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Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was on old comic’s property from the 1950s that I’m sure not many remembered until it was brought back by Valiant Comics in the 90s. However even with that resurgence in popularity for the character I was surprised Acclaim chose this to make a video game adaptation. Personally I would have picked Ninjak but that’s because I think ninjas are cool. I doubt many had high expectations of the game but the frequent previews painted a different picture as it was obvious Acclaim were putting more money into the project than their typical licensed products. It would ultimately prove to be a success and save the company. Turok was a landmark release in terms of console first person shooters but time has not been kind to the game as the advances within the genre make it hard to revisit.

As one of the earliest N64 titles the importance of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter’s release and success for Acclaim cannot be stated enough. Where they once were riding high off the back of successful arcade ports like Mortal Kombat 2 and NBA Jam their fortunes took a dark turn once Midway began handling those releases themselves. Combined with the significant failure of games such as Cutthroat Island and their backs were against the wall. That they pinned their hopes on such a relatively unknown (outside of serious comic book fans) property says a lot but the fact that the game was so successful and would spawn a long running franchise is even more incredible.

The most polarizing aspect of Turok has to be its controls. In the age before dual analog sticks there were many approaches taken at somehow replicating the speed and fluency of mouse and keyboard controls and in my opinion Turok does it wrong. Rather than using the analog stick for movement the game instead uses the C-buttons with the analog used for aiming. This is counter intuitive to how the vast majority of gamers have ever played games and even after sinking hours into the game it never felt natural. The only other option available is left hand controls which is sort of manageable as the d-pad controls movement but the C-buttons are used for aiming, which relegates all of the other functions to buttons in odd places. Neither one is ideal and if you can’t manage to find some way to adjust (which I’m sure most won’t) this game isn’t for you.

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While the default setup is great for aiming this isn’t an action packed fps like Doom. Turok throws in adventure game elements as there is a heavy dose of platforming which unfortunately does not work within the context of this game. It works in games like Jumping Flash and especially Metroid Prime since the camera tilts to show the platform you’re about to land on. Here however the game frequently sees you balancing on the thinnest platforms in sequence with failure leading to retracing your steps. It is a little forgiving in that regard but the game would have been so much better if it dialed back on this element.

Outside of the frustrating platforming however this is as grand an adventure as you’ll encounter in a first person shooter. The levels are absolutely huge and packed full of secrets. The objective of each stage is to find the keys needed to unlock further stages in the game’s hub world as well as assemble the Chronoscepter.   After the initial jungle level the game is completely nonlinear, a fact you’ll appreciate since it is easy to become lost in any of the game’s gargantuan worlds. I’ve spent upwards of three hours or so exploring each level and while it does feel meandering at times due to their size the frequency of enemy encounters (at times a bit too much) means you won’t become bored.

The game’s title might give the impression that you’ll spend the majority of the time slaying ancient dinosaurs in the jungle but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As you progress deeper into the game the forests and tribal huts give way to more alien environments with suitable enemies to match. That variety is the game’s greatest asset as you’ll face soldiers, tribal warriors, mutants, demons, and of course the dinosaurs in the game’s name. The weapons similarly become more over the top. The simple explosive Tek arrows will eventually give way to such outlandish weapons as the Quad Rocket Launcher and Fusion cannon, which is a small form nuke.

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At the time of its release there were no other console games on the same level as Turok. The detail in the textures was simply superb, especially on the later bosses and the environments became more and more fantastical as the game progressed. The animation of the various enemies is also well done with a surprising number of unique death animations depending on where they were shot. Glorious arterial spray! The graphical splendor came at the cost of draw distance as the game made heavy use of fog and was rightfully made fun of for it. The fog really is that bad but it also kept the frame rate extremely high with the game only slowing down once 5 enemies were on screen which is a rare occurrence.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was at one point the most advanced console first person shooter and a game worthy of many of its praises. But the game’s faults such as its awkward controls and ill advised platforming were pretty significant back then and are even more pronounced now. I don’t know that I can completely recommend the game; there’s still plenty to like about it but the wonky control scheme is hard to go back to after experiencing the relative perfection of dual analog controls.

