If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck...
Qwak is a classic arcade-style platform game reminiscent of Bubble Bobble. The game was originally released for a couple of European microcomputers in 1989. An enhanced version, on which this GBA version is based, was released for the Amiga in 1993. Qwak comes from a time when games were all about gameplay and presentation wasn’t as big of a factor. Even still, the graphics and sound are both clean and represent early 90s arcade games well.
A rarity among homebrewn games, Qwak is available in cartridge form directly from the developer. From designing the programming libraries himself to the graphics and sound design, Qwak is the labor of love of Jamie Woodhouse. No stranger to game development, the developer has worked on a number of games, including several for Game Boy Advance.
Not a large production, the game comes with an ink-jet printed manual, and those who want an official box can print one off from the Qwak website. The cartridge looks like a pirated game due to the fact that it was likely manufactured by those same people, and it didn’t exactly insert into my DS smoothly, but it’s nice that the game was manufactured at all. Even still, Qwak is the result of one man’s work, someone wanting people to enjoy his game, and it is impressive when that is taken into consideration.
The primary goal of Qwak is simple: find the key within each stage that opens the exit door, and guide the duck to the exit without getting killed. Each stage has multiple start and exit points, which change randomly. Along the way, all sorts of enemies will try to kill the player, some moving along pre-defined paths and others directly pursuing the player. Fruit, diamonds, and other items can be collected to increase score, but can also be used in a strategic manner. Until items are collected, they act as an impassible barrier to most enemies. Like Bubble Bobble, falling through the bottom of the level will drop you back in from the top with no damage penalty.
While the player dies with one hit, armor upgrades can be found within the levels. The duck can also shoot eggs, which bounce around the room until hitting an enemy or disintegrating. There is a limited supply of eggs, and unfortunately, the number of eggs remaining is only listed on the screen between levels. Supply is partially replenished at the end of each level and occasionally through an item during levels.
Qwak starts off easy but quickly climbs in difficulty, spanning eighty levels across eight differently-themed worlds. Boss stages, featuring larger and more powerful versions of the normal enemies, occur after every ten levels. The game offers a less-intense Easy mode as well as an even easier “Slow" mode, which is intended for children.
The game has only two minor annoyances. First, holding the A button down causes the player to jump repeatedly, which isn’t the standard platform control scheme and can take getting used to, though it is characteristic of the Bubble Bobble series. Secondly, the GBA’s small screen makes the game a little more difficult than the original since not as much of the playfield is visible, and there is an occasional jarring screen-shifting effect when moving off of the bottom of the screen to the top and vice-versa.
Only 300 copies of Qwak have been manufactured, so if you’ve been looking for a novel arcade platforming experience, be sure to order the game as soon as possible. A PC-based demo and gameplay video are available for trial from the developer's website.
Note: This is an unlicensed GBA game. Please be aware that if your system is still under warranty, playing this game may void that warranty.