Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck is a very rare game: it has mostly mediocre minigames, and yet is one of the most compelling games released this year. It absolutely triumphs in most aspects not related to gameplay and a few that are; most notably-- and this isn't the boldest thing I'll say in this review-- it is the best Looney Tunes material created in any of our lifetimes. It completely redeems a license and character that have fallen into obsolescence. Forget that Back in Action ever happened. (Sorry if I reminded you that Back in Action happened.) This is a Daffy who can genuinely get away with a Captain Picard reference.
The concept of the game mirrors the 1951 cartoon of the same name, in which Daffy Duck, thinking he's going to star in a cartoon, is instead tormented by an omnipotent animator who changes the background, the perspective, and Daffy's appearance just because. This time, Daffy begins a Super Mario Bros. style game before the background abruptly disappears and Daffy, finding himself in a familiar white void, addresses the person on the other side of the screen. He hopes to help nail down what kind of game he'll be in; instead, he is maliciously put through the wringer over and over again. Daffy's appearance and animations are absolutely perfect; the characterization is classic Daffy: even as he is increasingly enraged, he remains naively game about his big break.
He does get to star in games; bothering him in various ways, leaving him idle or even closing the screen (more on that one later) will trigger themed minigames in which your objective is to annoy Daffy or to endanger him, because you're a jerk and it's funny to bother Daffy. One game (triggered by turning an onscreen dimmer switch too high) has Daffy rushing upstairs to light a gas lamp-- your job is to blow out his candle, and not to blow out sticks of dynamite he mistakenly carries. Another game uses the stylus to slash Daffy into two smaller Daffies, repeating the process until no micro-Daffies remain.
Many of the 20-odd games are extraordinarily clever in gameplay or in concept. For example, the closed-DS game is maybe the most innovative minigame found on the DS to date: Daffy directs you to press the L or R trigger to help him trap a monster under the cover of darkness. Another game, called "Diamond Mine! Mine!" imitates Atari 2600-era games like Adventure, casting the player as a diamond escaping from a cave while being chased by a greedy Daffy. There are parodies of recent games, including one strange game that manages to parody both Brain Age and Cooking Mama. But while clever, the games quickly stop holding any interest after you figure out how to play them. The lifespan of one of these games is generally as follows: play once, laugh, fail, figure out trick, play again, excel, forget about game forever.
It is tempting to give this game a 10 despite its lacking gameplay, because it does so many things so right. Daffy's humor is perfect, the animation is perfect, and it's probably the best concept/license match ever designed. Interacting with Daffy to trigger minigames is fun, and many of the minigames themselves are fun for a while. With its spot-on game parodies, Duck Amuck actually feels somewhat subversive, which Looney Tunes material hasn't been in about 50 years. As brilliant as it is, the experience is very short-lived, which wouldn't even be a problem if the game didn't, you know, cost money. And unlike movies, which aren't expected to be long, games require either replayability (in the case of arcade-style games) or length (more in-depth role-playing-type games). While Duck Amuck succeeds in so many aspects, the short lifespan of the game sabotages a great deal of its strengths. Which is too bad, because, for a couple of hours, Duck Amuck is among the best games on the DS.