Duck Game Review — A Fun and Absurd Playable Joke of a Game
The Towerfall-like party title Duck Game is now on Switch, and with it comes a package of wonkiness and absurdism.
In Duck Game, there is a dedicated button that allows the player to make their character quack. If that isn’t indicative enough of what this game is going for, perhaps everything else will be. Based on my prior knowledge of the previously-released versions of this multiplayer party game, I assumed that I would be in for an experience akin to Towerfall. The notion wasn’t far from the mark, but to make that the only point of comparison would be disingenuous.
I initially thought nothing of the fact that Adult Swim Games-published Duck Game, but eventually, the label helped me figure out this bizarre game. Like Adult Swim, Duck Game is rooted in a certain kind of absurdism. It doesn’t often make sense, and it is often disorienting, yet you can’t help but laugh and enjoy the experience. It is laughable and enjoyable by design, but you can’t quite verbalize just why—it just tickles your brain and finds a sweet spot of sense underneath the surrealism.
Now on the Nintendo Switch, Duck Game isn’t the first party game I would bust out when I have company over, but it is worth considering putting in your lineup, just in case everyone is ready for a grand, weird old time.
Duck Game is a game in which you play as a duck. Up to four players through local couch multiplayer, wireless play, or online play can participate, choosing between a number of hats for their duck. The base rule set will have the players compete in last man standing rounds, with players picking up weapons and dispatching their opponents with just one hit each. It is a twitch game, one that requires attentiveness and situational awareness. Also, you’re all ducks.
This game has an unabashed retro look to it, taking place during some sort of neo-cyber-dystopian 1984, where I guess everyone is a duck. Corptron, which is the most generic sounding evil corporation one could make up (I assume this is deliberate), has a firm grip on this society. What the stakes are and what the ducks are fighting for wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but everything in the game seemed to serve the retro-futuristic aesthetic and feeling more than an actual story, which for a multiplayer party game, is a-okay with me.
While most games have derived humor from either scripted jokes, silly visuals, and purposeful unwieldiness (i.e. Goat Simulator), what Duck Game achieves is somehow blending all three together to create a funny experience. The text in the game, down to some of the bizarre menu options, earn some unexpected laughs. The ducks themselves are just hilarious, with each unlockable hat being more unbelievable than the last. But the last point, the unwieldy gameplay, is something I’m unsure is deliberate or not—I choose to believe it is.
It’s a small thing, but I appreciate games where the menu has the player physically navigate the menu with a character. It can be a fun way to get a feel for the game’s physics and Duck Game has an interesting take on this by having players move around in the character selection screen. The screen teaches players to pick up a gun and shoot it, with the players having to actually shoot a barrier in order and enter a queue to start the game. It is also here that the game teaches you that weapons handle quite differently in this game than they do in others.
Perhaps it’s a testament to how video game players are so used to automatic reloading, but it was a shock to me when my duck picked up a pump shotgun in that lobby screen and I actually needed to press a button to cock the shotgun. Even that one extra button press adds another element of strategy and mind games on the field of glorious duck combat. With the shotgun, you’ll need to have it at the ready, because having to spend the time to cock that shotgun can make or break the round in a game that requires quick reaction times.
Likewise, all of the many, many weapons, none which are really explained by the game itself, have their own rules. Grenades need one button press to arm, and a different button press to actually throw, for instance. Some guns may be semi-automatic or fully automatic, though I could not find a way to even keep track of how much ammo I was holding. Weapons like the dart gun don’t even properly kill, but rather can push opponents off the stage. One of my favorite weapons basically traps opponents in plastic bags, rendering them immobile—just combo that with a grenade, for example, and you’ll end up victorious at the end of the round through hilarious fashion.
I would question, however, if much of the comedy derived from playing Duck Game came from the game itself or the fact that I and my friends were unable to wrap our heads around the rules behind each weapon. Many of the rounds comprised of players not really knowing what they were doing, usually winning by total accident (again, still funny). It didn’t help that the map design would change so drastically with each successive round; unlike a game like Towerfall, where the camera would mostly stay stationary, Duck Game would move and zoom in and out a la Super Smash Bros., making for a disorienting experience.
While there isn’t anything in Duck Game I’d exactly call a tutorial, the single-player challenge mode does allow players to get their feet wet and teach themselves some of the core mechanics of combat and movement. For one, these shooting galleries and endurance tests would teach me that your character can break through windows or slide under gaps with your crouch and momentum. These challenge levels can earn you tickets, which can then be used to purchase modifiers and other hats. I’m still trying to figure out how to use that damn chainsaw through the “chainsaw race” challenges, though.
The Switch version is unique in having a Map Editor mode, with full touch screen support. It is a serviceable editor, but one shouldn’t expect it to be as comprehensive as a Super Mario Maker. It has all of the base elements of the game and it inadvertently became my own training ground as I was able to check out each weapon through the menu. I can imagine some creative players could find their own way to create new game types in a way players did with Halo’s Forge mode or plenty of other map modes in modern games, but that would depend on someone with an intense interest in Duck Game taking the time to do so.
By the time the dust has settled, Duck Game won’t be the most impressive multiplayer party game that you’ll find on the Nintendo Switch eShop, but it could be the funniest. I laughed harder than I expected when I put a hat on my duck that was literally just a log, and I proceeded to laugh even harder when an opponent not only killed my duck but picked up my log and wore it for themselves. Plus, intermissions between rounds will have each duck basically doing a shot put with rocks to visualize how many rounds they have won, and my log rock was hilarious.
Ultimately, it’s tough to recommend Duck Game over the likes of Towerfall, Nidhogg 2, Inversus, Runbow, Overcooked, Snipperclips, and a host of other party games on the Switch. It simply isn’t as coherent and wieldy to inspire countless play sessions like the other games had for me. It may have some advantages simply by having online play, making it one of few options when similar party games only have local multiplayer, but even then, it would be a stretch to have this game as your number one choice to play while alone unless you really enjoy the absurdist humor.
All of that being said, you can quack in Duck Game, and nowhere else.