Review by Tarrun

Reviewed: 03/03/08

Uninspiring and repetitive - the roar of the Double Dragon is nothing more than a weak gasp for air.

With the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis gaining momentum among the general population and the age of arcades beginning to fade away, developers for arcade games began to focus exclusively on creating their games for home consoles instead of porting them later on. Knowing their company was beginning to sink, Technos, the developers of the Double Dragon series, followed this trend and developed Super Double Dragon, the last game in the series to follow the traditional side-scrolling gameplay until Double Dragon Advance, for the Super Nintendo. Perhaps because the end was in sight, the American version was rushed to be released, and as a result, is noticeably incomplete, with several key aspects of the gameplay missing. Combined with an extremely limited marketing plan and a general decline in the interest of Double Dragon as a whole, Super Double Dragon was released with minimal fanfare. Though the game looks and feels like Dragon Double on the surface, the lack of variety makes the game nothing more than a disappointment.

Although the series isn’t known for its gripping plots, Super Double Dragon doesn’t put any effort into giving us a reason to be on this mission at all. While the original Double Dragon gave us a short scene of Marian being kidnapped and The Revenge had its cinematics before each mission, Super Double Dragon abandons this entirely. By the end of the game, the player discovers that they’re once again on a quest to save Billy’s beloved, yet apparently completely hopeless, girlfriend, Marian, though whether or not this is a new story or simply a remake of the original is never mentioned. Regardless, the game throws the player into the shoes of Billy and Jimmy Lee to fight their way through an endless army of thugs to take down the leader of the Shadow Warriors, a large, menacing assassin named Duke.

Visually, Super Double Dragon is very pretty, with a completely unique, and in many instances far superior, look compared any of the other games. Billy and Jimmy are still essentially the same sprite with different palates, but they still look fairly detailed. Likewise, the enemies you’ll encounter are all interesting to look at, and many of them have much more menacing looks to them, with wild hair, ripped clothes, and enormous muscles. Each of the enemies has one or two variations, usually switching the colors of their skin and clothes, as well. However, what really makes the graphics in Super Double Dragon memorable are the backgrounds. Despite not incorporating Mode 7 into the game, all of the backgrounds are extremely detailed, beautifully colored, and unique throughout the individual levels. The Lee brothers’ quest will take them, among others, down a casino strip complete with flashing gold lights, through a Chinatown dojo reminiscent to the pagoda where Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fought in The Game of Death, and along the decrepit streets and apartment fire escapes of a downtown slum – all of which are simply incredible. There’s also a noticeable amount of shading, which adds considerable depth to all of the characters and backgrounds.

Similar to the graphics, the soundtrack in the game is one of the better versions in the series, next to the original game and Double Dragon Advance, and includes several new tracks instead of remixing previous ones, though City Slums and the title screen theme have both returned and are featured in Missions Three and Five, respectively. Unfortunately, the new title screen theme – which is reused in the final level – is fairly boring. This makes the final fight with Duke significantly less epic, though there are a few other reasons that add to that as well. Overall, though, with a nice mixture of new tracks and familiar remixes, the game’s soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to while you’re playing.

As for the gameplay, although the game will feel familiar to fans of any of the previous games, Super Double Dragon introduces several new concepts. Unfortunately, for every novel idea that works, there’s another that makes the game more difficult or is simply useless to fight the game’s AI. Taking a step away from the previous two titles, which heavily favored jump kicks and other aerial attacks, Super Double Dragon focuses more on a realistic form of combat that keeps whichever Lee you’re playing as safely on the ground. In fact, with the exception of the lone jumping puzzle, you may never even touch the jump button, despite the fact that a wall kick ability has been introduced. However, between the minimal damage dished out in a jump kick and the fact that the Lee brothers are considerably slower in the air, aerial combat just isn’t a viable strategy in the game.

That being said, you really won’t miss it, as your ground combat is sufficient to handle the swarms of enemies you’ll encounter. Most noticeably, Super Double Dragon introduces a combo system, where you’ll deliver various three-hit combos to take down an enemy. Although this really isn’t all that different from simply using the same kick animation in practice, it gives the combat as a whole a more logical and realistic flow.

