It’s difficult to gauge how NES-era platformers fast approaching their 30th anniversaries are going to fare in the modern age, and when it comes to licensed properties you can make that double. The Disney Afternoon Collection, a commendable effort headed up by Mega Man Legacy Collection developer Digital Eclipse, aims to answer just that, and pads the experience with some bonus goodies to boot. The Afternoon Collection package is a mixed experience, with some titles holding up better than others, but ultimately it succeeds in conjuring nostalgia, even if you’re unlikely to spend as much time with these titles as you did back in the 90s.
Blast from the Past
For those unfamiliar, The Disney Afternoon was a syndicated programming block of Disney cartoons that ran for nearly a decade beginning in 1990. It offered four animated episodes in succession, some of which would be cycled in and out month to month as seasons of various shows began or concluded. Alongside the block came a smattering of videogames (from a surprisingly large number of development partners), chief among them Capcom and its excellent NES platformers. The Disney Afternoon Collection reins several of these into a neatly-organized, nostalgia-charged package.
Included in the collection are DuckTales, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, their respective sequels, Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin. Your enjoyment will almost certainly depend on your past associations with each title, but regardless of that each game brings something unique to the party not found, at least explicitly, in any other. DuckTales is the most solid of the bunch, offering colorful, pogo-based platforming as Scrooge McDuck bounces through tumultuous, varied environments using his emblematic cane. If you’ve ever wondered where the concept for Cranky Kong came from in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, here’s your answer.
DuckTales 2 brings more of the same with added in-level character dialogue, spruced-up visuals, and a world map, while Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers’ play style homes in on speedy platforming, deft avoidance of dastardly enemies, and the timed hurling of blocks and environmental objects. Though it’s clear DuckTales are the more solid titles throughout, I had far more fun with Chip ‘n Dale here. In particular, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2, though perhaps less classic in its presentation, kicks platforming speed up a notch and boosts visuals to a level that feel almost acceptable by today's standards.
Of the entire package, Rescue Rangers 2 and Darkwing Duck are the titles most likely to succeed if placed in front of an unsuspecting youth in 2017 sans nostalgia, at least in my estimation. The latter controls like Mega Man and is a still a blast to play, the variety of jumping, hanging, deflecting projectiles, and shooting bringing enough diversity to keep even its early stages interesting (and player minds constantly paying attention). The recurring “I am Darkwing Duck!” speech bubble at the start of each stage is still a great gag, and had me guffawing just like it did back in the day (though I suppose children don’t really “guffaw,” but you get the idea).
Most likely to be seen as the black sheep here is TaleSpin, and while I admittedly did play it the least, it does offer some clever uniquities. Unlike most titles of the era (and any of its cohorts here), the player can actually change the scrolling direction and move backward in a stage. This also points Baloo’s Seaduck in the opposite direction (and also, for some reason, upside down), thus enabling the target of enemies both in front and behind. The free movement of flight is refreshing, and impressive for 1991, so if the gameplay suits you perhaps TaleSpin will stand out. It just so happens it didn’t grab me here the way the other included titles did.
Ultimately, TaleSpin raises an important question about the entire Disney Afternoon package: are archaic NES games fun for very long in 2017? The cold truth is that if you strip away nostalgia, the answer is more no than yes. I spent many hours on certain titles and just one or two on others, the original Chip ‘n Dale in particular wearing thin on my patience quickly. These are still fun games, and their influence on the genre is strongly felt; you’ll notice play mechanics you didn’t even realize other games had aped cropping up at a near constant rate. And yet, unlike perhaps the SNES, which offers just enough sheen to still sparkle today, it’s ultimately difficult for NES titles to not feel antiquated if you spend enough time with them. It’s no fault of Digital Eclipse, and these repackaged version look nice, but it’s the reality.
Thankfully this has been taken into account, and in addition to a handy rewind function (an absolute lifesaver if you just want to experience these games sans trial-and-error suffering of a bygone age) Digital Eclipse has included both Boss Rush and Time Attack modes for your competitive enjoyment. Time Attack caters to the speedrunners among us and comes complete with leaderboards, while Boss Rush (my personal favorite) is all about consecutive boss encounters, which in some cases hold up better that the platforming that surrounds them. Both modes are fun diversions that add much-needed replay, and will no doubt prove addicting for some. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m hooked, but I did enjoy the variety.
To me a package like this is more about what it includes that you can’t emulate on your PC, and this is where Disney Afternoon goes the extra mile. From the main menu players can access the Disney Museum, which displays a variety of historical relics and fascinating bits of info about Capcom’s partnership with Disney, how the titles were developed, and what translating hand-drawn toons into pixel art was actually like. There’s also not-before-seen concept art, magazine ads, early screenshots, and even high-res scans of the original NES boxes, slightly tattered but largely preserved compared to what you’d probably find at a local yard sale. Call me a geek, but the Disney Museum is my favorite part of the entire package, even more than playing the games themselves. I only wish there was more - I was able to view the game’s entire Gallery (which includes Museum and three other categories) in less than 20 minutes, a span which I’d be thrilled if Afternoon doubled or even tripled.
The Disney Afternoon Collection is an admirable package, and the effort Digital Eclipse has put toward authentic emulation (complete with filtering options), an added rewind feature, and additional modes does not go unnoticed. It goes without saying that the chiptune soundtracks to these games are still a blast, and if you’re a nerd about game-making then the included Gallery and Museum are well worth your time.
Despite commendable frills, the point of this collection is games, and the truth is that these games are just old. Some are fun, others are less-so, but ultimately what you’re getting is average to good platforming across the entire package with a heady shot of nostalgia, if that applies to your age bracket. DuckTales will be the highlight for some, and given that DuckTales Remastered exists you’ll also want to ask yourself if you might prefer that instead. That said, at $20 it’s tough to go wrong with The Disney Afternoon, and like most things Disney, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have fun. That’s more than many games can say, regardless of which decade they hail from.