Thursday, November 30, 2017

Return of Double Dragon (SFC) Review

Received: November 10th, 2017 / Written: November 29th-30th, 2017
Alternate Title: Super Double Dragon
Year: 1992 | Developed and Published by: Technōs Japan Corp. | [ ]

It's almost been four months since my last review; I hope my video game analyzing prowess hasn't atrophied.  I guess we'll find out...  Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and here goes my comeback (maybe).

Image from Wikipedia; Happy 30th Anniversary, Double Dragon
In mid-1987 emerged a beat'em up in arcades courtesy of Technōs Japan Corp. (who formed up in December 1981) in the form of Double Dragon, a technological and spiritual follow-up to their 1986 coin-op Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (or Renegade as it was altered to become for the localized release), that introduced disarming and picking up weapons plus two-player co-op to the genre (taking control of the Lee brothers Billy and Jimmy) and at the time was a huge success.

While one could argue whether or not it has aged all that well, there's no doubt that it revolutionized the beat'em up genre that it would inspire and influence other companies to create their own takes for these kinds of games.  So basically we have Double Dragon to thank/blame (depending on how you look at it) for games like Sega's Golden Axe, Capcom's Final Fight, and Ancient's Bare Knuckle/Streets of Rage as well as all the other games of its ilk (including Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles license Turtles in Time, the one game that even non-fans of the genre tend to enjoy).
Images from Wikipedia
Double Dragon's success would help spawn two coin-op sequels, 1988's Double Dragon II: The Revenge and 1990's Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone (developed by East Technology), and all three games would receive numerous home computer and console ports/interpretations (chiefly on the Famicom/NES and MegaDrive/Genesis, but also received treatments for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 to name a few but also on the aging Atari 2600 for the first game, bizarrely enough) that all varied in quality.
After three successful arcade entries, Technōs Japan Corp. would go on to make their fourth iteration exclusively available for the Nintendo 16-bit console (even to this day as not once was it given an official rerelease, both physically and digitally).  On October 1992 the Super Famicom received Return of Double Dragon in Japan (released there by Technōs Japan Corp.), during that same month there was an NTSC SNES version released by Tradewest renamed Super Double Dragon (because there were clearly not enough SFC/SNES games with the word "Super" in the title--oh, wait...), and finally European SNES gamers would not be able to play their edition until September 1993.  As the Lee brothers' first Nintendo 16-bit venue, how fares it?

Casino not so royale
As was the case with the Japanese version of HAL Laboratory's HyperZone, the game's story is shown in the cover art; but since I don't have today's game's box like I do for the aforementioned 1991 Mode 7 rail shooter, I'll quote it from the MobyGames section here: "A Policewoman, Marian, is training the art of Kung Fu at the training school which Billy and Jimmy operate.  Marian is the only woman drug investigator in the police station.  One day on the way back from the school, she tried to investigate 'Shadow Warriors'.  But she has not returned."  Did you want more?  I'm sorry, but that's all we're getting as far as the story is concerned as there isn't anything in-game; more on that later.  =(

Boomerang attack
Return of Double Dragon is a multi-plane sidescrolling beat'em up with a huge moveset, so please bear with me as I go over its controls: as Billy (first player) and/or Jimmy (second player) you can roam around in any of the eight directions as you contend with a multitude of enemies; punches are done with the Y button while the kicks are done via the A button, the B button is served for blocking an enemy's attacks and should an enemy attempt to punch you it'll be grabbed hold of as you can do any one of three things (punching, kicking, or throwing with the B button again; you can choose to do a combo of the same technique or alternate in this state, and to kick an enemy behind you in said state press the opposite direction alongside the A button), and jumping is relegated to the X button (and in case you're wondering, no, there is no control customization here for what you see is what you get, and what you get can feel rather awkward the first time around).

Elevator battle
While in midair you can kick either ahead of you, dropkick by holding down as you can, and even do a backward kick by pressing A and the opposite direction that you're jumping towards; however, your midjumps cannot be controlled.  By holding down either shoulder button you can fill up the power gauge gradually for you can do it partway or all the way through depending on your call (or if an enemy attacked you as you were charging up); if you hold down the shoulder button while pressing the A button you'll perform a rotating kick attack and should you hold the shoulder button while pressing Y then you'll perform the spinning punch attack, if the gauge is more than halfway full when pressing either face button then Billy and/or Jimmy will perform the hurricane kick that'll make him fly across until the sequence is done.  Once the gauge is full you'll momentarily augment the power of your punches and kicks and add a bit more range to the proceedings (making up for the fact that can't do combos in this state).

