Allow us to be clear from the start – Howard the Duck is the shit. He is one of Marvel’s most underrated and underused characters and is deserving of a much more prominent spot in the Marvel Universe.
In fact, when Howard showed up in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, fans all over the world wept with joy at the thought he might finally be returning to prominence in the modern era. Sadly, to date, that hasn’t happened, but why?
Let’s just say Howard’s dalliance with Hollywood wasn’t exactly a success, in fact, until his brief appearance in GOTG and its sequel, anything he tried outside of the world of comics turned a little … fowl. This included his self-titled video game which, to be honest, was received about as well as a turd in a Big Mac. Releasing both the movie and the game in the same year, and having both of them bomb was enough to kill the brand for over 30 years, with even the most staunch fans giving them a very wide birth. But which adaptation of Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik’s ducktective was the worst?
On paper, the movie looked like a sure-fire winner. It was written and directed by Willard Huyck, who had previous screenplay experience on American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and fell under the watchful (and presumably bearded) umbrella of the man behind Star Wars, George effing Lucas. Instead, it was a hopeless mess, with lacklustre performances and atrocious special effects that just didn’t translate well to the screen. Much of what made the Howard the Duck comics so popular was lost here, either as a result of a writer who didn’t know his source material or more likely tampering from the studio. Critics and fans hated it in equal measure, and as a result, Marvel’s big ambitions of cracking the movie market was a monumental flop.
Meanwhile, over in the world of video games, Activision was hard at work producing a spin-off of the movie – which they actually considered a sequel. But just like the movie, the Howard the Duck video game was obviously devised by a team who hadn’t read the comics. In fact, the game, which was set entirely on the fictitious Volcano Island, was actually based on an early treatment for the movie in which the titular hero lands on Earth and sets himself up as a private detective in Hawaii. Presumably, no one over at LucasArts bothered to slip Activision the memo about the rather significant plot changes. Nice work George!
Neither the film nor the game was particularly pleasing to the eye, but the game just pips the movie to the post when it comes to looking like a pile of shit. Even in 1986, there was no excuse for the horrible graphics on show here – Howard looks like he’s in his pyjamas, the bad guys are just black blobs with eyes, and the end of game boss resembles a walking, talking turd, which in hindsight was actually quite a fitting choice of villain.
Howard the Duck the movie has quite a cult following these days and although it isn’t a patch on the modern era MCU, it’s become something of a forgotten gem, albeit a shitty one. The same cannot be said for the video game. Even revisiting it on an emulator doesn’t improve the experience. It’s still slow and clunky and completely devoid of fun. I’ll be honest – you’ll get more enjoyment out of reading this article while swimming in a puddle pretending to be a duck then you ever will by playing the Howard the Duck video game – and that’s saying something.
In truth, you’d have to be quackers to seek out either of these titles, but if you must experience one then make it the movie, because the video game is a really rotten egg that will leave a nasty taste in your mouth.