6-out-of-10-1

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Back to the Future

Ah, LJN, my arch nemesis, we meet again.  Wherever a popular license existed back in the 80s and 90s LJN were there to completely fuck it up in search of the quick and easy buck.  The number of franchises from other media ruined by this company reads like a hit list; X-Men, Terminator, Jaws, and the subject of this review, Back to the Future.  Not that I have any great love for BttF but this game is the worst kind of terrible and should be avoided like the plague.

The game follows the plot of the movie pretty closely for what it’s worth.  Marty McFly ends up back in time in the 1950’s and has to find his way home without screwing up the space/time continuum.  They at least got that part right.

Honestly, how would you even make a compelling NES game based around BttF?  This sure as hell isn’t it.  When it gets down to it the movie is a relatively straightforward sci-fi comedy, not exactly conducive to a platformer or the typical genres exhibited on the NES.  While I’d like to say the developers made a valiant attempt to create a compelling game the truth is they recycle the same sparse assets for the length of the adventure, showing off just how cheap a production this is.  I distinctly remember walking almost an hour to and from the store with friends to buy this game when I was 9 so it’s terrible quality felt like a double edged sword considering the journey just to purchase the stupid thing.

As Marty your job is to navigate the streets of Hill Valley on the way to 4 important locations from the film to complete minigames in order to progress: the diner, Hill Valley High School, the dance, and finally using the Delorean to hit 88 mph and head home.  The objective is simple but getting there is not.

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The entire world has it in for you, from hula hooping cheerleaders to even the fucking bees.  There’s a large list of obstacles that you need to avoid; bullies in pink shirts who blame you for their terrible fashion choices, window movers, manholes, and park benches.  It doesn’t help that Marty is a giant pussy and will trip over everything your path which doesn’t sound so bad on its face but carries a stiff penalty.

You have two timers to worry about, the actual game clock and the photo of Marty and his family that slowly disappears as you progress.  The photo represents time trying to correct itself and “remove” him from the picture, so to speak.  The only way to prevent this is to collect the clocks arrayed in the streets.  The photo is the biggest issue you face as it fades pretty quickly; anytime you hit an obstacle it takes a few seconds to get back up, time you can’t afford to waste.  The later levels are pretty stingy with clocks, meaning you’ll have to execute near perfect runs through each stage to avoid losing a life.

If I had to sum up BttF in one word, repetitive.  All of the street levels are exactly the same; same enemies, same traps, and graphics just rearranged.  This is a pretty long game so seeing the exact same elements ad nauseum with the only difference being a slight shift in color palette is terrible.  There’s only one song in the game that loops endlessly from the moment you boot up the game.  I know Acclaim/LJN usually cheaped out with their licensed products to maximize profits but they could have at least been more transparent about it.

On top of that this is one of the hardest games in the NES library so all of the cheesy tactics the game uses to kill you feel worse since there are no continues, passwords, or battery backup to record your progress.  In addition extra lives are near impossible to come by.  You’ll need all the lives you can muster to complete the borderline insane minigames.

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The minigames had the chance to redeem the rest of the package but are so terribly executed that I imagine most gave up at the cafe which is the first one.  The café has you knocking out Biff’s bully entourage with shakes.  You have to defeat at least 50 to move one but it becomes so hard due to the stupid angle and the fidgety controls that I wondered if it was possible to complete back in the day.  If even 1 manages to reach the counter you have to complete the prior street level for another shot, which applies to the other 3 as well.

Blocking kisses from your younger mom is easier but the sea dance once again returns to the maddening difficulty of the café.  Catching the notes to fill the music bar and make your parents fall in love is frustrating once again because of the controls and the low margin for error; missing a note nearly depletes the bar and you only have a limited amount of time to fill it.  You would expect the Delorean level to at least meet a minor level of decency but it falls flat.  Judging where the lightning bolts have landed is maddening; sometimes you’ll clearly run over one with no repercussion while other times you’ll steer clear but still slow down.  Be consistent god damn it.