No time for fun and games when there are
fiends to contend with
You'll frequently be contending with enemies, some of which will carry a weapon (nunchukus, boomerangs, bo staffs, incendiary bombs, and knives) whom you can disarm and pick up from the ground with the Y button, and it's also possible to switch weapons by standing over another one; but beware for should you be carrying a weapon when hit then you'll be disarmed yourself.  At the end of each mission (this game's equivalent of a stage) you'll be facing a boss battle, and unlike most games of this genre there are no health items (once you lose a portion of health you can't replenish it, for the only way to begin with full health is after you lose a life and once you begin the subsequent mission) and the enemies don't show their health bar.

Staff 1: "So, got any plans?"
Staff 2: "Getting through the night, for one"
Return of Double Dragon has got a nice-looking aesthetic to it, as it's bright and colorful in places while not sacrificing its sense of detail in other spots.  When you begin at the casino you're treated to flashing lights and colorful signs, and the interior segment has got a flight of stairs and a couple of slot machines in the backdrop where its floor has a sense of gradient depth to it; the airport segment has got a cool view of the airplane that's looming in the distance underneath the dark sky (those poor staff members who are designed into the background not animating a single frame, though), and when you walk in the runway there is a cool set of parallax scrolling ground lights in the back which exudes a sense of atmosphere as you're walking next to the plane you saw earlier.

Blocking the evil suit guy's punch
In the segment where you're riding on top of a pickup truck you can see the sea and clouds whizzing past due to high speeds, while the sky might be brown in the penultimate mission it does have a good mountainous backdrop, and the final mission's area design is probably the best in terms of foreshadowing and oriental touch (the use of purples and greens are well-implemented in the penultimate section).  The characters and enemies might be relatively small but they more than make up for that with their solid animation and fluidly motioned fight choreography which are credited to Muneki Ebinuma (who also served as one of this game's planners), Koji Ogata (who was also one of five object designers), and Naritaka Nishimura (who also did the action programming).  I'm not sure how often it is that a fight choreography was credited for a video game made in the early '90s, but it's interesting to note because the moves seen on display here look so authentic due their sense of detail.

Ahhh, look at those pretty lights
Billy and Jimmy solidly animate when moving around, and like I said before their fight choreography look well-orchestrated and seem real; and while they might be slight palette swaps of each other there are differences that set them apart aside from their outfit colors--Billy and Jimmy have differing hairstyles and operate in different fighting techniques.  Billy masters the art of Southern Sōsetsuken which specializes in agility and flexibility while Jimmy masters the art of Northern Sōsetsuken where strength takes precedence, so each of them has their own personal set of animations in regards to punches.  And speaking of palette swapping, one of the enemies you fight is a direct green-wearing orange-skinned copy of Billy Lee (I don't think that happens often in this genre where a particular enemy is a direct palette swap of the protagonist you take control of), same moveset and everything.  o_O

In hindsight, maybe fighting besides a plane
about ready to take off is not a very wise idea...
Among the other enemies you fight in this game are guys in headbands, brutes with mane-like blonde hair, guys who wield swords in both hands that on occasion do spin attacks, men in suits, musclebound boxers, martial artists, and tall lumbering shades and jacket-wearing people; you'll be fighting numerous kinds of these men  who will also appear as palette swaps (albeit with no variation in attack qualities in this case).  All of them have good animation and the final boss Duke makes a great entrance when you finally get to him at the end and has got a good moveset.

Nunchukus are the best long-ranged weapon
in the game
The music for this game was done by Kazunaka Yamane, who had previously provided music for the franchise with the Nintendo 8-bit editions of Double Dragon and Double Dragon II: The Revenge but also composed the music for the Nintendo 8-bit version of U.S. Championship V'Ball/Super Spike V'Ball and the original coin-op version of The Combatribes, and it's one of Return of Double Dragon's biggest highlights.  =)  There is a great sense of instrumentation that lends this game a grand sense of scale and atmosphere to the proceedings, and at points sounds quite epic in of itself.

