|From the man who brought you Leisure Suit Larry|
It's no surprise that media giant Disney expanded into video games fairly early into the industry's history. Mobygames lists their first titles as Mickey Mouse and Mickey & Donald, produced by Nintendo in 1981-1982 as part of their Game & Watch line of electronic toys, and the following years had no fewer than six TRON arcade and console games. In 1984, three licensed computer games were produced by Sierra; the children's adventures Winnie the Pooh and Mickey's Space Adventure, and the first Disney whale, Donald Duck's Playground.
Being a bit of Sierra completionist in the past, I had heard of this but not played it, understanding it to be a non-adventure game powered by the AGI engine that ran Space Quest and King's Quest III, as well as the 1987 re-releases of KQ 1&2. Oddly, no DOS version had ever been officially released, making it the only AGI game not to have one, but mostly functional bootlegs had been made available by extracting data files from Amiga/Atari ST version disks and running them with the DOS AGI interpreter from another game. I'm pretty sure I saw it running this way on a DOS machine in the late 80's.
After starting this blog and making a serious effort to play first versions whenever possible, I was surprised to find out that Commodore 64 had been the original target. Commodore 64 never had any AGI games! The engine always required 128KB, twice what the non-expandable 64 came with, so how was this the only exception? Simple - the C64 original isn't AGI at all; for some of the later platforms it had been remade in the AGI engine; a conversion process Al Lowe described as "ridiculous."
Three difficulty modes are offered, and going in semi-blind, I initially played on beginner to get an idea of how things work. Within maybe half an hour, I saw everything there was to see; you play minigames to earn money, spend money on pieces for your playground, and then arrange your playground and maybe play around on it a little before you get bored and quit.
So I replayed on Advanced.
All of Duckburg is accessible through this screen. On the left, three shops sell you gear for your playground, but Donald is broke. On the right, four offices offer jobs, and to the north, across the railroad tracks, the empty playground awaits.
I entered the Amquack railroad station to earn my first buck. Here, you just walk into a business and they give you a job that you can work at for as long or as short as you like. The 1980's was a different time.
It's a train track-switching puzzle game, where you have to get the train to the indicated stations as efficiently as you can, earning cash for each passenger delivery.
This got me $1.80 in two minutes for not doing very much.
This is a lot more money than I had earned in beginner mode, and I honestly couldn't remember if it got any harder. But had prices gone up, too?
Well, damn, yes they had. This toy horse had cost a quarter in beginner mode, which I could have easily earned in two minutes there. So I settled for a $1.47 trampoline.
Buying stuff involves a change-counting minigame, which is the only
overtly educational aspect of the package, though I can't help but sense
that the overall gameplay loop carries a bit of consumer culture indoctrination, teaching kids they'll do menial jobs for pitiful wages,
like good little workers, and then give it all given right back to the system in exchange for
meaningless distractions to play with for a little bit, like good little consumers, before returning to work again. It's what
Uncle Walt would have wanted.
|Why am I making change? You're the cashier, Minnie.|
|Whee. This is even less fun than the job I did to earn it.
Back to the grind to earn more cash, I worked the toy store job next.
Here, you have to place items on their proper places on the shelf - a task made more difficult for me thanks to my colorblindness - and for an added bit of fun you have to close the shop whenever the train passes by or else your stuff falls and breaks, and your pay is docked.
I only earned $1.05 doing this for two minutes, not enough to buy anything from Minnie's boutique, but at Mickey's hardware store I bought myself a $1.04 swing set.
Next job - produce sorting at the grocery store.
Three lousy cents per item sorted, and dodgy collision detection makes it real easy to drop them (and consequently get Donald angry), but at least this doesn't dock your pay. I got $1.44 for two minutes, not enough to buy anything.
The last job available is luggage sorting at the airport.
It's a losing battle against the conveyor belt, but nevertheless earned me $2.34, making it the most lucrative job of the set. With my savings, I bought a slide.
|Your playground sucks, Donald.
After that, I just grinded out another $40+ bucks working four eight-minute shifts at the airport and bought everything.
|The completed playground.
GAB rating: Average, but only regarding edutainment value to small children. Who, let's face it, aren't likely to be impressed by the Commodore 64 any longer. Anyone older than the target demographic is certain to find this too easy, unsubstantial, and boring.
What about the AGI version? It's no simple port, and I don't expect I'll ever have another reason to play it, so I went ahead and played through, mainly for that sense of AGI-engine completionism.
|Diegetic difficulty selection
|There's a in-game prologue this time, which showis off the multi-screen Duckburg.
In retrospect, I should not have picked advanced mode, as this makes most of the games unplayable unless you are emulating a slow computer. Case in point,
|This train never stops or slows down!
|Duckburg's commercial street
|Walking around Minnie's shop, King's Quest-style
|Stuff is a lot cheaper than C64's advanced difficulty
|The park entrance. Look both ways before crossing!
|The playground got a big, multi-screen upgrade, but isn't rearrange-able now.
|Produce-catching is also too fast and I suck at it.
|The toy store is nearly impossible on advanced mode. And it keeps giving me toys with no place to put!
|The coolest new addition - a rocket ship slide!
Bottom line - less playable minigames, but the reward for playing them is cooler.