Terrible, just terrible.  I’ve played my fair share of bad games and Back to the Future is one of the worst.  There are no redeeming qualities in this entire package and you’re better off pretending it doesn’t exist, lord knows I wish I could.

3-out-of-101

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the Punisher (NES)

It’s kind of funny how so many of the early Marvel movies from the early 90s have been forgotten in light of their recent cinematic success.  To be fair there’s a reason why; have you seen Captain America?  Yikes!  Rubber ears and terrible acting abounds in that abomination.   And don’t get me started on the Fantastic Four film that was shot to keep the license; it’s worth viewing just for the hilarity.  The Punisher film starring Dolph Lundgren went straight to video and is lost in obscurity, along with this NES game that follows much of the same plot.

There is no overarching plot to the game other than Frank Castle continuing his war on crime and doling out his own personal brand of justice.  Numerous cameos from the comic come in the form of the villains, such as Jigsaw, the Kingpin, and Silo.  While you get brief monologues from Frank himself between levels the focus is squarely on the action.

Rather than a typical side scrolling action game like Contra LJN went a different route, creating a third person rail shooter like Cabal.  Much like Operation Wolf the camera moves along a set path as you blast nearly everything in sight.  Games of this particular genre aren’t too common, especially on the NES so the Punisher was a welcome addition the console’s library.  In spite of some niggling issues the game is pretty accomplished shooter and one of LJN’s better games, which on one hand isn’t saying much considering their history but the game deserves to be respected.

While the Punisher has a massive arsenal of weapons at his disposal in the comics the game keeps it relatively light.  A machine gun will replace your standard hand gun until it runs out of ammo while grenades will kill anything within its small radius.  The rocket launcher has a wider spread but is harder to come by.  Managing ammo is important as once you run out you are stuck firing only one slow bullet at a time, which is a virtual death sentence considering how hectic the game gets at times.

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The environments in the game are highly destructible with nearly every element yielding some form of item or newspapers that give clues to secrets.   Extra ammo and items are hidden everywhere and its impossible to survive without destroying everything to resupply.  The waves of enemies are paced in such a way that you’ll have a few seconds to breath and “search” before they come back with a vengeance.

Enemies populate nearly every corner of the levels, from manholes to glass windows and even alleyways.  It’s never a good idea to feel as though you can identify where they’ll show up as it could literally be anywhere.  Sadly there are very few enemy types so after one or two of the game’s six missions you’ll have seen them all.  While the game tries to switch up the combinations in which they’ll appear it does get repetitive towards the end.

While the viewpoint makes it easier to avoid some shots it isn’t without its issues.  Due to the Punisher’s size you’ll soak up more bullets than should be necessary since he isn’t exactly nimble moving from one end to the other.  Boss battles are incredibly unfair since they all spray bullets in such a wide radius that taking hits is unavoidable.  Even worse, many of them will come in close and initiate hand to hand combat which doesn’t work.  They attack faster than you and you have no way to dodge or block blows, meaning you’ll take large chunks of damage before they retreat.  Overall the game isn’t too hard, just unfair in parts.

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The graphics are pretty amazing and do a good job recreating the decaying streets of New York.  The game has a very comic book style look to it and uses the NES’s color limitations to create a subtly dark mood pretty effectively.  There’s a shit ton of detail in every environment and it all crumbles spectacularly under your fire.  You can see where the sacrifices were made to achieve this level of detail in the enemy sprites; they’re terrible.  Not only are they drawn so badly that they look out of place the animation is pretty poor as well.  For all the detail in the backgrounds there is a pretty limited set of locations; only about 4-5 which are repeated at least 2-3 times each.

Overall the Punisher is an above average rail shooter on a system with very few to speak of.  There were many terrible comic book games on the NES and luckily the Punisher is not among them and is an enjoyably short ride for what it is.

