Review by hangedman
"It's Deja Vu all over again."
''So, Jimmy and Billy, can you do it again?''
Double Dragon II is an interesting little ditty of a game. I like it, I play it every now and then, but for the life of me I don't know why I like it in spite of all the problems it has in terms of gameplay. Oh well.
Double Dragon II is a short little title, and seems pretty stylish and cool present-day, a rarity among titles like it.
''Oh god. Not again.''
Billy's girlfriend Marion HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED! AGAIN! It's up to you to go after her, armed with only your innate sense of street justice, and your brother Jimmy. *Groan.*
Although an original premise, I'm sure, I can't help but feel we went through all of this crap in the first game. Billy really has himself a high-maintenance relationship. Marion gets kidnapped, and there's nothing to do but fight off a gang in order to get her back. This makes twice now.
I'll tell you, that must be one exceptional woman to fight hordes of people for. To make things even worse, now your opponents are evil in addition to being mean, and they've of course got an arsenal of everything just short of real guns. Helicopters, underwater bases, trains, floating trap rooms of doom, and everything else. At least the last boss in the first Double Dragon had his priorities straight when he'd shoot you in the back with an M16.
Sadly, the ''shadow warrior'' has better things to do than fight you immediately. Instead you run the haphazard level progressions until you get face to face with the head honcho himself, who seems a little Froo-tay if you ask me.
Then again, what are you expecting from a game that pioneered the kidnapped girl scenario, and then USED IT AGAIN in the very next game. I guess they didn't have any writers on the payroll.
To DDII's credit, each level has a few stylish cut-scenes that give some rudimentary idea of your goal for the level with a sketchy grasp of the English language, like the ''forest of death'' that serves as a way out despite ''certain death.'' I'm sensing a lot of death here, but it makes for an interesting, death-filled battle. Death!
Story: 4 / 10
Horrible, but saved somewhat by Ninja-Gaideny cutscenes.
''If something painful looks painful, I'm all for it.''
DDII is a much better title graphically, and is quite an impressive NES title. Strangely enough, the graphics are better overall than in the decidedly more realistic Double Dragon 3 due to a bright and interesting color schematic.
Most everything in the game is bright, colorful, and interesting to look at. Although based around a game centering on beating the holy bejeezus out of people with your fists, the bright colors are eye-catching. Expect to see bright blue pavement, multicolored enemies, and grenades that look like they'd come with a Lisa Frank stencil set. This is not to say at all that it detracts any from the feel of the game, rather the opposite: bright colors make things a little easier on the eyes, as most often ''realism'' in an NES game translates to muddy color palettes and the like. Realism in graphics wasn't a big thing for me until the Super Nintendo came along... which actually had the ability to make things look lifelike.
We know that whatever we see will be bright and nifty, but what exactly will we see? Backgrounds are actually quite stellar for an NES game. There are lots of details and the game is presented in a faux-3d perspective. I think my favorite level was the underwater base, as the top of the base looks sort of military-like, with water in the background, and the progression heads underground into the base itself, complete with spikes and a low ceiling. Small things, but nice ones regardless.
Your enemies are many, and they have quite a degree of personality. From the mohawked girls to the generic punks with lead pipes, they all have some neat little quirks and facial expressions: they do pain particularly well after you hit them a few times. Also nifty are the karate-guys, that despite being on the NES have a grizzled look to them that's more than a little scary. Also featured are the Abobos from DD1, although scarier and more Latino-looking this time around.
Also expect a character that looks exactly like Schwarzenegger. Exactly. Dead on ''Dutch'' from Predator. I swear to god, it's a better likeness than Arnold in either Aliens vs. Predator (arcade) or Total Recall (NES), both games in which the character is supposed to look like our big, strapping Austrian.
Although few in variety, it's excusable for an 8-level game with admittedly short levels. Expect to see quite a few ''returning characters,'' but don't expect to see them ad nauseam.
If there's one thing that DD2 does incredibly well, it's the brutality through the animation, where people rocket from a kick into a wall, or lock in an open-mouth as they're kicked in the gut and thrown over a cliff. A trademark of the DD series for me has been the expression on people's faces when they are getting beaten severely, and although more than a little comical, it grows on you. Punch a character, and you can walk away for a moment and they'll still be doubled over and groaning. I like seeing my hard work pay off.
Other special effects are surprisingly well done; I particularly gravitated to the dynamite explosions and the bouncing knives. Neato!
On the whole, DD2 is about as graphically replete as you could ask for at the time, and still holds up particularly well as a retro-game today.
Graphics: 9 / 10
Some repetition, but very good in spite of it.
We all know that the NES sound leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it flat out sucks for sound effects. Because of this, it's interesting to me that a system with such a famous reputation for butchering noises can help a game like Double Dragon II. I'm guessing the sound guys knew what they were doing, as what could normally be rudimentary effects are really capitalized on.
