Whatever Happened to Donald Duck’s Speedboat for Atari 2600?

Donald Duck's Speedboat

As far as I can tell, Donald Duck’s Speedboat was supposed to be the first ever video game to star Donald Duck. And I guess it kind of was… technically.

I don’t know for certain why it was cancelled, but the 1983 target release date makes me suspect it had something to do with the video game crash, which happened that year (as a result, it’s not uncommon to find cancelled Atari games with an intended 1983 date). Two other Disney Atari games, Snow White and Dumbo’s Flying Circus, were also cancelled around that same time, though some sources list Snow White as having an intended 1982 release date (screenshots of the Snow White prototype show a 1983 copyright date). Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice survived, though, and did get an official launch that year.

Now, I’ve actually seen multiple reports that Donald Duck’s Speedboat was released commercially in Brazil (under the title A Lancha do Pato Donald) by Polyvox, but the game never officially came out in North America. Still, this does technically qualify it as the first Donald Duck video game ever released — it just didn’t release outside of Brazil.

A prototype version of the game is floating around in seedier parts of the Web. Being an intrepid journalist (or maybe just a Donald Duck fan), I did actually play Donald Duck’s Speedboat.

Donald Duck's Speedboat

I was actually surprised by how recognizable Donald is in the start screen, considering how few pixels the game’s creators had to work with. All too often, distinguishing details could get lost on Atari 2600 games. That, in and of itself, is kind of impressive.

Donald Duck’s Speedboat is not a complex game. It depicts a little pixelated Donald Duck in a little pixelated speedboat (unsurprisingly), and it cues that it’s ready to start by playing a low-fi rendition of “Anchors Aweigh.” At that point, you must speed from left to right, dodging obstacles such as rocks, whirlpools, and schools of fish. Huey, Dewey, and Louie make guest appearances as well, though running into them will halt your progress (I initially thought that perhaps they had been stranded, so Donald was speeding to rescue them — not so, as it turns out).

Donald Duck's Speedboat

Simply holding the joystick to the right will cause Donald to chug onward, but the fire button gives it some gas, lurching you forward. I should point out that you’ll only rack up points when you’re holding the fire button. Chugging along will let you make progress, distance-wise, but it won’t give you any points. This sort of forces you into pushing through the game as fast as possible to get the highest score you can (you’ll be awarded with a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your score at the end).

Donald Duck's Speedboat

And, while you can’t really see it in the screenshots I’ve posted, there is a little wave effect on the boat that is kind of neat.

All things considered, this isn’t a bad game at all. In fact, it’s kind of endearing. Not only is the pixel art pretty good for its time, but the gameplay feels halfway decent. It actually reminds me a bit of the infamous hoverbike sequence from Battletoads, though Donald’s boat lacks the ability to jump (and the hoverbikes are definitely faster — not even a full-throttle Donald could match the speed of the ‘Toads).

Donald Duck's Speedboat

The box art was drawn by Dutch legend Daan Jippes, as evidenced by the sketch above (courtesy Atari Mania). Jippes is known for his Donald Duck comics, and he’s seen by many as a worthy successor to the great Carl Barks (who I’ve written about elsewhere). His art style is very distinctly Barks-esque. In case you’re not familiar, I should point out that Carl Barks was such a beloved figure in the world of Disney comics that comparing Jippes to Barks has always been meant as a compliment rather than as an accusation.

Donald Duck’s Speedboat would be the only Donald Duck video game of the 1980s, aside from two edutainment games, Donald Duck’s Playground (1984) and Donald Duck’s Alphabet Chase (1987). Notable Donald Duck snubs include Mickey Mousecapade (which featured Donald Duck’s head as a health recovery items in the 1987 Japanese version, though it was changed to a diamond for the North American 1988 release) and Capcom’s DuckTales (Donald Duck exists in the DuckTales universe, but he unfortunately did not appear in the 1989 video game).

In 1991, Donald would star in both The Lucky Dime Caper and Quackshot, at which point Donald Duck video games really started cooking. But way back in 1983, a little Atari game called Donald Duck’s Speedboat would unsuccessfully attempt to launch the short-tempered duck’s video-game career.

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