iPhone Game Review: DoubleDragon Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Playing Double Dragon is an odd experience which, while not unpleasant, can be a bit disorienting at times. Some of this could be due to the fact that while it shares some key similarities with the classic arcade and multiple-console beat'em up, it is neither an emulated port nor a strict remake of it. Instead, this is a remake of Double Dragon on the Zeebo, with four of the six levels being re-imaginings of the original game and two others that were created exclusively for the Zeebo by Brizo Interactive and recreated for this iOS version.
Confused yet? So am I. That's why, while some things remain true to the original, such as that you play, (initially, at least), as Billy or Jimmy Lee in a 2.5D side scrolling brawler with the goal of rescuing your girlfriend from a gang of street punks, others such as a few special moves, some levels, and the music feel vaguely familiar, it's probably best to approach this version of Double Dragon as its own distinct game instead of trying to capture the nostalgia of playing one of your childhood favorites. On its own merits, it does partially succeed, thanks to relatively deep combat and a variety of features and game modes.
In its way, Double Dragon makes for a fairly satisfying fighting experience, as it is chock full of different attacks to use and characters to play as. Of course the two protagonist stalwarts have the largest variety of executable moves, with everything from jump kicks and flying knees to headbutts and elbow strikes at their disposal. In fact, when you control Billy or Jimmy, you'll find that almost every conceivable button combination will cause you to pull off some sort of combat move, and while the variety is appreciable, the limitations of playing on a touchscreen become readily apparent as soon as you start trying to pull off special moves or zippy combos.
It all can be a bit overwhelming at first as you try to remember which directional arrow and combination of button taps will cause you to perform the attack you want. It becomes more manageable with time, and there is nothing patently wrong with the controls, although it can happen that because you need to hit the small, non-physical buttons with a fair amount of accuracy, you will find yourself fighting the controls as much as the bad guys.
Fortunately, there is a simplified control scheme that shortcuts 4 buttons to 3 and a data section in the game that allows you to see a command list as well as profile information for each character as you unlock them. There are 26 playable characters in all, with more unlocked with each progressive playthrough. Boss characters have a special move or two, but most of the characters are very restricted in their abilities and become dull to use after a few minutes. It is, however, oddly compelling to read about some characters' hobbies and that they are married to one another. Who knew that Linda is into bodybuilding and is married to Williams?
There are also three different ways to play: the single player campaign, a two-player mode over bluetooth, and a time attack mode that allows you to compete for high scores over Game Center, Facebook and Twitter, by charting how quickly you can complete any single level. Additionally, there are a whopping 57 different Game Center achievements.
The character sprites are done in a sort of cross between the retro style of the original version and a Japanese manga style, and at times character portraits may even remind you a bit of what you'd see in a JRPG. There is some charm in the partially animated backgrounds that will take you back down memory lane as much as anything else in the game. It's not terribly impressive on its own terms, nor does it hold the pixelated charm of its forebears, but graphically, this game gets the job done, especially on a fourth generation device.
The greatest visual negative is certainly the large, opaque HUD at the bottom of the screen. It doesn't have a huge negative impact on the game's look, but it's certainly not a positive and to look at it, you might suspect that the space could have been used in a more appealing and practical way.
The music, like most of the rest of the game, plays at times like it was put together by someone who heard the original Double Dragon score back in the 80s and then tried to recreate it based solely on memory. It's not bad, and it will get you thinking of the old soundtrack, but it's not anything that will get your toes tapping either, and it also sounds a bit over compressed.
Sound effects are meaty and the type that would go well with the visualized sound words that you see in comic books. I especially like the ?KLUD? and ?THWUMP? sounds.
It's hard to pin down exactly whom I'd recommend Double Dragon to, since you'd need a healthy appreciation for retro beat'em up titles to enjoy it. However, if you were expecting a spot-on reproduction or modernization of the Double Dragon franchise, this game doesn't quite reach that height due to its somewhat underwhelming presentation and often fidgety controls, but if you are determined to find a game in the vein of the classic Double Dragon titles of the past, you won't find many others that have better replayability and I must admit the game grew on me the more I played it.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 3.5 - An interesting retro-manga touch to the sprites and old school backgrounds are marred a bit by the unnecessarily large and unappealing HUD. Sound: - 3.5 - Competently re-imagined music and macho sound effects do a solid job in the sound department. Controls: - 2.5 - An option to reconfigure button placement would be a big help with the sometimes annoying virtual buttons, however the virtual dpad is competent. Gameplay: - 3.5 - Despite terrible hit detection which is common to the genre, the variety of gameplay and replayability make Double Dragon fun to play and one you'll likely want to come back to once you get more comfortable with it. Overall: - 3 - A difficult game to place as it falls between the cracks between being a nostalgic retro remake and an accessible pick up and play title, Double Dragon can reward persistent arcade gamers and fans of brawlers who want something on the go.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Take time to review the in-game command list to get a handle on your attacks.
Weapons aren't always the most useful things to use, especially as they disable your jumping attack and all your special moves.
Try to focus on the bosses during boss fights rather than underlings as the common thugs will continue to appear indefinitely until you defeat their leader.