrived in the mail a few days later. Fortunately the Flashback runs Mega Drive games, and the game booted up effortlessly without even needing to be cleaned.
Raiders of the Lost Duck
One of the first things that the player will notice is that Donald Duck is dressed like Indiana Jones. The game was released a scant 2 years after Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, so the film would be fresh in the minds of the players and the developers. The connection goes farther than just the aesthetic of the main character. The level select screen, the levels, and even one of the bosses are clearly influenced by the movies.
Donald from QuackShot
At first glance, QuackShot is your typical Disney-license platformer-shooter. Controls aren't really tight and responsive, but they aren't fighting you either. In fact, before you leave the first area, the controls seem very natural. Donald controls EXACTLY how you would expect him to. A touch floaty, but not annoyingly so. His gun shoots plungers, which makes me think of it as a grown-up version of a suction-cup dart gun.
The temper meter is a great mechanic. After Donald picks up his fifth pepper, he completely flips out and dashes through the stage at super speed, quacking hysterically, knocking off any enemy in his path. It doesn't last very long and only comes into play three times throughout the entire playthrough (once in Duckburg, Maharajah, and Egypt each), but it's a hilarious treat when it does.
Slightly more odd is how health is recovered. You start the level with five of your eight hit points filled. That is kind of cool, because it means that extra health you find isn't wasted: you can overfill. You recover one hit point by picking up ice cream. Which isn't that weird. What is weird is that you recover all your hit points by eating chicken. Personally, I think ducks and chickens are a little too closely related to comfortably eat each other. You can also come across corn, which sounds like another edible. It even makes sense for a duck to eat it. But it's actually the popcorn ammo that you shoot from your gun. Don't get me wrong, the popcorn is awesome (basically the spreader from Contra), but it just seems like more of the kind of food that Donald should be eating. Instead of... you know... chicken.
Speaking of ammo, the most interesting aspect of this game is related to the upgrades that you get for your gun. You start the game with the humble yellow plunger which fades when it hits a solid object and stuns an enemy for a few seconds when it hits them. Later, you get the red plunger, which sticks to walls and allows you to climb. Eventually, you get the green plunger which you can shoot birds with, grab a hold to, and fly to otherwise inaccessible areas. Gyro gives you explosive bubblegum ammo which you can use to destroy barrels and some walls in Dracula's castle (which I keep wanting to call Castlevania).
Level Select Screen
The Travel Mechanic
One of the most interesting parts of QuackShot is the travel mechanic. After the intro screen, you are presented with three choices of where to go: Duckburg, Mexico, and Transylvania. Naturally, I picked Duckburg. When I got to the end of Duckburg, a dog in a safari hat tells me that you need climbing equipment to go much farther. And by that he means that you can't get past the wall he's standing in front of until you get a thing. Donald responds by planting a green flag that can be used to call Huey, Dewey, and Louie in the plane to fly back to the stage select screen. I pick Transylvania because that sounds totally safe. And I want to see if Simon Belmont is trying to get in. I get to the castle and Donald plants another flag. Unlike Duckburg, however, I can still go forward. Much like Duckburg, I can't go very far. A little ways inside the castle a ghost tells me that I need explosives to get past the discolored wall. Deciding that Dracula probably doesn't want visitors just yet, I go back out to the flag and call the boys again. We go to Mexico because that's the only place I haven't tried, and at the end of that, a woman tells Donald that he needs the Hero Key to open the door, which has been taken to Duckburg. I fly back to Duckburg, a little annoyed about the runaround, and am shocked to find out that I land right in front of safari dog. After a brief conversation, he gives me the Hero Key, I fly back to Mexico and land right in front of the door. I pop it open and start the first dungeon.
This was a smart way to handle this. The green flags prevent annoying backtracking, and also allow for progression across different stages at the same time. While I could have done Mexico first to save some time, I did not feel that I was punished for experimenting around with my options and doing the wrong one first.
QuackShot can be beaten in a few hours and the save state function of the console was generally unnecessary due to the infinite continues mechanic. Yes, it got annoying to have to go back through the Maharajah's palace to fight and refight the tiger (who looks remarkably like an obese Shere Khan) every time it wrecked my face (seriously, I fought that thing about ten times before I beat it) but it wasn't unmanageable. Even the worst part of the game, Pete's Hideout, required only a few continues to figure it out.
The game's difficulty is challenging enough to make clearing levels feel like an accomplishment, without being downright oppressive as some retro games tend to be (Super Ghouls and Ghosts, I'm looking at you). Even the most difficult parts can be overcome through determination, because there is no limit to the number of continues you can use. It does restart you at the beginning of the level you are on, but you can retrace your steps back to where you were without too much difficulty.
The boss fights go from ridiculously easy (Dracula, Pete, and the Knight) to frustratingly difficult (that stupid tiger). They are a welcome change of pace, and none of them feel like a reskinning of a previous boss fight, and there is no boss gauntlet at the end of the game.
Where the game really shines is the dungeons. The first one, the Mexico Temple, does a great job setting the tone for the rest of them: tons of traps with only a few enemies. The environment is the adversary, in true Indiana Jones fashion. Similarly, Dracula's castle and the Maharajah's palace are interesting changes of pace, while Egypt's Temple is a much harder version of the Mexico Temple. The Viking Ship, The South Pole, and Pete's Hideout aren't great, but the final island puts everything you've learned to the test.
You Have Chosen Wisely
Pleasant with challenging sections
Four to Six Hours
Catchy but forgettable
Attractive and Cartoonish
Simple with Some Cool Touches
Traveling and Upgrading mechanic
My Purchase Price
$15 for the first one, $10 for the second.
QuackShot is a fun, quick experience that embodies why retro gaming is so attractive. It has a beloved character, easy-to-learn gameplay, and understandable objectives. You can get lost in it for a little while, but it isn't rigorously demanding either. A good way to spend an afternoon.