Review by Tarrun

Reviewed: 07/13/06

A sequel that doesn't disappoint.

When discussing some of the most memorable side-scrolling fighters, it would be a crime not to mention the Double Dragon series. Back in the eighties and early nineties, the games ruled the arcades and were equally as successful when ported to consoles. While the series has apparently dropped off of the radar when the reign of the 16-bit systems came to an end, with only a single game having been released in the past decade, the series’ impact is still significant. Among the many titles and ports, Double Dragon II: The Revenge stands as one of the best examples of what a side-scrolling fighter can and should be.

In terms of story, Double Dragon II is similar to the original in both style and simplicity. However, instead of kidnapping Billy’s girlfriend, the Shadow Warriors murder her. Because of this, Billy and his brother Jimmy, who’s back on the winning team since the previous NES-port, set out to hunt down the Shadow Warriors and extract their revenge. The player finds this out through a short cinematic in the beginning, and the rest of the story is told before each level. While it’s clearly not the most in-depth story you’ll ever hear, is there anyone really expecting it to be?

Graphically, Double Dragon II does a pretty good job in recreating the arcade’s visuals despite being on a greatly inferior system. The graphics are much cleaner than the original Nintendo Double Dragon, and there aren’t nearly as many glitches this time around either. The Dragons have returned to their familiar blue and red garb (as opposed to the dark blue and white ones that were featured in the arcade), which, combined with the spiked hair, create a unique look that sets them apart from their arcade counterparts. The other characters are also well designed, and Bolo, Burnov, and the leader of the Shadow Warriors in particular look great. The minor characters have also been cleaned up, although Chin looks completely different than before. Since the game supposedly takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, the backgrounds are noticeably dark, with one level in particular showing the city with a sickly green haze surrounding it.

Like the graphics, Double Dragon II also features improved sounds and music over the original, with the overall clarity being much less grainy. The songs themselves are more of a hit-and-miss; while some of them do a great job in setting the mood (Mission 2 and the final fight with the leader of the Shadow Warriors comes to mind), others are too repetitive and become stale. For the most part, though, the soundtrack is impressive.

As for the gameplay, there really isn’t anything new here; rather, the game takes the normal puzzles and adds to them. If you didn’t like crossing conveyor belts and jumping over spikes or pits before, then maybe Double Dragon II isn’t for you. Although your character is much easier to control this time around, so jumping onto small platforms or across rooftops isn’t as much of a chore. You still can’t switch directions in mid-air, but like before, that means you just have to be more careful. However, the addition of so many more puzzles makes the game more interesting and breaks up the monotony of fighting.

But don’t take that last sentence the wrong way – the fighting is very well done. There are quite a few new enemies this time around, including Bolo, Abobo’s replacement, Abore, an extremely powerful commando who tackles you, Burnov, a mask-wearing boss that can resurrect himself, and Right Arm, who stands in for Jeff from the arcade game. Most of the old faces like William, Roper, Linda, and Chin have returned, and very little has changed in their fighting styles. One thing that’s interesting enough to note is that enemies can follow after you from platform to platform, so trying to avoid being knocked over the edge by running past the enemy won’t work this time.

The Lees also have a few new tricks up their sleeves as well. Along with the basic combos and hair grabs, three new abilities have been added: the cyclone kick, hyper uppercut, and hyper knee. All three require you to time the attack correctly, as the former must be at the height of a jump and the latter two can only be performed in a crouch following a jump. However, they’re also much more powerful, which makes it necessary to practice using them early on for later. And with the heart system from the other NES Double Dragon having been scrapped, all of these moves are available to you right from the beginning of the game.

The button configuration is slightly different from the original; instead of “A is punch, B is kick”, they switch depending on which direction your character is facing. This can definitely be confusing at first, but it really doesn’t take that long to become accustomed with the new controls. I suppose that this has the benefit of being able to attack behind you, but enemies don’t actually throw a punch if you’re already in the process of fighting someone else. In reality, it takes as much time and effort to kick backwards as it would have to turn around first, which renders the new controls somewhat redundant.

But no Double Dragon game would be complete without weapons, and Double Dragon II doesn’t disappoint. Most of them should be familiar: pipes, bats, knives, and bombs all make their reappearance. There are a few new ones, though, including the mace and incendiary bomb, which have a two or three second timer before exploding. It’s worth mentioning that knives aren’t nearly as powerful as they were before. On one hand, this means that you won’t lose a third of your life if you’re hit by one, but it also deals out minimal damage to your opponents as well. And unlike before, weapons carry over between screens, and knives bounce back onto the ground after hitting an enemy. Melee weapons can also be thrown, which comes in handy for attacking distant enemies or if you simply want to get rid of it.

Perhaps the most important aspect of gameplay in Double Dragon II, though, is the addition of hit-detection. Previously, while you were attacking an enemy – regardless of who made contact first – they would be able to be throwing punches as well. Now, however, your enemies are left stunned or hunch over after being hit, making the game much less frustrating than its predecessor. Although, if the hit-detection isn’t the most important, then two-player cooperative play is. This includes two different modes, one where you can attack your partner and one where you can’t. For obvious reason, this makes the game much more fun to replay.

And speaking of modes, there are three modes that changes both the enemies’ life meters and the number of levels you can play: the Practice mode ends after the first three levels, Warrior after eight, and Supreme Master has all nine. Oddly enough, though, the game’s default mode is Warrior, meaning that if you forget to change it or simply don’t know, you’ll play through the entire game only to end up not being able to finish. This is definitely annoying and slightly confusing, but hopefully a mistake that won’t be made more than once.

But even with the enemies becoming stronger as you increase the difficulty, Double Dragon II isn’t exactly a challenging game. Of course, that statement is slightly misleading, because there’s definitely the possibility that you won’t complete it without practice. However, the levels themselves are never too frustrating that you won’t be able to plow through it. This is partly due to the fact that you can never have more than four enemies on the screen at one time, but the game’s length more than makes up for it. Some of the jumping puzzles can be frustrating at times, with multiple platforms that require near perfect jumps onto small platforms that leave little room for error. However, there aren’t too many of them, and you’ll find that more often then not you’ll lose your lives from the wear and tear of being attacked by dozens of enemies in a level.

Of the many fighters I’ve played – both in the Double Dragon series and otherwise, Double Dragon II: The Revenge is one of my favorites. The game improves upon the arcade version and the other Nintendo Double Dragon in almost every way imaginable, and it goes above and beyond in every area despite the system’s limitations. Without a doubt, Double Dragon II is one of the best games in the series, second only to Double Dragon Advance.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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