Take for example an uppercut. While they could have gone the route of a regular ''Bof,'' which is all too common for violent NES games, DDII features a ''K'POW!'' when you launch someone several feet in the air. Throwing a pipe at someone makes a crunchy-yet-hollow sound, and grenades explode loud and meaty. While the default sounds leave something to be desired, they're low key and understandably so: you use them every second. With the weapons and special moves, the extremity of the sound suggests that you really hurt the guy, which of course you did. K'POW!
Additionally surprising to me was the fact that I liked every tune for the levels. There was never any place where I was really bothered by the music, and most of the time the tune was incredibly cool and fit the pace of the level. Personally, for what the NES had at the time I'd say the soundtrack would be comparable to Streets of Rage (Streets of Rage 2 is still king, however). Together with the sound, the music definitely adds a certain feel to DDII which is consistent with the rest of the game.
Again, a rarity among the typicality of NES sound.
Audio: 10 / 10
Stellar, especially considering the capabilities of the NES.
''A mixed bag, that's for sure.''
While Double Dragon II is definitely propelled by some of the best-working sound, music, and graphics, the gameplay fails to rise to the same level. It's not to say it isn't fun, and it's definitely functional, but it has more problems than I would have liked to have dealt with.
The first thing that's immediately noticeable about DDII over its predecessor is the switch from a punch and kick button setup to a left-attack, right-attack configuration. If you're facing the guy, the button facing his direction will punch him, the same button will kick should you be turned around. Put bluntly, it's a horrible idea. You do get used to it after a while, but the game barely ever presents a situation where you're surrounded by enemies and have to rely on the backwards and forwards attacks to get out of it. Couple this with the sheer idiocy of having to turn around in order to kick someone, and you'll find yourself easily irritated.
Jumping is accomplished by pressing both buttons at once. While there is some potential for problems to occur, it never really made the game any less playable. Pressing A and B at the same time, and A or B again for a jump-kick wasn't exceedingly difficult.
The control seems to work with regular enemies just fine. Sock them a few times, and they'll be stunned; while they're stunned you can execute a grab and unleash extremely painful moves. Pull their hair, knee them in the gut, elbow drop them, or boot them in the face. From a sadistic standpoint, it's really quite rewarding.
Unfortunately, when the larger enemies have the inability to become stunned, what you get is a series of hit trading. More often than not, you'll find yourself socking one guy or kicking him sporadically until he gets in range, where he'll knock you down. When you get back up, you just keep mashing the button, hoping you hurt him more than he does you. There's not a huge feeling of control here, to say the least.
Add to the fact that the only effective way to fight the big guys is through insanely executed special-moves. The easiest move to do requires impeccable timing to hit jump once, and then both buttons at the peak of the jump to do a spin-kick. Then again, you'll be furious to find out that the enemies you wanted to hit had harmlessly ducked under your attack, leading to more hit trades. The most effective move in the game is an explosive knee to the face, which is so deadly you'll find yourself attempting to do it rather than avoid your enemy in front of you.
How does it work? Jump, and while getting up from the jump in the millisecond recovery-time, attempt to jump at your opponent. It has an effectiveness of about 20 percent for me, but it's worth getting knocked down over and over to do, seeing as how it's much more effective than getting into a REAL FIGHT. The stupidity of wishing to get knocked down to attempt a difficult special move is sometimes a little hard to bear.
Other enemies have the distinction of not trading hits with you, but rather knocking you down and running out of your range, which gets more than a little bit tiresome. As soon as you get up, they'll knock you back down and backflip out of the way, usually retreating only to throw some ninja stars at you, which in most cases can't be avoided easily. Grr.
Although the game has some severe control problems, the fun is somewhat intact. When you aren't fighting bosses, the game is challenging, but rewarding to play. Beating up people and using their weapons is a concept that's pretty hard to screw up, and thankfully DDII can do it right every now and then.
There have been many better-playing games in the same genre (immediately River City Ransom comes to mind) but DDII is worth at least one play. You might be put off by the funky button scheme, but there's a little more to the game than that, and one that shouldn't necessarily be negated by unfulfilling boss-fights or impossible special moves.
Gameplay: 6 / 10
Fun, but some intensely frustrating moments are large enough to taint the experience.
''BILLY MAD AT GANG FOR TAKING GIRL AWAY LIKE LAST TIME!''
While not going to win any beauty pageants for gameplay or story, DDII exudes a lot of style and warrants a look for the sensory appeal alone. Although they decided to go with a control system abhorred by millions of game players everywhere, DDII is a much more solid and enjoyable game than the first (Arcade or NES), and did enough right to make up somewhat for the gaping flaws it has.
Although you'll be ready to switch off the power when Arnold-look-alike number three slaps you out of a jump-kick, you'll keep playing when you get off the ground and uppercut him off over a conveniently-placed ravine. The sound is great, the music is tight, and the graphics are admittedly pretty cool. Even if the gameplay leaves something to be desired, DDII is well worth your time.
And what other game has a forest of death? It might be just me, but I think the forest of death would be a little less deadly if they had better bridge maintenance and less guys with dynamite.
Overall: 7 / 10
Better than the first, but victim to a fair share of problems.
*Pie is better than cake any day of the week.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/08/02, Updated 02/18/02
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