Punching bag
After the Technōs Japan Corp. logo has popped up once the game is booted up you're treated to a well-composed title theme that sets up the tone for what's to come (it is also used during the very final segment of the game, which makes the aural flourish sound all the more epic).  The casino theme gets you pumped for the action that's soon to come, there's a little jazz instrumentation and slap bass that accompanies the airport theme, there is an air of urgency in the composition for when you ride on the pick up truck, the segment with the stairs has an orchestral theme with an epic flair to it (and that guitar riff in the end, too), and the final mission theme sounds fantastic and hints that things will almost come to an end.  Robert C. Ashworth served as audio programmer, and the sound effects chosen are rather hit and miss in my opinion; there's the punch, kick, block, and incendiary bomb sound effects that sound appropriate but then you've got a rather muffled metallic sound for when the knife weapon bounces off the floor after it's been disarmed and/or thrown against a wall and when the sword wielder attacks you with his sword(s) it sounds like he's chopping wood which don't sound right.  =/

Hope Jack Burton ain't driving that pickup,
otherwise there'll be Big Trouble in Little China
The American and European release of Return of Double Dragon, Super Double Dragon, was handled by Tradewest who hadn't taken over American release duties for the franchise since the localized NES version of the first Double Dragon what with its two Nintendo 8-bit follow-ups being published in the West by Acclaim.  So on one hand it sort of makes sense that Tradewest was tasked to handle publishing duties given their previous history with the franchise outside Japan, unfortunately the way they went about the SNES conversion was all wrong what with the slew of unnecessary changes made from the original Super Famicom edition--American and/or European distributors of Japanese video games had a tendency to that with certain games during the early to mid '90s.  -_-
Print Screened from its The Cutting Room Floor page
Click to enlarge; I honestly don't care to list them in my own words
You know if this was your idea of "fixing" the game for the American release, then you should have never had your hands on it and the game would've been better off had it been left in Japan with all its dignity and integrity intact, and I mean that with the most utmost sincerity.
I don't care if Tradewest would go on to publish Software Creations' fun but overly challenging cult classic platformer Plok for the North American continent roughly a year later, that's just not done.  >=(  Making changes for the sake of making changes isn't going to improve the game that was fine in the first place, it's going to make it worse.

I mean, it'd be one thing if they were trying to polish a certain aspect that hadn't been perfected the first time around, but nine times out of ten when changes are made it's because the publisher enforced them and not the developer that worked so hard to make the game for the latter would never willingly sabotage their own game.
Here's an egregious example: System Sacom's 1991 blob-themed platformer Jerry Boy released by Epic/Sony Records on the Super Famicom had an in-game story that set up the conflict and explained your predicament and objective culminating in a colorfully flashing title screen.  Sony Imagesoft's resolution for Smart Ball: "How can we improve this game?  I know: let's remove the overall story and towns, devise the most unappealing title, and place it in the most boringarse gray title background ever!  Dat'll maik da gaim bedder, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUHR!!!"  -_-

I find it very insulting and demeaning when these inane changes are made and usually they were made when the changes were not even necessary to make in the first place, ergo compromising for the sake of a Western release.  You know that age old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?  Clearly Tradewest didn't comprehend that in the slightest when it came to localizing this game.  The worst part about this is that American and European gamers were not even aware that there were changes made at the time, being given inferior versions of games that were superior in the original Japanese version which they would not realize until the days of the internet.
Screengrabbed from my Region 1 Widescreen DVD of Superman III, property of Warner Bros.
Another thing that gets to me is that ill-informed changes like these that no one had asked for are going to paint the American and/or European audience in a negative light, and they didn't do anything to deserve that.  <=(  Japanese companies cared about video games, American distributors didn't quite feel the same way toward the medium at the time which is why they second-guessed what people wanted because they didn't know (never asked).  American and European gamers during the early '90s deserved better, these games that were subject to questionable alterations (based on... nothing) deserved better, and the developers that worked so hard to make the games in the first place deserved better!  And no, I would never say "Well, just be thankful you got to play these games in your continent, don't complain" because snide remarks like those will turn people away from wanting to try them at all.  Still, everyone deserved better.  =(  *sigh*  How far we've come...

