Duckman review

The Good:
  • Great sense of style
  • Good characters and story
  • Several laugh out loud moments
The Bad:
  • Extremely short
  • Some of the jokes fall flat
  • Feeling of untapped potential
  • No Jason Alexander
Our Verdict: A fun way to spend an afternoon for fans of the classic '90s cartoon-style adventures, but modern gamers may be underwhelmed.

Created in 1988 by cartoonist Everett Peck for Dark Horse Comics, Duckman is an anthropomorphic duck-like private detective with glasses for eyes, large teeth, and unusual red bangs drooping over his forehead. He went on to star in his own cable TV series, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, which ran for 70 episodes on the USA Network between 1994 and 1997. But despite his origins and his comic book-style name, Duckman is neither a hero nor particularly super, rarely solving a single case except by accident. Instead he spends the majority of his time fighting with his sister-in-law, propositioning women, torturing Fluffy and Uranus, the cute little teddy bears who temp at his office, and screaming at the top of his lungs.

The Duckman game treats the cartoon series as if it were a scripted reality show, with Duckman and his family as the stars. We open on Duckman lounging in a Jacuzzi at the Abs N’Ass health spa, where he's been living for a month, playing hooky from his contractual obligations. Then one day he turns on the tube and is shocked to see he's been replaced on his TV show by New Duckman, a buff superhero who's as competent and handsome as Duckman is inadequate and scrawny. Once the spa finds out he's not a TV star anymore, they toss him out on his beak, leading Duckman to storm Paramount Studios to get to the bottom of things. Finding no luck there, he seeks solace in the arms of his loved ones, only to find they prefer New Duckman, and are building an electric fence around the house to keep Old Duckman out. Now he's got to pull himself together long enough to investigate this turn of events and win back his show and the love (or at least tolerance) of his children.

Duckman is very similar to the LucasArts adventure games of the early to mid-90s, and strongly resembles Sam & Max Hit the Road in many ways, from the design of each area to the map with large location icons you use to travel from place to place. You can say anything to anyone, and attempt to pick up or use any object without fear, because you can't truly fail or get stuck, which is good because there are only ten save slots. There are three fairly easy timed sequences near the end where it's possible to die before you solve the puzzle, but if/when you do the game will stop to say how that would have been a tragedy, but luckily for you this "isn't that kind of game," and will automatically place you back at the beginning of the sequence. About those saves, I'd advise you to leave the room you're in if you plan on quitting, because for some reason the game loads at the moment you originally entered the scene, and will ignore anything you've done after that (like that long conversation, or when you finally figured out where to put that item).

The interface uses the mouse exclusively, with only two ways to interact with the world: rationally or irrationally. Either a calm, inquisitive Duckman face or an angry look-out-he's-gonna-blow Duckman face. A brilliant idea but not utilized to its fullest, as often the normal face will lead to trouble and the angry face will barely provoke a reaction. Duckman can carry almost anything in his inventory, and even objects twice his size slide easily into his… body? Feathers? Hammerspace?… and can be retrieved by clicking on Duckman himself. Keyboard shortcuts to access his inventory would've come in handy, but if there are any, I couldn't find them. The dialogue trees are another area where the game doesn't quite live up to its glimpsed interactive potential. Your conversation options consist not of words or phrases but of pictures, each one merely suggesting what you'll talk about. For example, a green card means you'll threaten to turn someone in to immigration, while a picture of the person you're talking to with lipstick on means you'll accuse them of being a crossdresser. Great stuff, but there are maybe a half-dozen in the entire game, with the majority of dialogue handled automatically.

The puzzles are primarily inventory-based, working on that sort of cartoon logic that fuels so many adventures. The first third of the game contains virtually no puzzles at all, and works on a rhythm of cutscene, interact with a couple objects/people, cutscene, repeat. It's not until Duckman learns he has to nail two auditions in order to regain access to the Paramount lot that the game part of this adventure finally comes in to play. If you're experienced with comic adventures, the puzzles shouldn't give you too much trouble. If all else fails, the old use-every-item-on-every-hotspot approach will eventually yield results (though the burp and fart sound effects when you go in and out of your inventory screen may grate on you after a while). Finding hotspots can be frustrating, as the only way to identify a clickable object is when the Duckman cursor changes expression, and given his head is so large, often he won't change expression if two hotspots are close together. And since sometimes a large object will be a hotspot in and of itself, but also contain smaller hotspots that can barely be differentiated, this will lead to a few teeth-grinding pixel hunts before all's said and done.

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