“Cartooning is preaching. And I think we have a right to do some preaching. I hate shallow humor. I hate shallow religious humor, I hate shallow sports humor, I hate shallowness of any kind.”
-Charles M. Schulz
Some ways, some games go slippin’ through the cracks, but this here writer is pickin’ up the slack. There’s no game too big, no game too small. Need a review? Just call: Wuh-Wuh-Wuh-Well-Red Mage, Classics Gamer!
I hope you like that parodied jangle. I stayed up all night working on it, well, that and playing 8-bit classics such as those in The Disney Afternoon Collection. The first game to go under my knife is Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, originally released by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was Capcom’s second game based on a Disney cartoon after the very well-received DuckTales. The game is a great example of Capcom’s talent for platformer development and and their dedication to producing a game with presentation identical to the animated show on which Rescue Rangers was based. They even got the logo down!
For those not in the know, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was a Disney cartoon about the two titular chipmunks who once took pleasure in tormenting Donald Duck recast as unofficial detectives and vigilantes. They solved crimes that went unnoticed by human law enforcement and led an anthropomorphic team consisting of Gadget, Monterey Jack, and Zipper. It was typical high adventure, 90’s cartoon funstuffs. Nobody wore pants. That’s the kind of world it used to be.
Capcom’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers is a platformer that lets you play as either of the two sciuridae on a mission to rescue a missing kitten. At the start of the game, the team splits up. Chip, the serious one dressed like Indiana Jones, and Dale, the goofy one in the Aloha shirt, are left with the task of doing the footwork to track down the missing feline, battling back rogue rodents, canine automatons, and other pesky pests along the way. Side note: my wife admitted to me after we’d been married that she had a crush on Dale as a little girl, so I wonder what that means about her choice to marry me? I guess that means I’m the comic relief.
Anyway, Chip and Dale eventually uncover a plot by Fat Cat, a notorious criminal, who used the missing kitten story as a ruse to could kidnap Gadget. Gagdet helps the duo via a homebrew communications device she whips up, guiding them through non-linear stages until they reach Fat Cat’s hideout and return the pudgy mob boss to prison.
Rescue Rangers features somewhat non-linear progression through early stages, which switches up once you reach Zone G. There, reuniting with Gadget, the chipmunk duo board her rocket ship which takes them to the final three stages of Fat Cat’s headquarters. Think Dr. Wily skull castles from Mega Man’s games, because this is Capcom after all and Mega Man lends a lot of his gameplay flavor to this game, though the general feel of Rescue Rangers is lighthearted and much easier by comparison.
Dispatching with the familiar concept in platforming of jumping on enemies’ heads to defeat them à la Super Mario Bros., Chip and Dale have the ability to pick up crates and throw them at their foes. One stops to wonder briefly who made all these tiny boxes measured in centimeters, but that’s beyond the scope of the game. Chip and Dale can toss the crates directly ahead of them or straight upward, giving them some maneuverability in their attacks but by far the most interesting bit of offense they have is hiding in the boxes.
Eat your heart out, Solid Snake. The enemies don’t seem to notice the chipmunk detectives hiding in their boxes, though we of course can see their beady eyes sticking out, and if an enemy contacts a chipmunk-in-a-box in this way the enemy will be automatically defeated. Neat.
Grabbing and stacking boxes is an interesting mechanism in the game since there are methods that reach beyond using the cubes to attack, such as stacking them in certain areas to get to higher platforms or make longer jumps. Grabbing boxes will also occasionally reveal hidden items: flower icons or stars.
The flowers and stars can be collected for points and a certain number of them is reached you will earn a 1up. Chip and Dale can only sustain three hits each before expiring but there are plenty of items in each stage, and bonus rounds after the stages, as well as a handful of continues after losing all lives, that the game is essentially a breeze. I’m quite certain it’s the easiest game in the Afternoon Collection, besides for maybe its sequel.
With less than a dozen levels, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers is also a pretty short game, too. Plus there’s little variety between the stages and the bosses. The big bads are defeated exclusively by tossing a red ball at them. Most regular enemies (except for those darned hornets) are slow moving, easy to avoid, and very susceptible to tiny crate tossing. Enemy placement can sometimes be a difficulty in NES-era platforming whenever developers used jerk moves like relying on enemy respawns just outside of the screen or enemies spawning over a pit in the middle of your jump, but there’s very little of that in Rescue Rangers. In fact, I can only think of a single instance involving a flying squirrel ninja in one of the last levels.
