Developer: Protractor
Publisher: Protractor Games
itch.io / Google Play / iOS

Reviewed on Android (itch.io)

The Bottom Line: Bright, cheerful, and full of personality, this roguelite gallery shooter is among the best games available on mobile.

It pains me that “mobile game” is thrown around as an insult. Contrary to popular belief, the mobile space is a bottomless treasure trove of amazing games, many of which have unique mechanics that can’t be replicated on consoles or PCs. So when some basement-dwelling Steam reviewer writes “This game looks like mobile trash,” it takes all of my self-control not to reach through their screen and shake them like an unruly Magic 8 Ball.

Today we ditch the qualifiers. M.Duck is not just a great mobile game. It’s a fantastic game, period. A fantastic game, period, exclamation point!

This Duck Don’t Walk and Shoot

M.Duck is a roguelite gallery shooter. The story is simple: Every night while Magic Duck tries to sleep, light from a nearby tower beams down onto his peaceful pond. After suffering this disturbance for a week, he sets off to scale the tower and deal with who or whatever is running up a ginormous electricity bill at 3am.

At the foot of the tower he bumps into Master Duck, a mysterious robed figure, who explains how to dodge attacks and shoot with your wand. Taking control of Magic Duck, you will step from side to side, aim your wand, and fire off a few magic bullets.

Keep your tail feathers clean and clear of bullets!

Sounds easy enough, right? The shenanigans begin when Master Duck asks you to move and shoot at the same time. If you’re like me, you’ll strafe back and forth, then shoot a bit, and then pace around a bit more. Why is it so hard to move and shoot? As it turns out, Magic Duck is entirely incapable of walking and shooting. He struts like a pro and shoots straighter than Annie Oakley, but under no circumstances will he do both at the same time.

While this may sound like a major limitation, it turns out to be for the best. Enemy formations and attack patterns in M.Duck have all been designed with this constraint in mind, so no matter how frantic the action gets, you’ll always find pockets of safety from which to fight back. Movement and aiming both feel extremely smooth and responsive; my only qualm is that when the action gets frantic, my boomer-like Millennial fingers sometimes forget to release the aim button when I’m trying to dodge.

Tower of Boom

The tower is split up into four zones, which are further divided into areas. The zones and areas always appear in the same order, but the enemy configurations within them are randomized, leading each run to feel a bit different. Most zones also have two different potential bosses. For instance, sometimes at the end of Zone 1 you’ll fight Owla, the spell-slinging owl, while other times you’ll encounter Knight, the pie-baking extraordinaire.

During your ascent, you’ll accumulate useful spells and relics. Spells can create protective barriers, produce explosive blasts, or summon clones that temporarily double your firepower. Relics have an even wider array of effects. Some give you basic bonuses such as extra health or a faster firing rate, while others have more esoteric effects, such as increasingly boosting your damage as you rack up a streak of hits without a miss. You can also swap your default wand for various weapons that change the game in significant ways. Want to channel all your ammo into a single giant blast? The Bomb Wand will be your best friend!

Tons of relics and lore galore

If there’s an issue with the spells and relics, it’s that the item pool is almost too expansive. On some runs luck just isn’t on your side, and you’ll find yourself with a mishmash of equipment that lacks synergy. Thankfully, the game is perfectly enjoyable and beatable even without any upgrades, so if you got the skills you can rack up the kills regardless of any RNG-induced challenges.

However, if you’re like me (i.e., you got no skills), you’ll be happy to know that M.Duck has a very smartly implemented Easy Mode. Easy Mode gives you more health and greater health regeneration, but everything else about the relics, enemies, and bosses remains the same. This means you won’t feel like you have to learn the game all over again when transitioning between modes.

A King among Ducks

All of the above elements coalesce into a roguelite shooter that’s extremely fun to play. But what really sets M.Duck apart is its presentation. The pixel art is quirky and colorful, and enemies all have distinct shapes and animations, making the on-screen action easy to parse visually even during the hectic final zones.

As you play the game and unlock new items, you’ll also accumulate lore entries. Written in a lighthearted tone, these blurbs are eminently chuckle worthy. While you can fully enjoy the game without reading the lore, you should at least take a peek, because it enriches the experience and exemplifies the massive amount of heart and effort the developer put into this game.

Complementing all the visual delights is a bopping soundtrack from Calbert Warner. The individual tracks are strong with catchy melodies, and during your climb they progressively amplify the tension. You’ll go from chilling in the garden, watching Mr. Wizard water his flowers, to beating back aggressive rabbits and robots at the top of the tower, and all the while the soundtrack will never miss a beat.

If I had a quarter for every game I’ve reviewed that’s as good as M.Duck, I’d … well, I’d still be starving in the back alley behind your local comedy club. What I mean to say is that M.Duck is that rare game in which all the pieces form a truly cohesive whole, and it never leaves you second-guessing the developer’s intentions. Whatever it lacks in length or depth, it easily makes up for in execution and fun. So go forth, embrace your inner duck, and run amok through this magical game.

Rating: 92 of 100 Pixels

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