6-out-of-10-1

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Extreme G2

Although Extreme G was not an exceptional game it at least had the foundation for a competent futuristic racing game.  It simply lacked polish in terms of its play mechanics.  Extreme G-2 manages to fix the majority of the flaws of the first game but introduces new ones all its own that unfortunately bring down the experience.  While there is still some fun to be found in its content it ultimately does not live up to the game it could have been.

There’s a massive amount of content within the confines of that little N64 cartridge, that’s for sure.  The twelve tracks each have 3 variations that are different enough that they feel all new.  As I’ve mentioned before most racing games of that period barely managed to come up with 3 decent tracks so the fact that you essentially have 36 here is commendable.  The standard Contest Mode is complemented by an arcade mode that tasks you with shooting moving targets while trying to beat your lap times.  Its fluff if you ask me, Time Trial serves the same purpose without the hassle of enemies fighting back.

Multiplayer has seen a few new additions like the Multiplayer Cup, which has a maximum of 16-players competing.  The forgettable battle mode of the first game has been spruced up with the addition of tanks.  These slow moving behemoths take some getting used to but once you’ve settled in the slower pace forces more confrontations.  It’s an acquired taste in the long run but at least they tried.

There are over 20 weapons, a decent step up from the first game. Mortar, multiple missiles, homing missiles, rear missiles, leader missiles, static pulses, rail guns, ion side cannons, rear maxi- bolts, flame exhausts, smoke exhausts, 4-5 different mines, power shields, invulnerability, even headlights, it’s a considerable list.  More importantly the game will actually announce the name of each weapon as it’s grafted to your vehicle.  It’s much better than the first game in which you never knew what the hell the contraption that just attached itself to the top of your light cycle would do.

The biggest improvement however comes in the controls and track design.  Those of you that played the original Extreme G will remember loose controls that were unable to keep up with the twisting and turning track design.  Most races saw you smashing into walls left and right because the sense of speed was at war with the level design.  All of that has been fixed for this installment, creating a much better playing game (for the most part).  The controls are tight; they don’t offer the level of precision of F-Zero X but don’t need to within this game’s confines.

More importantly the tracks are more wide open and better designed.  You still have the same roller coaster like spirals and loop de loops but now you can actually navigate them with relative ease.  The excellent track design goes hand in hand with the game’s increased speed.  The insane speed of the first game has been taken to new heights, enabling you to break the sound barrier, complete with sonic boom.  It’s an impressive feat that is awesome to experience in the game for the few times you can manage to pull it off.

Unfortunately all of the game’s features are marred by technical shortcomings, namely the frame rate.  There’s no polite way of saying it; it’s horrendous.  During the Contest Mode with more than 3 cars on screen at the same time the frame rate will hit single digits if even one minor explosion goes off.  The excessive lighting effects employed by the weapons are also another cause for concern.  Most weapons cause massive explosions that blanket the screen, leaving you clueless as to what the hell is going on.  It’s not uncommon to hit a mine, see white for a few seconds and end up driving in reverse and in last place.  As a result Time Trial is the only time the game runs smoothly which defeats the purpose of all of the new weapons and intricate level design if there’s no reason to use/appreciate any of it.

This sucks because outside of the frame rate Extreme G2 is a phenomenal technical achievement.  The excessively blurry textures of the first game are cleaner and the fog distance has been pushed back.  With these improvements you can appreciate the increased trackside details a lot more and especially the new lighting effects when they aren’t screwing you over.  The front end menus have also received an overhaul, with many more Wipeout style circular menus giving off a more futuristic feel.

In the end there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the tons of content in the game but the noticeable play issues bring the game down.  Had Acclaim and Probe tempered their technical ambition a bit Extreme G2 might have been the best futuristic racing game that generation but instead will have to settle for above average.

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Extreme-G

 

One thing you can say about the N64, it has more than its fair share of racing games.  Of the 290 or so North American releases for the system almost 50 are some form of racing game.  With that many nearly every incarnationof the genre were covered from car combat to the more esoteric like F1 racing.  One subset that was just gaining popularity was the futuristic racing genre, of which Wipeout was the clear title holder.  With F-Zero nowhere in sight Acclaim filled the void with Extreme G.

