Duck Game is My New Favorite Hyper-Competitive Quarantine Game

Duck Game came out in 2015. Since then, my friends and I have turned this goofy, duck-based game into a competitive blood-pumper.

The way I see it and have experienced it for a while now, every group of friends has their go-to game. Since I was in high school, my group has hopped across every Smash Bros. title out there. But since quarantine started, getting together to play has naturally been impossible, and playing Smash online is…not that great. So, looking through our collective Steam libraries, we found something else to play, something lighthearted and goofy that we could just play while talking to each other. We found Duck Game, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Duck Game is a small title developed by Landon Podbielski and published by Adult Swim Games back in 2015. It’s been a shared title among us since around that time; my pals and I would boot it up for an odd game or two every month, thinking nothing of it. My friend Steve and I would often trade victories, have a laugh, then go off to do something else. But that was so long ago, and times have changed so, so much.

You couldn’t really blame us either. Duck Game wears that Adult Swim Games logo proudly. It lives in that company’s weird, wacky brand of humor and owns it. In the game’s “about” section on Steam, you can even find some backstory: “Enter the futuristic year of 1984, an age where ducks run wild in a frantic battle for glory.” In-game, you can accessorize your duck with goofy hats (I always choose the dino one), ragdoll to fool your opponents into thinking you’re dead then pop up and surprise them, or just mash on Duck Game’s truly ahead-of-its-time dedicated quack button.

Duck Game wears that Adult Swim Games logo proudly.”

The thing about Duck Game is that the game itself is a master of deception. Its goofy-bordering-on-stupidity-ness is all a facade. In reality, Duck Game is a high-intensity esport, the likes of which the world has never seen. It’s more blood pumping than any game in the FGC, requires more tactical thought than Counter-Strike or Valorant, and, given the appropriate funding, Duck Game could have its own Overwatch League.

Ok, a lot of that was hyperbole. That being said, I stand by the claim that Duck Game is deceptively simple and wears its humor and charm like a mask. It is, and this is completely unironic, at times one of the most intense multiplayer games I’ve played with friends.

Getting to this point took more than a couple of games. When you first play Duck Game, it’s rather straightforward: pick up a weapon, shoot the other ducks, win the round. Win enough rounds and you’re the King Duck, the winner of the game. A lot of games go that way in the beginning. But Duck Game has (and I can’t believe I’m going to say this) some tech in it that brings every fight to the next level.

Duck Game is deceptively simple and wears its humor and charm like a mask.”

My group’s intensification of Duck Game started with realizing that we don’t need weapons when we have boxes. Like learning how to tech in fighting games — ie Melee’s shine — part of the reason why we found new, better ways to play was to be totally and completely disrespectful to each other. It doesn’t get much worse than getting done in by someone throwing a box on your head when you’re armed with a revolver.

From there, each of us tried to find new ways to play Duck Game. Discovering new ways to attack or move fundamentally changes any fighting game, and in Duck Game, that rule still applies. When we found out that you could ragdoll then quickly snap out of it for a boost in vertical movement, races to reach weapons became harder to win. After finding out that your weapon sticks straight up while fluttering after jumping (or by moving up against a wall), being above someone became a dangerous position instead of an advantageous one.

Earlier this week we found another small part of the game that could be used to change how it’s played. If you turn your duck around while fluttering, they raise their gun 90 degrees, from sticking out horizontally to straight up. If you fire at just the right time, a frame that may consist of milliseconds, instead of shooting ahead of you or upwards, you fire at a 45-degree angle, a spot that is usually safe to approach from. The last time I played, one of my friends hit someone with a rocket using that technique, and the game was changed from then on.

It’s the nuances of Duck Game’s combat systems, these small quirks that could be glanced over and forgotten, that make it so addictive to my group. I said before that we played through the library of Smash Bros. titles over the years, but I wasn’t specific enough. We played a lot of Melee through the years, a game whose competitive scene is based on unintended tech. In Melee, gameplay and techniques from the first time that you’ve played are radically different from playing on day 100, or 1000. It gets to the point where you’d think someone is using a different controller, or that the game’s received a major update or patch. Instead, players simply dug into a game, found more tools, and made use of them.

The same has happened with Duck Game. Doing it now, I’m surprised I’m comparing this pixelated, goofy game about ducks shooting the hell out of each other to one of the most beloved titles in the FGC. But the two of them and their common traits are what ingrained them into my group of friends. When we first started playing Melee, I played as whoever I wanted. By the time we moved on to Ultimate, I was playing as Captain Falcon, trying to land perfect Gentlemans into knees. When I started playing Duck Game, it was all about quacking and making it through a round without killing my own duck. Now…well it’s still about quacking, but also using what I’ve learned about the game to win.

That’s what lies at the base of our intensification of Duck Game: winning. The reason why I learned tech in Melee was to win games more easily. And while Duck Game is inherently funnier than Smash Bros. — and aims to be that first and foremost — it still has a competitive nature. At the end of a game, there’s still a single duck on the podium, holding a trophy. That’s why I love using these new tools and continually finding more. Not only do they evolve the game, but they’re new ways to win. After all, Duck Game is a “frantic battle for glory.” Why wouldn’t I want to see my lil’ quacker at the top?

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Otto Kratky

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