Re(?)Considered: Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow
From Quackshot to long shot, Maui Mallard's back
Stop everything. Stop it at once. Close that book. Finish that hoagie. Drop that baby. It's all
Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow has been released on Steam and GoG, which has to be one of the most obscure things they've ever seen fit to put out. I never thought there'd be any contemporary opportunity to write about it, but they've provided one and I'm going to take full advantage of it. Even on its original 1996 release, Maui Mallard was a weird one. It's a Donald Duck game - right, with you so far - in which you play as a pastiche of Magnum P.I - Eh? - named Maui Mallard. Who disguises himself a a ninja called Cold Shadow. This is absolute nonsense, and I won't tolerate it. It'd be like, I don't know, having a Mighty Ducks cartoon series in which they're actual ducks!
Maui Mallard only made it to SNES and Game Boy in that America; Nintendo had evidently waved their mighty money wand for exclusive rights to Donald Duck games. This, however, was wasted when they didn't bother localising either Magical Quest 3 or the bizarre odd-job Donald Duck no Mahō no Bōshi It was released on the Genesis in Europe, but it also showed up in the States on the short-lived Sega Channel telly-game-beaming service. It was released on PC/Windows 95 as well, and this is (obviously) the version that's turned up on digital download services recently.
This is another case of the Genesis and SNES getting markedly different games with the same basic premise and title; as with Mickey Mania, the Genesis version is superior. Unlike Mickey Mania, it's not quite such an absolute Sega steamrolling. Both versions are very enjoyable, but the SNES one is just a little more piecemeal, with the large levels divided into multiple shorter sub-levels, and generally slightly inferior level design. It's by no means bad, but the Genesis version feels more like a complete vision. Both are worth playing, but I'm focusing here on Sega's offering.
As one of the later platformers on the system, it's a downright tour-de-force in places. The levels feel downright lived-in, with abstract platforming woven cleverly into fairly convincing environments. Much like its contemporary Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, there are secrets everywhere that offer a tangible reward for exploration. It's imaginative throughout, with some fascinating gimmicks that I've never seen replicated since; there's a weird, wonderful stage based around using a bungee cord to hang upside-down on thin walkways, a sort of traversal that I haven't experienced in any other game. There's enormous variety in the aesthetics and gameplay gimmicks, but none of them threaten to overpower the central jump n' shoot gameplay (unlike the extremely confused Earthworm Jim 2).
Maui Mallard is a cut above most licensed platformers of its era, which had settled into something of a banal rot with offerings like the sub-standard Lion King tie-in. It's not perfect - there's a water level later in the game that's slower than molasses - but it offers a meaty, intelligent, creative platforming journey from a year when such things were at their absolute nadir.
In fact, you could say that it's absolutely quacking! Ha ha! Ahh, ya don't get it.