Although it saddens me to admit it, there’s simply no denying that Howard the Duck isn’t a very good movie. It’s probably not any one thing’s fault, I mean, it was released decades before the whole Marvel Cinematic juggernaut rolled into town, and way before it was ever cool to be a comic book fan. But, despite all of these things, some movies were still able to churn out pretty decent video games, which made up for the shoddy cinematic experience and restored the property to its former glory in the eyes of fans. Sadly, the Howard the Duck video game doesn’t fall into that category. Not even close.
But before we examine the self-destruction of this revered Marvel property, let’s rewind a little to the glory days of 1984. Fresh off the trilogy ending Return of the Jedi, George Lucas was looking for his next big hit and began to focus his mighty beard on a little read comic book by the name of Howard the Duck. Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik back in the early 1970’s, Howard is an anthropomorphic Duck from outer space, who finds himself trapped on planet Earth. The character first appeared in Adventure into Fear #19 and was considered a bit player in the much bigger Man-Thing comics.
By 1986, Lucas and his LucasArts tribe had begun putting the finishing touches to their new smash hit movie and quickly began to plan just how much Howard merchandise they could get on to the shelves, much like they had with Star Wars. But Howard the Duck wasn’t a smash hit. In fact, it only made $38 million at the box office, which is a mere $1 million more than it cost to make. Because of, this there was no merchandise train to jump on board, no spin-off TV show, and no ill-advised Christmas special. Instead, the only real piece of merch on offer was a video game for your home computer. Who knows how many copies were made, but it’s a fair estimate that sales were few and far between.
So what exactly went wrong with the Howard the Duck video game? Afterall, it had been published by Activision, the soon-to-be powerhouse of gaming. The first failure is probably in the fact that the developers obviously never saw the movie. Unlike the film, the video game sets the action on the lame sounding Volcano Island and has our titular hero parachute from the skies to save his two best buds who have been kidnapped and hidden somewhere in the unforgiving wilderness. This could be because the game was developed alongside the filming of the flop-movie, so perhaps we can’t blame the team entirely as they likely hadn’t had time to watch it. But in doing this they failed to bring any of the film’s quirky humor to the game, and completely missed the biggest selling point of the entire feature – the Howard the Duck and Lea Thompson sex scene! That could have been a whole level of its own. It would later transpire that the original draft of the movie saw Howard living it up in Hawaii as a Private Investigator, so it’s entirely likely this is why the game ended up being set on a ‘tropical paradise’.
The visuals of the game were some of the poorest ever seen, even for a game ported to the Amstrad CPC, Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64. The controls – which relied on the crappy joysticks of old, where you only had to move your character too far left and the whole thing imploded – were clunky, and the on-screen action, which consisted of Howard performing quack fu on black blobs with eyes, was downright boring. Even the big bad of the piece looked like a turd squeezed into a tuxedo. And why does Howard look like he’s just fallen out of bed? Is he wearing a … dressing gown? What were you thinking Activision? What were you thinking?
Perhaps the only saving grace of the game is the spot on chiptune that plays when you complete it. Not that I ever completed it. I gave up way before the end, sick of Howard dying because the jump controls were so poor, and killing him in the quicksand. Nope, I had to listen to the chiptune on YouTube instead, which is where I’d recommend you listen to it, so you don’t have to sit through 4 of the worst levels of gameplay ever conceived.
Thankfully, Howard’s fortunes have seen a monumental change in that he is enjoying a newfound career resurgence thanks to his blink and you’ll miss it cameo in the original Guardians of the Galaxy. As a result, he has appeared in several Marvel video games to huge fanfare, and there has even been an outpouring from fans for an all-new movie, which means he’s surely wiped the slate clean after such a horrible start to life off the pages of his original comic book series. And that’s got to be a good thing because believe me when I tell you, the Howard the Duck video game was one bad egg that really stunk up the place.
The Technical Stuff:
Rating: You’d have to be quackers to want to revisit this stinker
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