There’s also much less of an emphasis on special attacks, and is replaced instead by blocks, counter-attacks, and the Power Meter. Indeed, your arsenal of moves is limited to the Hurricane Kick, the hair grab, and a quick jump kick that’s separate from actually jumping and attacking. After playing for more than a few minutes, you’ll quickly discover that the Power Meter is essentially the only new feature that’s worth using, however. By holding the L or R button, you’ll begin charging your Power Meter, which allows you to deliver various attacks depending on how full the meter is. Below half charged, Billy and Jimmy perform a quick jump kick, from half-charged to ninety-nine percent charged you’ll execute the Hurricane Kick, and when fully charged, your character goes into a sort of “Rage of the Dragon” mode, where a single punch or kick will knock an enemy over. Unfortunately, there are several issues with this system. First of all, the meter dissipates if you stop charging or if an enemy hits you, which means you’ll either have to charge up the Power Meter before going into battle or spend ten seconds walking around to avoid being hit while you charge up. Second, you can only perform a charged attack if the Power Meter is even one percent charged, so you can’t even attack normally while waiting to perform a Hurricane Kick, for example. As a result, the only instances you’ll ever use the Power Meter is to quickly perform a jump kick or in the very beginning of a new screen, since you’ll have the time to charge up while you walk to the next area. Luckily, the Power Meter’s jump kick is a fairly effective attack, since it allows you to quickly get close to an enemy without leaving yourself open to an attack.

As for blocking, it certainly does have its uses, but unfortunately it requires you to actively try and incorporate it into your attack. Depending on what kind of attack you block, Billy or Jimmy will either simply knock the enemy’s limb aside or grab it, allowing you to perform a combo, including an attack where your character kicks the helpless enemy in the face several times in rapid succession before knocking them to the ground. More often than not, however, it’s easier to simply attack before your enemy does, since you’ll have to guess which of the two thugs on either side of you will attack first or risk being on the receiving end of a kick to the back of the head. And in some cases, it’s actually impossible to block attacks from certain enemies, leaving you scratching your head as your character woozily wobbles around before being dropped to the pavement. In the end, the block feature is a fun feature to play with when you’re toying with the last goon in the area, but it’s not something you’ll ever seriously use.

Weapons have returned once again, including a throwing knife, pipe bomb, boomerang, nunchucks, and a staff, and you’ll find that there’s a nice balance in how they affect the gameplay. On one hand, many of the weapons, most noticeably the nunchucks, make fighting extremely easy – it does a tremendous amount of damage and doubles your attack range, making it next to impossible for anything to get close enough to throw a punch. On the other hand, weapons are a rare sight in Super Double Dragon. Although many enemies carry the one-time use weapons like knives and pipe bombs, you’ll only come across one or two of the other weapons per mission, and you lose them when you enter the next scene. However, a fairly neat concept that appears in the game is using random objects in the level. For example, in Mission Three, you’ll find punching bags and speed bags in a dojo, which you can hit and knock into an enemy on the other side.

With several of the core concepts in the game useless, it wouldn’t be surprising if a mildly intelligent enemy AI made Super Double Dragon next to impossible. Thankfully, the goons and thugs you’ll encounter are a step above brain dead, though Billy and Jimmy do everything in their power to balance the scales for them. Interestingly, despite the familiarity to the first two games, the only recurring thugs you’ll encounter are Roper and Williams. Gone are the days of Linda, Chin, Burnov, and Abobo, instead replaced by a slew of new characters, including Baker, who carries a pair of swords, Jeff, a doppelganger of the Lee brothers that even has special moves like the Hurricane Kick, and Steve, a well-dressed assassin who has a powerful combo. Similar to Abobo and Burnov, you’ll also encounter several bosses that reappear in later levels as regular enemies: Jackson is a former boxer that has a powerful uppercut and jab combo, Chen Long-Biao and Chen Long-Fu are martial arts masters that frequently use counter-attacks against you, McGuire is a fat tank of a man that looks a bit like the clown form of the Violator and has a spinning attack like Kano from Mortal Kombat, Carlem is a giant that uses brute force to take you down, and of course Duke, the leader of the Shadow Warriors and the final boss of the game.