In the future Earth has become a ravaged wasteland leading humanity to find a new home.  Once settled attention turns to entertainment, and the XG federation is established with races taking place across numerous worlds.  With its techno soundtrack featuring many of Europe’s biggest underground electronic acts and its sleek Designer’s Republic front end Wipeout left an indelible mark on the genre that all future racing games would have to live up to.  Although Extreme G does not reach the same heights it still possesses thrills of its own and has enough features and modes to occupy a decent amount of your time.

The game does a pretty good job of mimicking the features of the game’s that inspired its creation.  There are over 8 plasma bikes to choose from, each graded in handling, speed, acceleration, shields and weapons.  These distinctions have to be considered because of the track layouts.  The Extreme Contest mode is broken down into 3 championships, with each increasing the number of tracks by 4.  Once unlocked the tracks can be explored in the game’s variety of single and multiplayer modes and in addition, completing each championship doles out “cheat” codes that unlock more cars, tracks, etc.  It’s a nice feature Acclaim started with Turok and provides incentive to actually play the game.

The two biggest stand outs of Extreme G are its track design and speed.  The track designs redefine the term rollercoaster ride as they feature an insane amount of sudden turns, corkscrews, loops and sudden drops that keep every track fresh.  With over 12 tracks taking place a number of worlds and environments the game does an admirable job of putting on a visual spectacle.  Some of the track elements would show up later in F-Zero X, such as driving on the walls and ceiling, and while it’s much more pronounced in that game Extreme G did it first.

Extreme G is fast.  Really fast.  You can reach some insane speeds as you rocket around each track and the competition is never too far behind.  But not because of rubber band AI.  The numerous weapons all play their part in making sure that you can never rest on your laurels, but when you hit nitro on a straightaway the sense of speed really kicks in.  As great as the sensation of speed is however it is to the game’s detriment.

Because you’re able to move so fast in most cases you won’t have enough time to react to a change in track layout or if a weapon hits you from behind.   The controls themselves are not as tight as they should be and when combined with the overbearing speed means you’ll fly into walls a few more times than you would like.  It also doesn’t help that a portion of the track layouts are not conducive to the velocities you can reach.  The qualifiers for each circuit become pretty steep quickly, meaning you’ll either spend a sizable amount of time practicing each unlocked track or simply giving up.

Extreme G was a relatively pretty game in 1997 but the years make its flaws more pronounced.  The trademark N64 fog rears its ugly head, masking the limited draw distance and causing massive amounts of trackside geometry to pop in suddenly.  The art direction holds up but is let down somewhat by blurry textures.  But despite all of this when the tracks split into double loops or manage to avoid the technical limitations of the system you’ll forget all of this.  There are some cool lighting effects from the weapons and another cool touch are the weapons attaching themselves to each car.  The music unfortunately wasn’t good then and isn’t now.  The generic techno sounds even worse when run through the N64 speaker; the sound effects really prop up the audio end of the game.

So there you have it.  There’s a wealth of game modes and content to sift through but the game’s controls bring it down a notch.  Extreme G isn’t the game it could have been but it laid down the foundation for its much improved sequels.

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Steel Empire

While the modern day shmup has become dominated by bullet hell shooters impenetrable to the average man and loli bait for the otaku, it wasn’t always this way.  Once upon a time there were shmups for everyone, vertical shooters, horizontal shooters, shooters in planes, hell even shooters with witches.  Amidst this flood there was one game that stood out from the crowd due to its unique setting. That game is Steel Empire.

Steel Empire was released by Acclaim/Flying Edge in 1992.  A Japanese import, Steel Empire takes place in an alternate reality 19th Century world during the Age of Steel.  Mammoth flying ships and dirigibles dominate the skies and it’s in this setting that General Styron dominates nearly the entire world.  The only country brave enough to resist his rule are the republic of Silverhead, and with their weapon the “Lightning Bomb” are the only hope for freedom.

