The arcade hit Double Dragon makes it to the 8-bit! Hooray? Question mark intended as this port has me so confused I need to talk it through with you good people…
Firstly, congratulations to Technos for scaling this down to the NES. The original arcade cab version displayed 384 colours on screen, three-hundred and eighty-four! This is in comparison to the NES’s twenty-five (or thereabouts – Ed). The presentation is pretty good and there are two game modes both with two-player options. I’ll start with mode A.
Mode A is the standard scrolling beat em up experience, but wait! Jimmy appears to be doing something in the intro sequence that isn’t to our liking. Is he kidnapping a girl? Noooooo!! That’s Billy’s girl! Once you get your head around this act of sibling betrayal it becomes very clear that not all has been transposed from the coin-op.
The graphics are impressive for the NES. The backgrounds make good use of the limited colour palette and so too do the sprites which are meaty and well defined. But they’re so well defined that only three can be on the screen at the same time. There’s a distinct lack of blurring (which is great news) but weapons you pick up sometimes don’t make it to the next screen (bad news). The music is good but perhaps too upbeat for a game where you can wrap a chain around someone’s head. The sound effects are typically NES-like and do the job. It all makes for a satisfying experience. Erm, sort of.
There are lots of things to like about mode A. The collision detection is satisfying (especially with the kicks) and the action flows quite nicely from pummelling the “hordes” of bad guys and then to the end of stage boss. This version retains the stage structure of the coin-op, including scaling fences and climbing ladders. But, and this is a big but (quiet in the back! – Ed), the sprite limitation makes a lot of the game feel pedestrian. Billy’s moves level up, so you initially don’t have a flying kick (both buttons need to be pressed to execute this which is another negative) and you develop moves like the grapple later on. It’s a good feature to a certain degree, until the bad guys do the same. To compensate for the lack of enemy sprites, the enemies get substantially more difficult as soon as you complete the first few stages. The health bar is generous but you have to restart the stage if you lose a life which I found pretty frustrating. The game is also riddled with little bugs such as when you’re on a ladder and approaching enemies climb down the same ladder and past you without any health being lost. It all adds up and the will to persevere with Double Dragon soon diminishes.
I’ve waffled on so much I’ve hardly left any room for mode B. Good job there’s not a lot to it… The only true two-player experience in Double Dragon (in mode A you have to play one after the other) allows you to pick one character and bash seven shades of doo doo out of each other. Billy is present as are the game’s bosses (but no Jimmy, alas) and you have access to all of their moves from the outset. But the mode is instantly limited as you have to be the same character. This removes a lot of the strategy choosing different characters would have added and results mostly in a lot of button bashing. I can’t help thinking that the memory used with this mode would have been better spent on mode A, but I don’t know enough about the hardware to really comment on that.
All in all, there is a lot of game here for the 8-bit. Frustrations with the early levels of the game can be overcome and some of the boss fights later on are worth the hassle. And rarely is a game completely free of bugs. Embrace the madness and Double Dragon is a good bit of fun. Chains at the ready…