The first thing you’ll notice about the enemies in Super Double Dragon is that they appear in swarms. Previously, you would only fight two or three thugs at a time, with more replacing the guys you eliminated. Now, it isn’t uncommon to have five or six enemies on screen. However, all this does is reduce the amount of space you have to move around, as the AI still won’t attack in more than groups of two. While you’re busy beating some random punk into a bloody mess, another will quietly sneak up behind you and wait around until you’ve finished performing a combo while the rest of them stand around twiddling their thumbs. Occasionally you’ll be double-teamed, but it’s extremely rare. Ironically, you have counter-attacks to defend yourself, including kicking behind you while in a hair grab, but enemies will stand just out of its reach, meaning that should someone decide to take a cheap shot, there’s little you can do to stop it.

It also shouldn’t take too very long before you realize that the new Shadow Warriors are much more resilient, and they’ll take quite a beating before giving in and submitting. Even minor characters like the average Williams will require multiple three-hit and hair grab combos before going down for the count. Though initially this seems like it makes the game more challenging, in the end it just makes it more tedious.

To make matters worse, the Shadow Warriors have several long range attacks, including running kicks and leg sweeps, that you don’t, which can be difficult to avoid due to how slowly Billy and Jimmy walk around. Fortunately, most of these attacks are fairly predictable, so it’s simply a matter of recognizing what they’re about to do and preparing for it. It can become frustrating, though, when you’re trying to attack an enemy that chooses to simply block everything you throw at them while his partner walks up from behind and smacks you in the back. Likewise, there are other times when they’ll simply walk backwards to stay just out your range until backing off of the screen, leaving you cornered for someone else to attack.

Luckily, the Shadow Warriors aren’t very bright, so you shouldn’t have a problem having your way with them despite the overwhelming advantage they have. Since the AI lacks any sort of improvisation, taking down the endless armies of the Shadow Warriors is more of a “When” rather than an “If”. Even bosses suffer from this boring, predictable pattern. Even though they may have powerful attacks, they do little more than walk around unless you stand around and let them beat you up. In a weak attempt to make up for this, you’ll often have to fight the boss along with four or five of their minions with them. Instead of trying to fight the boss, you’re stuck fending off the pesky gang members that constantly bombard you throughout the fight. I suppose that’s one way to make a boss fight somewhat challenging, but it’s a cheap substitute for intelligent, quick bosses that actually pose a threat by themselves.

When you take all of the aspects in the gameplay into consideration, Super Double Dragon ends up being just plain boring. You’re fighting the same enemies and performing the same combos through all seven of the game’s levels with short periods of walking attempting to break up the monotony. This is a common problem side-scrolling fighters face, and it’s usually resolved by incorporating platforming puzzles into the gameplay – including in the previous Double Dragon games. Yet for reasons unknown to me, this is almost entirely eradicated from Super Double Dragon. There is a single jumping puzzle in the game that requires you to jump over a gap on a rope bridge before fighting the boss. That’s it – the rest of the game is the same linear fighting. In comparison, take a look at a game like Super Castlevania IV – rooms that change while you’re in them, interactive backgrounds, moving platforms, and traps galore. Now sit down and play Super Double Dragon, a game with level design highlights that involve occasionally walking up or down stairs. Instead of feeling excited to find out what kind of obstacles the developers are going to throw at you next, the only thought running through your mind is wondering how much longer you’re going to have to keep playing.

That’s really the main problem Super Double Dragon is faced with. There is simply nothing to keep the player interested and coming back for more. Sure, there’s a two-player mode, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone actually playing through it more than once for nostalgia purposes. It certainly looks and sounds nice, but nothing else really seems to fit together. There are special moves, but they aren’t very useful. There are combos and new features to make up for it, but those are hardly any more helpful. There are plenty of bosses and gang members to fight, but they lack any sort of intelligence to justify having to continuously fight them over again. And without any platform puzzles to break up the repetitive nature of the game, there’s no reason to keep playing. Even the ending isn’t worth watching – the developers throw dirt in your face one last time by rewarding your efforts with a two-sentence conclusion on a black screen. Fans of the series will be able to drudge through it, but this is a shell of a Double Dragon game. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the rest of the games in the series released were fighters, or that Technos declared bankruptcy and went out of business in 1995.

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Product Release: Super Double Dragon (US, 10/31/92)

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