Return of the Quack

If you believe that videogames are art, then take a flap through this one.

Return of the Quack
When fast food goes bad

The summer is still lingering and already I’m buried beneath a stack of high-profile, end-of-year videogame releases — the kind of games destined to end up beneath Christmas trees or handed over for Hanukkah before eventually being traded in for something better. I’ll get back to this backlog of games next week. Right now, I need to play one more round of Return of the Quack.

Commissioned for the fringe magazine Giant Robot, ROTQ was designed by an independent visual artist and a renegade game designer. Nobody involved seems to have had any interest in making anything other than a fun, outlandish work of art. Forget profits and franchise potential. ROTQ has something rarer: artistic credibility.

It’s as simple as an arcade classic. Ducky, the game’s hero, is an anthropomorphic yellow duck who wears a blue sunhat and galoshes, totes a pink backpack and rides a realistic flying black duck named Lazerquack. Together, they flap along, blasting lasers out of Lazerquack’s mouth while the background scrolls behind them and flying enemies appear on-screen and try to attack.

The first foes who appear are flying Fudgesicles. They’re quickly joined by hornets wearing Cobra Commander-style helmets, hands with mouths in their palms and angry-looking broccoli florets. Some of these monsters simply linger on the right side of the screen before moving towards Ducky. Others launch themselves in predictable directions — the hot dogs launch straight ahead, while the evil pizza slices ooze down. Some enemies fire projectiles, while others, like the helmeted hornets, home in on Ducky before buzzing away.

Return of the Quack showcases artist Matt Furie’s imagery, and watching the strange creatures of his imagination come to two-dimensional life is the graphic experience of the year. For the first time in months, I wanted to know more about the creatures and settings in a videogame. How did Ducky spend the last few years? What will Songbird Kingdom be like once the evil fast food has been vanquished? Who made the pizza so angry?

Is Return of the Quack a great game? As far as gameplay goes, it’s a flawless-but-easy-bake Flash game. In terms of graphics, I haven’t seen its peer in years. Most importantly, however, Quack takes advantage of the artform of videogames to make an original vision come alive. I love all kinds of games and I’m looking forward to diving into this autumn’s mainstream releases. But when I need to remember that videogames are a form of art that can take my imagination into uncharted territory, I’m heading right back to Return of the Quack.

THE GOOD: Return of the Quack is available in Issue 67 of the outstanding magazine Giant Robot, which is the best non-Internet culture dump available. (Among the articles is a feature about insanely decorated Japanese semi trucks and the men who drive them.) Even better: It only costs $5.

THE BAD: Giant Robot, like all publications, has been hit hard by the recession. So buy it and do something worthwhile for alternative culture.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you believe that videogames are art, then take a flap through Return of the Quack.

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