I hope you’ll indulge a little self-promotion. I co-host a podcast about Disney in the ’90s called (simply enough) 90s Disney. Our next episode is about one of my favorite cartoons when I was growing up: Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. To prepare for the podcast, I not only watched some episodes of the show, but I also played through Capcom’s classic Rescue Rangers games for the NES.
Now, when you think about Capcom’s Disney games for the NES, DuckTales is probably the first one to come to mind. And it should! DuckTales isn’t just a fantastic licensed game — it’s one of the best NES games, period. To be clear, I’m not going to argue that the Rescue Rangers games are better than DuckTales.
But they aren’t that far off.
The first Rescue Rangers game came out in 1990. It’s the one that I have memories playing while a kid. Rescue Rangers features two-player co-op, which was great for me and my two brothers. We could play together, each of us picking our favorite chipmunk (Dale for me, thank you).
Rescue Rangers is great because it’s so smooth and fun to play. Capcom was a master of 8-bit sidescrollers. Its games always feature precise controls, making platforming and action comfortable to pull off. Rescue Rangers’ design focuses on picking up objects and throwing them at enemies. It’s a bit like Super Mario Bros. 2 in that regard, although the pace is faster, and it’s not as difficult.
By modern standards, Rescue Rangers is hard enough, but it doesn’t come close to the brutality of other NES games like Ninja Gaiden or even Capcom’s own Mega Man series. As a kid, I couldn’t beat it without the help of a certain Game Genie, but I had fun just replaying the same first few levels with my brothers.
Today, things have changed. For one thing, I don’t have to play Rescue Rangers on the NES anymore. In 2017, Digital Eclipse released The Disney Afternoon Collection for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This fantastic compilation includes every NES game based off of those iconic Disney cartoons, including both Rescue Rangers games.
That’s how I played through Rescue Rangers this week. And while the chaos of two-player co-op is fun, the experience is easier to manage by myself. Now that I’m an adult, I had a much easier time getting through the adventure. OK, I did use the collection’s rewind feature a few times to undo time-losing mistakes. Judge away.
But I came away impressed by how much I still enjoy Rescue Rangers on the NES. Part of it is the nostalgia of playing a beloved childhood game based on a cartoon I love, yet the platforming still feels sharp, even when compared to modern sidescrolling classics like Shovel Knight.
Thanks to The Disney Afternoon Collection, I was also able to play Rescue Rangers 2. Unlike the first one, I did not own this game as a kid. Not many people did. Rescue Rangers 2 came out insanely late in the NES lifecyle, releasing in the U.S. in 1994. The freaking PlayStation launched in the U.S. in 1995.
So it’s a surreal to play a game that’s so familiar yet new. Fundamentally, Rescue Rangers 2 is mostly just like the first game. It’s a sidescroller for one or two players that emphasizes picking stuff up and throwing it at enemies. But Rescue Rangers 2 is one of the best-looking NES games you’ll ever see. It’s clear that Capcom was pushing the aging hardware to its limits. I was also impressed to see how much more Capcom emphasized story in the sequel, including multiple cutscenes. Sure, they’re primitive by today’s standards, but it makes Rescue Rangers 2 feel more like an episode of the show than a licensed video game.
The biggest improvement, however, comes from the music. The first Rescue Rangers has an OK soundtrack, but Rescue Rangers 2 has some fantastic tracks. Just listen to the song for Area H.
Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.
I do have some issues with Rescue Rangers 2. The bosses are annoying compared to the first game. Each one takes requires too many hits to go down, so the battles drag on. But otherwise, it’s a worthy sequel.
I had a great time going through both games. And since The Disney Afternoon Collection comes with four other games, including both NES DuckTales games, it’s easily one of my favorite retro compilations. If you don’t own it and love classic 8-bit games, you really should download the collection.
Now if only it could come to Switch.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.