Still remembering the good old coin-op games, not everything was golden that shined. So is DotEmu’s PC conversion Double Dragon Trilogy still as good, hard, and fun as it was in front of the cabinet with or without a buddy when Technōs Japan released Double Dragon in 1987, Double Dragon II: The Revenge in 1988, and Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in 1990?
Double Dragon Trilogy
(France 2015, developer/publisher: DotEmu, platforms: PC, iOS, Android)
Same ol’, same ol’ story? What story?
Let’s get this straight away: if one’s here for the story, one plays the wrong game. The plots of Double Dragon and Double Dragon II: The Revenge are as simple and campy as 80ies action flicks: girl gets kidnapped, guys rescue her; girl gets killed, guys avenge her. Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone tries to be a bit more clever with stones being collected in order to find a big treasure for a little Asian man, but the transitions between levels aren’t very smooth, and it’s all a bit convoluted, not made any easier by text scrolling too fast.
Kill me in a melee with enemies by the dozen: Don’t need ‘em? Beat ‘em!
But of course one plays beat-em-ups to kick some serious ass with varied weapons and/or fist/leg combos. This mostly works with punches and kicks forwards and backwards, while holding and throwing enemies into one of many pitfalls without succumbing to the same traps is often the easiest and fastest solution.
When playing together, one can even do special roundhouse kick combos which is extremely useful when surrounded by many baddies. Unfortunately, the system only works as long as one keeps a distance to them. Once hit, it’s no rare case that it’s almost impossible not to get beaten to a pulp. This has to do with the player not being able to block, but it also has to do with unfair and unpredictable behavior by the opponents. It’s a case of trial and error from which side best to attack.
Performing a kick while jumping is also possible, although this does not guarantee that one hits the enemy successfully. A special fun feature in Double Dragon is to headbutt your enemy which is sometimes more effective than trying to kick or punch him. In Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone the player can even do a flying headbutt making attacks from a small but safer distance possible. This looks extremely funny as well, so it’s a shame that it’s absent in Double Dragon II: The Revenge.
The confusing or rather paradox thing in Double Dragon II: The Revenge is that you have – at least with the PS3 controller – to push the analogue stick to the left in order to kick to the right and vice versa; meaning, the more you try to kick, the further you might steer away from your enemy.
The fighting system in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone shows some improvements which can make fighting a bit or a lot easier. Once bringing enemies down, there’s a chance to jump on them and – with luck – finish them off. Another good thing is that enemies who have been thrown to the ground have to take a breather when they get up again. These few seconds allow the player to hit them while they’re completely defenseless.
Kill it! No, wait. It’s a puzzle with one coin to confuse them all
Using weapons can save one’s back multiple times, but it’s not the perfect way of completing each stage. Some enemies suddenly appear from the right of the screen and throw something (mostly knives), which results in losing the weapon and health points. Bigger enemies also seem to be almost immune to this tactic. Still, it’s fun to throw barrels, knives and other objects when being in a tight spot.
The only thing one has to be careful of is that hitting the other player means losing a portion of the other’s health, which happens frequently when many enemies are on screen. As there aren’t any power-ups to replenish health, one has to be really aware of all the havoc. Only in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone does one have the option to upgrade strength, health or weapons, although this RPG element isn’t explained at all.
In addition to the problematic inability to hit certain enemies when they’re halfway through the left or right part of the screen, a bigger issue are the many traps one encounters. Some can be avoided by jumping over them (like bridges or an agricultural mowing machine), others are a real pain to overcome (like spears, stones or spikes out of walls). This gets ridiculously and unnecessarily difficult in the third game that tries to incorporate a puzzle where one has to jump on tiles in a specific order (which disappear when jumped on in the wrong order), while being constantly hit by a weird snake thing. Fortunately, this is the only passage that requires some thinking, although there are similar instances in all games where frustration sets in, even on the lowest of difficulty settings.
Some fights become unnecessarily hard, because one’s view might be blocked by pillars or trees in the foreground, making it hard to keep an eye on the action and the well-being of the player. This holds especially true for the gameplay of Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone.
Choose, you must: beginners, lovers, masochists
There are three difficulties to choose from: easy, arcade, and expert. Beginners will certainly have a go at the first one, while lovers of the original will prefer the second one. The third one is for masochists only. The main difference is simply the number of enemies who have more hitpoints and react in even more unpredictable ways, making it less about skill and more about sheer luck to prevail. There’s also an option to play from beginning to end like in the arcade, or jump into already completed stages and continue from there.
Grab a buddy and take ‘em on with double the fun, double the pain
If all these flaws sound game-breaking, this isn’t really the case when one plays with a buddy. The frustrating elements remain, but it’s a lot of fun kicking and punching through the levels. It also adds strategy to proceedings, i.e. two players can or have to decide which part of the screen they want to stay in and clean it from enemies, although it’s nearly impossible to stick to this tactic because of the enemies’ movements.
Sometimes the game is made even easier when circling a bigger baddie in order to hit him from both sides, or at least disorientate him. It’s only too bad that the online component has some problems. While the connectivity of a GOG with a Steam account is commendable, creating/joining lobbies takes a while and often doesn’t work. The same holds true for the stability of the game during online play, so that local co-op is the way to go, and also meant to be played.
Welcome and listen to the 80s
Technically, the games have aged quite well with their 8-bit pixel art, although the third title has some jerky animations and bigger sprites to get used to. However, this one also has a more varied level design, as the first two games look very similar with only some new enemy types being presented with palette swaps. It’s possible to choose the original graphics, a smoothed-over version (that obviously looks too clean with edge enhancement), and one where the scanlines can be seen.
The score and sound effects are good as well, despite some looping sound problems and parts of the game when they’re out of sync. Additionally, one can choose a remix soundtrack that is also quite catchy to listen and brawl to. The soundtrack often fits the surroundings, e.g. when one is in Asia there’s some Asian-inspired 80s disco music in the background. However, it can become redundant after a while.
A gem of olden glory dated but well-rated
Double Dragon Trilogy is a relic from a time when playing in arcades with a buddy was normal, and it’s still a blast to play co-op or solo. The port is done rather well, with the levels left intact (unlike other platform conversions back in the days), the catchy melodies and sound effects are fun to listen to and the graphics add to the nostalgic factor. The inclusion of various difficulty settings, graphics filters and a remixed soundtrack is also welcome. Unfortunately, there are a few technical hiccups with online play and presentation issues, while the games themselves are frustratingly unfair in places. Still, as far as value for money goes, this is a great way to relive those glory days of arcade coin-ops.
Note: This review was written in cooperation with The Idiosyncracy of Life in Words‘ editor bino32.
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :).
Using the GOG link and buying the product also helps ;).