Fans of the cartoon will undoubtedly find some nostalgia in Rescue Rangers, though there’s less character beats and pixel portraits than in the sequel. Folks looking for an easy game to break into 8-bit retro platforming would do well to look in this game’s direction. Its ease and accessibility make it an excellent candidate. No wonder it’s the first game I beat in the Afternoon Collection!
The 8-bit Review
Clear conscious effort went into making the game and its characters resemble the cartoon as closely as possible, as newly released concept art illustrates. It gets the coloration and dress of the characters correct and there’s a very slight amount of that iconic Disney “bounciness” portrayed in the pixel art. Portraits between stages featuring the whole cast of characters are not animated however and the static images aren’t as eye-grabbing as other NES games’ cinematic scenes. This is unfortunately translated to boss like Fat Cat, who is essentially just a still image with a moving cigar. A smidge boring but points must be given for accuracy to the animation. It’s above average for NES graphics though it doesn’t escape the drabness of that console’s browns and golds.
The biggest headliner musically is of course the theme song which plays over the title screen. It sounds great in 8-bit chiptune and it’s recognizable, if you’re familiar with the cartoon’s theme song. It’s as catchy as ever, so be careful. It may just get stuck in your head. Inescapable nostalgia.
Not too much of the soundtrack stands out past pressing start for the first time, unfortunately. This isn’t to say that any of the music is awful. It’s just merely passable. It serves the game but not necessarily well.
There are echoes and riffs of Capcom’s Mega Man in this soundtrack, most evident towards the end of the game. Mega Man has always been about rock, thus Capcom was familiar with employing that distinct, NES bass and drums rhythm which you can just pick up in a couple of these tracks.
One of the highlighting characteristics of Rescue Rangers is its pace. The playable characters move quickly in comparison with other NES games but their movements, jumping and running, have been honed to responsive perfection. There’s a lot of precision in this platformer, even if there aren’t too many challenging situations to demand that precision in. Only a single stressful instance comes to mind while climbing a vertical passageway with retracting platforms on the sides of the walls. Tossing crates is a welcome alternative to Mario’s jumping on heads and Mega Man’s pew pew pewing, and hiding in the boxes themselves makes for a last second ditch effort to avoid damage, so there’s variety in the chipmunk’s offensive capabilities.
A few other mechanics involve other members of the Rescue Rangers team. Monterey Jack opens up passageways for you (twice in the game, I think) and Zipper the fly is obtainable as a kind of item by opening up very large crates. Once attained, Zipper zips around the chipmunk, rendering them invincible and automatically defeating nearby enemies. However, it’s the multiplayer function which really makes the game a unique platformer.
It’s not too often that you’ll run into a two-player co-op platformer. There’s a reason for that, specifically if the developers decide to make each player an obstacle to the other. This is the case in Rescue Rangers. Chip can pick up and throw a box but if he hits Dale, his partner will be temporarily stunned. Likewise, Dale can stand on top of Chip’s head to reach greater heights but if he gets in the way of his partner’s jump he can get him wound up in a pit. It therefore takes some degree of communication and coordination if you’re going to play with two players, which might be too much frustration than either player wants to deal with. Or, if one player is unaccustomed to old school platforming, the game may turn into one player sitting there watching the other if they’ve already run out of lives.
Fortunately, the stages are generally laid out in a high-road, low-road structure, so the chipmunks can split up while sharing the same screen and grab items that they wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Two-player platforming is uncommon for a reason but Rescue Rangers took at least some measures to try to accommodate this gimmick. Try it yourself.
As mentioned, this game is quite easy. Extra lives are a dime a dozen and on top of that there are continues. Level design, jumps, bosses, and enemies are all easy to overcome. Compared to many, many, many other NES games (even by Capcom alone), this is a cinch.
With no second ending, no secret areas, no alternate difficulty modes, no new game plus, and no gameplay experience stretching out longer than a few hours, there’s little to come back to other than Rescue Rangers well-paced platforming and a few optional levels you may have missed during the non-linear section.
This was the first game ever based on the Chip ‘n Dale cartoon, so that counts for something. Also, the crate throwing and two-player mode both make it a distinctive game with unique gameplay characteristics. In the end, it is more straightforward and less complicated in structure than both DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, its peers.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers feels like a faster and better polished platformer than a few other average NES titles, though its brevity and ultimate lack of challenge render it a quick notch in one’s belt. If you notch your belts, that is. I didn’t feel too nostalgic for this game, since I wasn’t too into the original cartoon, but the characters were still recognizable to me and it did have polished gameplay with tight platforming and a unique two-player mode. If you do pick up the Afternoon Collection, make Rescue Rangers your opportunity to ease into the 8-bit era more easily.
Aggregated Score: 5.8