When I think about games published by Adult Swim Games, the first thing that comes to mind is their absurdly addictive soundtracks and Duck Game is no exception to this rule. The second I fired it up, I was bombarded by a retro-style MIDI-esque score that left me eager to kick some butt. The menu, if I can call it that, is an area you navigate with your duck via Sonic-style springboards, and you’ll find the game has its own level editor, which is a very welcome addition in any game that features arena-style multiplayer.
The single-player portion of the game seems simple enough; a series of challenge-style maps presented to you that grant tickets based on your completion times. What quickly became apparent, though, was that these challenges were suspiciously tutorial-y. They are, in fact, the game’s clever way of teaching you all the mechanics you’ll need to know for the multiplayer side of things. I don’t just mean how to run, jump, and shoot, oh no. I mean things like how to slide under low walls, hold fire down with a grenade launcher to arc shots, double-tap a revolver to use the recoil to fire at an upward angle, break through doors and windows, oh, and slide around while using a freaking chainsaw to propel you in a map called “chainsaw racing”! The different time challenges are set up so that a bronze medal will net you the experience you need to grasp the concept of a mechanic, while the silver and gold tiers will require mastery of advanced interactions of those mechanics within the game world.
When I first set about Duck Game, I expected that the single player challenges would be the game’s weak point. After spending some time with them and all the absurdity and nostalgia they contain, I began to expect that the multiplayer couldn’t possibly live up to the ridiculous and frantic nature of the challenges. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The multiplayer feels like Smash Bros. if every hit were fatal, and spawn points were meticulously chosen for maximum chaos. And I truly do mean chaos. Duck Game’s multiplayer is a rare gem that is so intoxicatingly fast-paced that I understand how my input is in some way related to what’s happening on screen, but I rarely felt in control of what was happening. This truly is a great thing, as by five or six of the 1-30 second matches in, I was laughing so hard, I struggled to prevent the last of my breakfast orange juice from parting ways with me via my nose. It reminds me very much of how Hotline Miami feels and there’s a real sense of slapstick comedy to how the battles play out. After several of the tournament-style sessions, I never once cared if I won or lost, as it was just so bloody fun.
I’ve grown cynical of videogames over the past twenty-five plus years of playing them. It takes a lot to earn my favour these days, but Duck Game is truly and genuinely fun in a way that I so rarely experience anymore. I love the look of it. I love the music. I love the fact that I stand idle like Darkwing Duck in the NES game. I love that the whole thing feels like a John Woo movie. I love the maps that evoke Commander Keen, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario and more. I love that I can feign death. I love that there are hats and masks to unlock. And I freaking love that there’s a button to quack for no reason. Aside from it very much favouring a controller over the keyboard, I can’t find a single thing to criticize. I’m positively enamoured with Duck Game, and anyone who can’t find something to enjoy in it is truly a sad shell of a human being.