I made a concerted effort to enjoy games with a greater co-op vibe, following a substantial upgrade of my living room earlier this year. That involved purchasing a nice 60” TV and re-using some old PC parts to make a beefy Steam machine; I wasn’t about to let those efforts go to waste.
So I continued to explore. And one game still stands out, one that I’ve continued to enjoy over the months. And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that I grew up with lots of ducks.
If it launched on any console bar the Ouya, Duck Game probably wouldn’t qualify for considerations this year. But that’s been the fate of the Ouya, the crowdfunded console that has ended up functioning more like a filter for co-op experiences before they launch onto other platforms.
Towerfall is probably the game most synonymous with the Ouya, and it’s easy to spot some influences in Duck Game. Duck Game’s mix of hand-crafed and procedurally generated levels were a natural evolution, for instance, although Towerfall itself got random maps after the launch of the Dark World expansion in May.
What Towerfall doesn’t have, of course, is a button dedicated to quacking. Maybe that’s where growing up with ducks helps.
You can never have too many ducks
But the array of weapons, and the potential chaos that ensues, helps more. Of the course of a standard four-player game, you’ll encounter rocket launchers, muskets, swords, jetpacks, lasers, futuristic weapons that shoot neon squares of death, revolvers, automatic pistols, magnets, bananas, mines, hand grenades, boulders, boxes, flamethrowers, nets, and more.
The ducks are surprisingly agile, too. After a few hours of play, you’ll start to get the hang of running and sliding, which helps to dodge projectiles, creates alternate angles, and lets you get out of sticky situations. In a competitive setting, having that touch of depth gives players options. It stops you from feeling like you’re trapped.
I already mentioned the jetpack, but you’ll also come across grapple hooks -- one of the first singleplayer challenges teaches you this mechanic specifically -- and a range of other ways to get around too. It all helps to keep things fresh from match to match, an important ingredient for when the random map generator crafts a less than ideal setting.
But most importantly: there’s a button for quacking.
It sounds like a joke. Often, at the end of a round, when the feathers and shell casings are strewn across the map and one bird is left standing, it feels like a joke. If you’ve got a group of people sitting around, playing for the first time, it elicits a laugh.
Months later, when your friends have played several sessions of Duck Game, a well-timed quack still elicits a laugh.
The intermissions add to the game's charm
Another natural evolution in Duck Game from the Towerfall formula was the inclusion of functional online multiplayer. The best experience is still when you get four people around a TV, throw in some food and drinks and then hand everyone a controller, but not everyone has the ability to entertain or support that.
And even then, when you’re sitting at home alone, with three other strangers, squinting to see the spawning location of your duck, there are still those moments: the times when a grenade bounces off a wall and catches two birds unawares. The times when a bullet triggers a chain reaction that ends with a solitary quack; the times when a duck catches on fire, and spawns a blitzkrieg of charred feathers that creates utter chaos for a few seconds.
It offers moments of genuine hilarity. That doesn’t mean you can spend an entire night playing Duck Game -- it’s always best mixed in with a package of co-op games. But I still look forward to hearing that 8-bit music on the menu level. I still enjoy cycling through the random selection of hats, the off-beat levels, and the highlight reels with John Mallard.
There’s a friend of mine who I used to work with. We’ve both since changed jobs and he works midnight shifts, which often makes it difficult to catch up. But on the few occasions I have seen him this year, we’ll have a chat, talk about sport, the family, and other odds and ends.
And then, ever so casually, I’ll just drop the following: “Quack.”
His reply, every time: “Quack quack quack quack quack quack.”
Duck Game is great; everyone should play it. And not just because you grew up with ducks.