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Howard the Duck - Adventure on Volcano Island for the Commodore 64 - Review

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

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Based on the George Lucas film and comic book created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, Howard the Duck reminds us that just because you can make a video game out of a giant talking duck, doesn’t mean you should.

The Basics

  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: Activision
  • Year of Release: 1986

The Good

  • Funny camp value in bizarre scenarios that have little to do with the film.
  • High quality Commodore 64 graphics and music.
  • Multiple levels, each with unique gameplay.

The Bad

  • Frustrating controls have you constantly jumping when you’re trying to punch.
  • Can only progress in levels if you increase the difficulty settings.
  • Water current and wind, feel more like unresponsive controls than part of the game.
  • No conclusion to the storyline, you just get a screen with a metal stating your game ranking.
  • Too difficult to win in a single play, yet no saves to record your progress.

Features

  • Four difficulty settings: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert.
  • Three game levels, each with unique gameplay modes: Fighter - Quack-Fu style, airplane navigation and shooter.
  • Totally cheesy and completely corny presentation.

A little about a duck named Howard

Created by scribe Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, the cigar chomping, cynical, Howard the Duck didn’t get his start as a video game or even a big budget Hollywood movie. Howard's début was in a comic book. Originally a second fiddle character in Adventure into Fear and soon after as a back-up story in Man Thing (both written by Gerber), Howard eventually graduated to his own series in 1976, and still pops up in various cameos and mini-series, throughout the Marvel Universe. At one point Howard’s popularity was so great that when the fictitious character ran in the actual 1976 Presidential election, he received several thousand write-in votes.

Following the adventures of an anthropomorphic duck, who accidentally slipped through a dimensional portal from his home planet of Duck World, and ends up on Earth. In need of some serious anger-management, Howard has to deal with the bigotry, fears and ignorance of mankind, while continually having the save this planet, along with his human girlfriend Beverly. The original character of Howard was a satirical look at modern American society, tackling topics such as hippies, fast food, modern rock (the band Kiss appear in an issue), discrimination and unemployment. Anyone who felt beaten down by the world could relate to Howard.

Then George Lucas decided to make a movie about the duck.

Translating Howard into a film was a bit of a futile effort. The comic, with its intelligent, yet mean-spirited humor, was best suited for the printed page and was geared towards an older audience. The movie was a spectacular failure, filled with forced humor, big budget explosions, uninspired, uninteresting characters, and a duck-creature costume that didn’t come close to resembling Howard. Regardless, the video game industry was not about to let a new George Lucas Sci-Fi movie get away without a video game based on it, so Howard the Duck for the Commodore 64 was born.

The Game

Set as a sequel to the movie, there is a new Dark Overlord in town (the villain from the movie) and he knows that Howard, and his mastery of the martial arts Quack-Fu, is the only thing that can stop him from taking over the world. So while Howard is hamming it up on stage in a concert (he and Beverly became rock stars), the Overlord kidnaps Bev and Philsie, and whisks them away to the deadly Volcano Island.

There are three different game levels, each with its own unique style of gameplay. The first is an overhead view of the maze like Volcano Island, with Howard having to jump over quicksand, using a portable jet ski to help maneuver across bodies of water, and battle Dark Overlord’s minions, all of which look like Dracula with a giant headed. The second level has the same island screen, but now you are flying above it in an airplane, fighting air currents and navigating around trees in order to enter the live Volcano where the Dark Overlord is hiding. Finally you reach the Overlord's secret hideout, where you must carry your trusty missile launcher across a pool of lava while running across a rickety bridge and dodging the holes made by falling stalactites. When you reach the Dark Overlord, you must shoot him with missiles as he fires energy bolts upon you. Once you’ve defeated the Dark Overlord, you just flip a switch to "Volcano off" and the game is over.

The game takes full advantage of the Commodore's superior 1982 graphics and sound capabilities, but its downfall ends up being the frustratingly unresponsive controls. The majority of the game time is spent in the first level, where you fight the Overlord's army of minions using your Quack-Fu skills. The problem is punch/kick and jump are all the same button, so the game often has you jumping up and down when you’re trying to karate chop baddies. As you continue to try and punch and kick enemies, but hop in place instead, your soon surrounded and spin into a dead duck. The second and third levels are far too easy in comparison to the first, making the game unbalanced. Had the difficulty of the levels increased as you progress would have made more sense. As there are no save options in the game, few will invest the time and energy to make it all the way through to the disappointing climax.

Speaking of the climax, it's non-existent. The game simply ends once you flip a switch turning the volcano off. Why the volcano needed to be switched off is anyone’s guess, and the fate of Bev and Phil remains a mystery as the game simply ends abruptly, not even allowing the option to replay without shutting down and reloading the program.

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