The OUYA carved its niche as a solid home console for local multi-player gaming, dating back to a little launch title by the name of TowerFall. Matt Thorson’s fantastic archery combat game focused on fast-paced 4-player arena battles–and recently added single-player modes–but all similarities aside, Duck Game takes the concept and cranks it up to eleven. With an insanely large variety of levels, weapons, and unlockables, is Landon Podbielski’s fowl-based fragfest the new King of the Couch? Abso-ducking-lutely.
Duck Game is an odd thing to try and explain to people. Sure, the name alone is weird, but how do you sell someone on a game based around ducks killing each other with chainsaws while flying around on jetpacks? Can you imagine the look on their faces when you tell them “that button is for quacking“? It’s essentially the waterfowl frag-olympics masked as a sporting event, with 16-bit visuals, an extremely catchy soundtrack, and more dangerous weaponry lying around than Thunderdome. I strongly suggest clearing your schedule and investing in a comfortable couch.
“EVEN WITH OVER 2,000 MATCHES UNDER MY BELT I STILL CAN’T REMEMBER WHICH WEAPONS SPAWN ON WHICH MAPS, AND I’M NOT EVEN SURE I’VE SEEN EVERYTHING DUCK GAME HAS TO OFFER.”
In a nutshell, it’s pure insanity. The core of it is the 2-4 player competitive arena mode, which features over 50 different levels, just as many weapons, and even custom modifiers if you and your friends want to get creative. The controls are simple enough, with basic jump, shoot, pickup, throw, and dive commands (as well as a dedicated quack button), which should make the game an easy sell to newcomers. It’s deceptively simple though, as there’s plenty of skill in well-timed dives to avoid incoming bullets, or using the more advanced weaponry without blowing yourself up.
Similar to TowerFall, the objective is to be the last man (duck) standing. Where it differs though is in its arsenal, which ranges from deadly sniper rifles, elephant guns and hand grenades, to not-so-deadly gag weapons like musical instruments and Nerf darts. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface though. There’s sledgehammers to pound your friends to a pulp, net launchers to send them packing off the side of the arena, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, chainsaws, landmines, and even an exploding RC car. I used mind control guns to walk my opponents off ledges, a grimoire to turn them in to me, and even killed myself on numerous occasions with reflective laser beams.
Hopefully the laundry list of weaponry wasn’t overwhelming, because I haven’t even gotten to the power-ups yet. I found Medieval suits of armor, speed shoes, grappling hooks that let me go all Bionic Commando between platforms, and jetpacks that took the fight to the skies. It’s a lot to soak in, and there’s plenty that can go wrong while simultaneously platforming and avoiding death at the hands of your couchmates. Forgetting the quad-laser has a nasty kickback gave away plenty of freebies as I threw myself off of ledges. I even pulled myself over landmines with the magnet gun while attempting to yank in weapons from across the arena. I sucked something fierce, but it was glorious. Sometimes my own personal shortcomings made the best highlight reels at the end of our matches too, so I didn’t even have to win to enjoy myself.
Arenas range from forests, floating office buildings, and even outer space, but there isn’t much variety going on in terms of backdrops. Some are larger, fully enclosed structures, while others are more platform heavy; with plenty of opportunity for accidental ring-outs. With 50 different levels flying by at random, every match felt brand new. Even with over 2,000 matches under my belt I still can’t remember which weapons spawn on which maps, and I’m not even sure I’ve seen everything Duck Game has to offer.
Its competitive arena mode is probably where you’ll spend most of your time, but what happens when you’re flying solo? The newly added adventure mode offers a variety of challenges that can be completed for tickets. Tickets can then be spent to unlock custom multi-player modifiers, like reduced gravity, infinite ammo, or causing your ducks to explode when they die; so there’s tons of incentive to give both modes a go. I spent a lot of time here and had a blast navigating an ascending maze full of spiked walls, but some of the more standard trials (like time trials and shooting static targets) weren’t as entertaining. I still came back to best my times or unlock modifiers, but I always found myself drawn toward the more interesting challenges instead. Some of them can be pretty brutal as well, so if you’re the type that frustrates easily, your mileage in the single-player mode will vary.
“…don’t be surprised if your friends start showing up unannounced more often.”
When it comes to content, there’s plenty of it. There’s even different costumes to personalize your duck; like sombreros, cheeseburger masks, and cross-over homages to other indie titles like Amazing Frog? and Read Only Memories. However, if creativity is your thing, there’s also a level editor that allows you to use the game’s assets and craft your own arenas. You can use any tile set and every object found within the game, while also setting spawn locations and weapon placement. I’m not a big fan of these types of things, so I didn’t give it my full attention. That’s not to say it was lacking anywhere, but it’s just not a draw for me.
There’s no campaign, and there’s not even really a story, but Duck Game has been my obsession over the last few days. Even as I sit here writing this review, I’m finding myself itching for another first-to-50 arena battle. It’s technically sound, and I have no complaints about its platforming or weapon functionality. However, the absence of A.I. bots in the arena mode is a bit disappointing. I always wished we could fill our last spot(s) with A.I. just to keep things hectic, or even practice when I’m alone, and hopefully that’s something that appears in a future update. 1-on-1 matches are still really, really fun though. That complaint aside, the fast-paced battles and accessible gameplay make it an ideal game to load up when friends show up unannounced–just don’t be surprised if your friends start showing up unannounced more often.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and an aficionado of bizarre indie games that lives on his OUYA and Xbox One. If it’s weird and pixely, he’ll like it. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.