Largely influenced by Steam punk Steel Empire is one of only s few shmups to use the steam punk  As such its one.of a kind and uses its setting to great effect to distinguish it from the rest of the shooters of the world.  Much more than just a pretty back drop Steel Empire is an enjoyable shooter on a platform that has more than its fair share and while it won’t have the likes of Lightening Force losing sleep at night it is still a nice alternative for anyone seeking something a little different.

You have your pick of 2 ships: the fast but weak Striker or the more durable and powerful Z-01 Zeppelin.  Each excels in different situations but regardless of your choice you face 7 levels of increasing opposition.  Both ships are equipped with a generous life bar, a rarity in the genre.  It comes down to a choice of maneuverability and low defense or a sturdier ship that lumbers around the screen.  The mission briefings between each level offer slight hints as to what to expect so you can choose based wisely.   Although each mission might be tailored to a particular ship you can still succeed if you’ve grown attached to a specific ship, it just means you’ll have to work harder for it.

Rather than a typical power-up system Steel Empire is distinct.  Your primary and secondary weapons gain experience by collecting experience icons dropped by enemies and will level up, increasing their strength up to 20 times. The standard shooter options are also present, such as the screen clearing Lightning Bombs, speed-ups, and 2 smaller craft that function like options in Gradius.  You certainly are not underpowered for the trials and tribulations ahead.

Although primarily a horizontal shooter the forces of the Silverhead Empire will attack from all sides and the game will scroll in all directions.  Luckily your ship can change direction to attack to the left or right.  The environments range from an abandoned mine to the surface of the moon (yeah they went there!).  There’s a constant onslaught of enemies at all times and sometimes the bullets blend into the backgrounds but nothing too excessive.

For the most part you could say that Steel Empire features standard shooting action but the world it takes place in really elevates the game.  Steam punk is not too common in the gaming space, let alone the shooter genre and one look at Steel Empire’s aesthetics will make you wonder why.  The combination of early 19th century blimps and dirigibles is in stark contrast with the futuristic technology the enemies employ, especially the bosses.   These mechanical monstrosities run the gamut from heavily-armored war trains with multiple points of destructibility to massive destroyable airborne battleships.  The overall illusion of the 1940s setting is achieved through strict adherence to old aircraft design models and a film grain filter applied during the mission briefings.  The setting makes up for the games subdued color scheme, which is heavy on the metallic grays and browns.  Although the game has a lot of visual variety in its ship designs the overall tone is dull.

The challenge is about average overall thanks to the generous life bar.  The levels themselves pose the biggest danger with a never ending onslaught of foes but the bosses are pushovers despite their size.   The briefings before each level clue you in to which ship is best equipped for the coming situation.  There are a few cheap moments during the boss battles where you are placed in extremely tight corners with next to no room, leading to some cheap hits.  If you die a new ship spawns in the same spot, further lessening the challenge.  I guess they didn’t want to make the game too hard so you can appreciate the world because it certainly is beautiful.

It isn’t one of the greatest shooters eve released but if you have even a passing interest in the genre you’ll enjoy Steel Empire.  It was re-released for the Gameboy Advance in 2004 so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down for a reasonable price.

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Double Dragon III – the Sacred Stones

Man oh man where do I even begin?  The Double Dragon games have always been enjoyable beat em ups despite the problems each game had.  In some circles it is looked at as one of the classic franchises of the 80s.  Double Dragon 3 in all its forms was a wretched game, and while the NES version isn’t as bad as the arcade game that’s like saying a toilet plunger in the ass is better than a soldering iron.  You’re better off avoiding the game in all of its forms.

Bimmy and Jimmy.  That first screen should give you an idea how little they cared about this game.

