Game Review – Duck Game

TL;DR: How many people remember Jump ‘n’ Bump… because Duck Game is the same concept, interpreted by the gaming world of 20 years later… and it’s fun.

Introduced to me by my brother, Duck Game is a tongue-in-cheek pixel-art party game which feels a bit like a non-turn-based analogue to the Worms series. Up to four players (either via couch co-op or online multiplayer) choose goofy team costumes and destroy each other in a one-shot-kill free-for-all.

…so, let’s get to the highlights:

The Good

  • The controls are responsive and, when played with an XInput-compatible controller, feel quite intuitive.
  • The art definitely knows what it wants to be and evokes a strong sense of “VGA DOS platformer” (eg. Jazz Jackrabbit) with a hint of Terraria (the trees) or SNES games (certain background assets) at times.
  • The music, while not something I’d buy the soundtrack for, does its job well and reminds me of genuine 90s chiptunes that I might find in a stroll through the MOD Archive.
  • Like the Worms games, it’s got a wide variety of entertaining weapons, including a net launcher, a black powder rifle with associated smoke and loading times, and the ability to kill other players by throwing terrain objects such as boulders.
  • The game isn’t just fun, it clearly puts a lot of effort into letting the players goof around to inject their own sense of humour. Examples include:
    • A dedicated button to quack which gives me fond memories of playing with the “Meep Meep” and Tongue buttons in Road Runner’s Death Valley Ralley for the SNES.
    • Some very ridiculous team-identifying hats, including hamburger-head, so-ugly-they-wear-a-paper-bag, and a Jazzpunk-inspired combo… each with its own quack animation.
    • A period after you win each bout when you can do silly things like throwing other players’ corpses off the level or killing yourself without consequence… and it’s neither too short nor too long.
    • The ability to goof around on the winners’ podium screen, doing things like stealing someone else’s trophy.
  • After each match, the game displays a sports commentator who presents some highlights and a tongue-in-cheek score readout.
  • It has a level editor
  • It’s an XNA 4.0 game so, with a few minor workarounds, it plays beautifully in Wine on Linux… something I always like to draw attention to. (That said, I experienced a crash while trying to show the recap on Wine 1.9.16, so I suggest 1.9.23-staging instead.)

The Bad

  • When I say “party game”, I mean it. There are no A.I. players offered and the only single-player mode is a challenge arcade.
  • Having to pull the pin on the grenade with one button, then throw it with another takes some getting used to.
  • The default keyboard bindings are awkward and I encountered an in-game hint that suggested the arrow keys when I actually had to use WADS.
  • I found the degree to which the zoom varies to be quite distracting when I wasn’t sitting right up close to the screen, so some players may need to use an actual couch and big-screen TV for any couch co-op play.
  • The level editor’s support for backgrounds isn’t WYSIWYG, doesn’t really have any tool modes except “place individual block”, and the block palette is inefficiently designed. (I really wish the author had just used Tiled instead.)
  • I know of no non-Steam options for network multiplayer.

The Ugly

  • The camera zooms automatically and it’s far too aggressive. If you’re in the single player arcade lobby or all of the players are clustered together, expect bigger pixels and less visibility than even an old 320×200 DOS game.
  • After you die, you have to wait and twiddle your thumbs while the remaining players duke it out. Expect novice players to spend a lot of time watching rather than playing.
  • Currently only available through Steam.

So, what’s my verdict? More visibly flawed than most games I play, but definitely worth it if you can arrange the time to play it with one or more other human beings.

The camera-zoom is so extreme in single-player mode that I found it unplayable, but you quickly learn to flee to opposite edges of the level in multiplayer mode to force it to zoom out.

The control is smooth and highly responsive, both the game itself and starting a new level are fast-paced (as long as you don’t have more than two players), and I could easily waste an afternoon on it with my brother if our schedules didn’t so rarely coincide.

I’d have preferred if there were alternative play modes which mitigated the “you’re dead but they’re not” wait such as “first to X kills, players revive/respawn” or “dead players come back as ghosts to distract the living”, but that’s a nitpick which is easy to work around by sticking to two-player matches.

All in all, this is one of those games where, if any one of the players is good at goofing off, the game gets a lot more fun and I highly recommend trying it if you have a friend who has it.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Game Review – Duck Game by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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