So far, we like what we’ve seen from Retro Dreamer. Among other things, the studio is responsible for Sneezies ($1.99), an early iOS hit, and Velocispider ($2.99), a delightfully oddball shooter. Duckers (Free), the studio’s newest, is an endless digging game that’s ideal for a younger audience, but let’s be honest here: those crazy-adorable ducks and pandas are pretty appealing to some of us older gamers too. So here’s the big question: is Duckers fun for the more experienced among us?
I’m leaning toward yes, but the answer isn’t as clear-cut as I wish it could be. Duckers is a great little game in a lot of ways. It’s genuinely charming, and it’s an entertaining way to fill a few spare moments. But there are a few things that hold it back, keeping any serious challenge more frustrating than truly fun. Better to play this game for the joys of light entertainment.
As premises are concerned, Duckers is a little bit out there. But Retro Dreamer always seems most comfortable in the mildly absurd. Here we have a duck who befriends a trapped spirit. They become the very best of friends, and the spirit helps Duckers do the one thing ducks have always wished they could do: drill their way down to the very core of the earth. That is what ducks are into, right?
You control the path of Duckers’ digging. Swipe in any downward path and he’ll do his best to follow, stopping after a few moments or when he runs into something. If that something is a treasure, it adds to your score and possibly coin total. If that something is more painful, like a mine or a spike wall, Duckers dies.
This is, of course, a cute and kid-friendly killing—he sits there stunned and you’re free to start over. It’s a one-shot sort of thing, assuming you lack any power-ups to keep you going. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but when cheating death sometimes feels like cheating the system it can be a little unfortunate.
The progression down into the depths sometimes seems designed with frustration in mind. Often you’ll find an animated obstacle, like spiked critters that wander back and forth. The only safe treasure to aim for might be right below that critter’s path, ensuring that Duckers will slam into it, stop for a second to animate into his next dash down, and die.
You can usually avoid this kind of problem, though, and the game gives you lots of time to plan your approach. Duckers isn’t the sort of endless game where the edge of the screen is constantly catching up to you—it’s much more contemplative. How much room there is for serious consideration is debatable, though, when you can’t see beyond the bottom edge of your screen.
Being a freemium game, Duckers has the usual slew of coin packs to purchase. You earn plenty while playing, but the IAP is there just in case. Maybe you need to pad them out to, say, purchase Alan the Panda as a playable character as soon as humanly possible. Or maybe you want to unlock the environment made of pure cake. Who could blame you?
Getting down to it, Duckers is a great diversion. Retro Dreamer has brought in a lot of its brand of charm, with cute in-joke collectables to discover and tongue-in-cheek descriptions for every little thing. It may not be the best game for those looking to dig up a serious challenge, but it’s also far from mindless. In the realm of free games, so few seem to be made with any real heart. Duckers is one of the good ones.