Knock out
Exclusive to Return of Double Dragon is an options screen where you can select the game's difficulty, listen to the in-game sound test, as well as raise or lower the amount of continues you wish to have (one being the lowest and nine being the highest).  There are slight variations with these difficulties, like on Hard for example where the enemies will try to block or evade your finished combos, and when it comes to certain bosses and enemies (like the clown and martial artists) the foolproof way of getting at them would be with a full power gauge with the ranged punch and kick attacks; there are plenty of strategic moves to think of when dealing with these enemies.  Fortunately losing a life will resume you at the spot with a short moment of invincibility time, and even more gracious is the fact that there is no timer to worry about.  It's just a shame that it lacks a point.

Billy Lee v Clone Billy
Return of Double Dragon had a very rushed production, which lead designer Muneki Ebinuma will attest to as in 2004 he's explained and revealed in a published commentary that there was more to have been added to the game had they been allotted more time to work on it.  For starters, there was supposed to be an in-game plot and cutscenes before and after boss battles but in its finished state you're just thrust into the action with seemingly no reason behind it all; there also really isn't any sense of geography or where you're supposed to go (and be) a lot of the time for you start in a casino, then you're at an airport but the plane flies off in the end only to cut to the streets and the dojo?  There's just no rhyme or reason to these varied settings; I'm not saying you need the most elaborately detailed plot ever, but you need something to work with, to tell you the main objective and story in-game.  A shame that all it had in that regard is in the box and manual.

Whoa, four enemies in the same screen?
How often does that happen in a
Nintendo 16-bit beat'em up?

Marian, who was referenced in the cover art, was originally to appear in the game to help Billy and Jimmy in their adventure but it never came to fruition; some missions were intended to have more obstacles than what was actually present in its final status; but the biggest element was Duke himself.  Once Duke's been defeated there was supposed to be a twist that revealed that he and the Lee brothers were childhood friends, but also there was supposed to be another boss fight after that in the form of Duke's shadow; in the final game however once Duke's been ousted it just cuts to the credits.  The game doesn't really end so much as stop, and that's mainly due to the lack of a proper ending sequence.  It's unfortunate that Technōs Japan Corp. were forced to rush the game.  How better and infinitely complete would it have been had they had their way and put everything that was planned in the beginning?  Ultimately the rush resulted in a blatantly unfinished game.

Hurricane Kick
But finished or no, I honestly found this beat'em up to be rather fun in spite of its lack of purpose and issues that it's got as a result of it.  =)  I knew of this game for over a decade but only actually thought of importing it in recent months; I didn't want to buy Super Double Dragon knowing the changes it had undergone from the original Return of Double Dragon (when I first saw a gameplay footage of it on YouTube from Shiryu all those years ago he put in the description that there were changes between versions, for the video was of the Japanese original), which is why I went for the Super Famicart.  I kept my expectations in check, being aware of its present reception, and I had a good time with it.

"Hey, wait your turn!"
During its heyday it had received positive acclaim but over time it had gotten a more and more mixed reception from both gamers and critics alike.  Its rushed status and lack of in-game plot certainly didn't help its case, but in comparison to other more high-profile beat'em ups at the time there are those who have regarded this game in particular unfavorably; another factor that ties into its present-day polarizing reception is that it's very slow paced through and through.  The characters are a bit slow when it comes to movement, and sometimes when Billy and/or Jimmy are knocked to the ground it takes a few seconds after being knocked to get back up to their feet and if they receive a certain amount of damage they'll appear winded or overwhelmed which lasts a couple seconds at best.

Look at that grand ominous design
While it would've been preferable for it to have been faster paced, I didn't find the slowness to be a turnoff personally.  Sure they walk slowly, but when it comes to performing their plethora of moves they do so with aplomb.  The enemies too are slow walkers which you can use to your advantage especially when trying to charge up your gauge; there is also a sense of rubber band AI to these enemies as they'll tend to go where you go when not proceeding to perform their attacks (i.e. should you move upward then they'll move upward, should you move downward then they'll move downward, and if you try to walk diagonally then you can guess that they'll do the same, et al).