Double Dragon 3: the Sacred Stones was released in 1990 for the NES and was an original effort separate from the money grubbing arcade game.  This would have been the perfect opportunity to trounce the insipid arcade game but somehow Technos created a game just as bad.  Loosely following the same plot as the arcade, Billy and Jimmy Lee are called to action once again as Marian has been kidnapped again.  A fortune teller named Hiruko tells them of the 3 Sacred Stones needed to rescue her, sending them on a worldwide hunt.  Double Dragon 3 introduces a few new elements to the series that would have made for an enjoyable thrill ride but ultimately fails in terms of execution.

If you are familiar with any prior game in the series you can hit the ground running.  Most of the moves from the second game have been carried over and now you have some sweet additions.  You can now dash which leads into a new move that allows you to flip and throw enemies.  The awkward reverse attack button has been removed thankfully but you still have to press both buttons to jump.  Although you don’t have a stock of lives, 2 of the bosses become playable characters once defeated and fulfill the same role.  These two characters have their own move sets that will help or hinder your progress.  The game is shorter than Double Dragon 2 at only five missions; you’ll thank god for its brevity since the gameplay is god awful.

To some degree all of the Double Dragon games have had difficult to perform moves; here you’ll almost never truly feel in control.  With the exception of the basic punches and kicks every other move seems to execute at random.  The “level” themselves don’t fare any better.  Nearly every mission consists of at most 2 screens with a never ending supply of the same 2-3 thugs before you move on. Attack priority has always been infuriating in this series and now it’s worse, with the standard enemies able to trap you in a stream of stuns with no escape.  Did anyone play test this before sending it out the door?

On the one hand the terrible platforming that ruined the last 3 levels of Double Dragon 2 has been relegated to the last mission but it still has no place in these games when combined with the awful controls.  About the only positive I can mention are the other controllable characters.  Much like TMNT, they each have their own life bar and can be switched out at will, and generally you’ll prefer to use them to the Lee brothers.  Classic gaming at its finest this is not.

In Closing

I don’t normally go into these reviews with the intention to rip some poor game a new ass.  But sometimes I have to call it like I see it.  In the pantheon of old games this isn’t fit to beg for table scraps.  Super Double Dragon redeemed the series and is a far better classic game.

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Double Dragon II – The Revenge

It was pretty common during the NES era for ports of arcade games to differ drastically from the source material due to the hardware’s constraints.  It wasn’t very often though that the home game was superior to the arcade but in the case of Double Dragon 2 it is very true.  In the arcade Double Dragon 2 was an all too brief affair.   For the home market it was expanded and given the length necessary to make experience whole.

Double Dragon was released in December 1989 in Japan with Acclaim releasing the US version the following month.  Following the same story as the arcade, Marion has been killed by the leader of the Shadow Warriors and brothers Billy & Jimmy Lee are on a mission of revenge.  The NES version actually has cut scenes that further the plot between levels and although brief are a welcome addition.  The 2 player coop missing from the first home port has been included this time, fixing one of Double Dragon’s biggest flaws.  That is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of enhancements over the arcade game.

Rather than the simple punch and kick buttons of the first game they are now directional which can be a bit confusing.  The arsenal of moves has been expanded considerably with all available from the start rather than the experience system the first game employed.  The only frustrating aspect of this would be the difficulty in pulling off the most devastating moves, such as the flying knee, uppercut, or hurricane kick but considering the damage they do its understandable.  What elevates this over the arcade would be the length: whereas the arcade game only had 4 stages, the home port has 9 altogether.

The stages are separated by difficulty, with all 9 only available on Supreme Master.  The levels shared with the arcade game are longer  and have new layouts.  The new stages take you on a roller coaster of set pieces, with some stages featuring environmental objects you can use to your advantage.  Mission 3 takes place on a helicopter, with the door opening every 20-30 seconds, giving you an opportunity to knock enemies out in one shot, including the boss.  Mission 4 is in an underwater base with a spiked ceiling that you can throw enemies into if you’re proficient at uppercutting.  You remain susceptible to all of these as well, making it equal parts risk and reward.

While most of the levels are excellent, some of the later stages highlight the game’s biggest weakness: the introduction of platforming.  Clearly this game wasn’t designed with it in mind and it shows.  The jumping controls are imprecise and the collision detection is spotty; sometimes you’ll clearly land on a platform but instead will fall through.  These sections are completely unfair and can drain all of your lives in a heartbeat.  It’s completely ridiculous that you can play the game perfectly then reach Mission 6 and all of that progress will mean nothing as you die repeatedly.  Oh yeah, the game’s biggest flaw: no continues, no passwords, no battery backup.  Unless you exploit the 2-player trick* you ain’t seeing the end of the game.  Which is a shame, as the ending is absolutely worth the struggle.

In some ways this is the love it or hate it game in the Double Dragon franchise.  The few problems the game has are pretty severe but I would argue the quality of the rest of the game makes up for it.  This is one of the best beat em ups on the NES, too bad it was followed up by Double Dragon 3.  Man fuck that game.

8-out-of-101

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Double Dragon

For anyone that has played a game by Technos Japan their style is unmistakable.  From the graphics and art style used to the sound programming you can instantly identify any game they’ve created just by using one of those criteria.  Most American’s first exposure to their works would start with the Double Dragon series, the classic beat em up series that spawned dozens of imitators.  But after all this time does this retro classic still hold up?

Double Dragon was released in arcades in 1987 by Taito.  A follow-up of sorts to Technos’ prior game Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (known to us as Renegade), it’s a simple tale of revenge.  Twins Billy & Jimmy Lee fight their way through the Black Warriors gang to rescue Love interest Marian.  The intro to the game is unintentionally funny as a group of about 6 or 7 dudes punch her in the stomach and take her away like a caveman.  That’s enough to make anyone want to beat someone’s ass.  It seems trite now but this was one of the first major beat em up games and would be the inspiration for a deluge of similar games, some good and some bad.  Because of the game’s popularity it was ported to nearly every format imaginable, but the NES version is the one that differs the most.

Like a large amount of conversions to the format Double Dragon was changed for the NES to better suit the console.  The basic framework of the game is the same but there are stark differences.  2-player coop is gone; instead you alternate turns when 1 player dies.  You will never fight more than 2 enemies at once, with both of them being the same.  Weapons disappear after the enemy you received it from dies as well.  Lastly, instead of starting with all of your fighting moves, you gain them 1 at a time through an experience system of sorts.  That last change is divisive: some hate that you start off gimped essentially and that some basic moves like a jump kick have to be earned.  Others welcome it as you have something to look forward to as you progress and gives you a tangible feeling of becoming more powerful.

Playing it again the same criticisms I had back in the day stand out.  The limited selection of enemies grows tiring fast.  By the end of stage 2 you’ve seen every enemy in the game, and aside from weapons their tactics never change.  Even the fact you only fight 2 opponents at once, both being clones of each other is annoying.  Thankfully the game is short so these don’t grate on your nerves too long.

What will is the platform jumping that was increased for the home version.  Plain and simple it just doesn’t work.  This game wasn’t built for that and it shows.  Gaps between jumps are far too wide at times leaving you to inch as close as possible before jumping.  Lining up with platforms is also a hassle; combined with the imprecise jumping controls you’ll hate it.  These parts all come toward the end of the game and will quickly sap your stock of lives, which is totally unfair.

My last complaint lies with the bosses.  They have insane range and all of their attacks have priority over yours, meaning it doesn’t matter if you are hitting with a flurry of punches or kicks, if they swing at you your attacks will stop.  Plus they do retarded amounts of damage, a trend that plagued nearly all beat em ups afterward.  It’s a cheap ass tactic to artificially increase the difficulty and I hate it.  Sadly this would be commonplace for all beat em ups.

If I were to recommend a version of Double Dragon to play I would say the arcade or master system version.  That version is a straight port and is amazing for the time.  While interesting, the NES version doesn’t stand the test of time and is too frustrating and generally not worth the hassle.  Not all old video games age gracefully and Double Dragon is one of the unfortunate victims of time.

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