Kicks aplenty
And as slow as its pacing was I didn't find it to be monotonous per se, though I do sympathize with those who do (as slow pacing might not sound like an appealing prospect for this genre), and I don't have a problem with pacing if it's done so with purpose.  Quintet's ActRaiser 2, for example, was slow paced but for very good reason: it was hard and rewarded those who went slow and steady and had patience and punished those who dared to rush through (blindly) and felt overconfident.  The extended moveset I felt benefited this game exponentially for it gave you lots of strategies to choose from in terms of how to approach the enemy; and the way you can grab someone's punch after a couple of them attempt to hit you is a very nice touch.  And yet somehow in spite of the way that it was structured I didn't find it tedious as there was still a sense of fun and challenge to the proceedings (most times you'll face up to three enemies per screen).  =)  Hey, at least it's not Capcom's Final Fight 2 where it felt tediously redundant and overlong (the fact it copy-pasted the gameplay structure of its predecessor with little to no innovation whatsoever didn't help either).  Return of Double Dragon didn't feel like it outstayed its welcome, and it's only roughly (I'm guessing) fifty minutes long.

Because it wouldn't be a beat'em up without an
obligatory elevator sequence
Despite the lack of a point it was interesting to traverse in an airport in the second mission and down its runway (almost surreal with the lights in the backdrop), and when the first segment of the fourth stage was done I could've help but chuckle at the way Billy or Jimmy just flew off the truck as it crashed into a wall and when the camera pans to the Lee brother he's fineXD  And I liked the overall design of the final mission, plus the gameplay was versatile which I felt was the most important thing; even if a couple of missions were a lot shorter than the others.  And if you're not a fan of boss gauntlets preceding the final boss, then I've got bad news for you; although you do technically face the same enemies and reappearing bosses over and over but still that's something to bear in mind.

To this day Return of Double Dragon (and its localized counterpart) has never been rereleased, not even on Nintendo's Virtual Console downloadable service on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U which would be a great way of experiencing it for those who can't afford a Super Famicom or Super Nintendo, but the damage was done when it got rushed to the public and somehow I don't think even Arc System Works (the license holder for all things Technōs since 2015 as they became bankrupt in 1996) is keen on this game (further confirming its polarizing status) for they rereleased the three Nintendo 8-bit games but not this 16-bit venture.  Make of that what you will.

What could've been...
But hey, it ain't half bad when given a chance
While my favorite and go to genres are platformers, action-adventure games and RPGs, and puzzlers (and if there's a hybrid genre of any of these, I'm all for it) I do sometimes enjoy playing beat'em ups (or slash'em ups in the case Golden Axe and Knights of the Round) and my favorite in the console starring nonhuman characters is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (a childhood favorite; as for human-starring beat'em ups, my favorite is Jaleco's underrated Rushing Beat Ran — Fukusei Toshi).  =)  If you're a fan of Double Dragon or the beat'em up genre but want a game with a semblance of a plot you'll only be half-satisfied, if you wish to play a beat'em up with a myriad moveset then you may like this just fine, if you want to play a game with a sense of speed then you'll probably want to look elsewhere (like the aforementioned Rushing Beat Ran for one), but if you're undeterred by things like slow pacing and initially awkward control placement then it's fun while it lasts.  It may not be perfect and may feel unfinished and rushed, but if you give it a chance you may find a well-developed iteration of the series and one of the (in my opinion) better Nintendo 16-bit games in the genre.  =)

My Personal Score: 7.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. I've been meaning to make another review earlier but Hurricane Harvey happened (my family and I were unaffected but we didn't have a way to access the internet until early October when we switched internet providers), my laptop died so I had to use my Surface Pro which I've gradually gotten used to for the past few months, got busy in real life, and I have passions outside of video games also (which I felt took precedence over my blog as reviewing video games is a hobby for me).  But anyway, if you were wondering why I've been absent so long, this is why and I'm sorry if I've worried you with my absence.

Happy 25th Anniversary, Return of Double Dragon!!  =D

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think (neither spam nor NSFW language is allowed on my blog); hope you have a great day, take care!  =)

1 comment:

  1. I've been a big fan of your blog for awhile now. I plan to do a review of Return of Double Dragon myself in the near future. I heard the American version was made first, then the Japanese one. If that's true, I can see why the Super Famicom seems more polished.

    I was wondering if we could do an exchange of links of sorts.I run a website called SNES Hub that reviews SNES games. Could you mention my website in a post and I'll put a link of your blog on my website's links page? Let me know.

    ReplyDelete