It has been 16 years since the original incarnation of Double Dragon. After the numerous ports, sequels, genre crossovers, the death of Technos, and then the revival of the company under the new name Million, fans finally received what is at the very least a long-awaited addition to the series. Double Dragon Advance is at heart a perfect port of the original arcade game without any missing features. But the game doesn't simply stop there. Its skeleton may consist of the arcade game, but woven throughout this cartridge are remnants of past improvements to the series. There are familiar enemies, weapons, moves and levels, as well as entirely new features. The game now boasts eight missions; double the amount of the original. There are also four modes to choose from, including the very cool Double Dragon Dojo survival mode (we like the name). This is quite a feat considering that, up to this point, no one ever ported the arcade game perfectly, let alone improve upon it. The game even rewards players by giving them a helpful code when they finish the game on each of the different difficulty levels. And for those who can beat the game on two-player mode, they'll be treated to a knock-down, drag-out fight against each other just like in the original arcade game.
Atlus and Million should receive an extra thanks for cleaning up the storyline and adding the nice cut scenes in between each level. DDA follows the more concise plot of the original Japanese arcade game and adds a few more twists, though you can quickly bypass the cut scenes if you want to like in the NES version of DD II. However, the sharper story at least provides some narrative substance for those looking for it. It also makes the plot for any potential sequels less confusing.
The graphics have a brighter tone and feature a wider range of colors than the arcade game because of the Game Boy Advance's 32-bit capabilities. But an unfortunate circumstance of the GBA's screen size is that not everything can be fit on screen at once. This means that the upper sections of levels are often out of view while you're on the ground. And once you climb to a higher area, the lower portion goes out of view. In the two-player mode both players can become separated if one person climbs to a higher area and the other stays on the ground. This can either prove to be helpful by dividing groups of enemies between both players, or prove to be a hindrance by cutting off some of the screen if the game is being played on a television through a Game Boy Player. In the latter case, player two must use the GBA as his own screen until both players reunite in the same area. Just as in previous versions, players must progress left or right cooperatively; it is not possible to move forward by yourself.
DDA is not not a pixel for pixel translation of the arcade game. But seasoned veterans should notice that the levels and enemies have been adjusted only slightly to fit in with the modern times. Billy and Jimmy's new images constitute the most noticeable change to the original arcade game's graphics. I've been told that their sprites are reminiscent of Fist of the North Star. It's a nice new look that is also inspired by Bruce Lee's image, but I'm partial to the original American artwork from Double Dragon, even if I'm the only fan of it. The developers even took the liberty of giving America's favorite bald-headed video game villain some hair. Afrobo, as I like to call him, features no substantive differences from his Rogaine-deprived brethren, but still clobbers you the same. We like him anyway.
The four original missions are intact plus an additional four that hardcore fans should recognize. Mission 3 in DDA looks to be based on Mission 3 from Super Double Dragon; the China Town section in the beginning to be specific. There aren't any obstacles to avoid and it makes for a rather quick and linear level. Mission 4 is none other than Mission 4 from SDD, except that it features the original design where players and enemies could fall off the back of the moving truck. Mission 6 is loosely based off of the cave level from the NES Double Dragon. With its difficult jumps and cheaply placed opponents, this Mission makes for the hardest level in the game. Mission 7 is reminiscent of Mission 4 from the arcade Double Dragon II. The fire breathing-dragon heads on the walls are an intuitive addition that can catch unwary gamers off guard. Overall, the game features an amazing level design that balances timing, teamwork and martial-arts skills.
Million did an amazing job in the sound department. The old-school levels have their original themes from the arcade in a composition that is just under Super Double Dragon in quality. This game pushes the sound capabilities of the GBA to the max and I couldn't expect more out of the system. Mission 3 has the "Escape to the Forest" theme from the NES Double Dragon II. Mission 4's original theme from SDD has been replaced by the "Advancing Towards Sunset" theme from Mission 4 of DD II; and not simply the NES game's theme, but the arranged theme from the official soundtrack. As a matter of fact, all of the music seems to be closer to separate soundtrack versions. Mission 7 features the fitting music from final level of the arcade DD II, which it is loosely based on. Sadly though, Mission 6 recycles the forest theme from Mission 5. The generic boss theme is also back as well as the final boss theme from Mission 9 of DD II on the NES. But when that good old title screen music starts playing in the final hideout area, it'll send shivers down your spine if, like me, you've been waiting to hear it again in a new game.
Billy and Jimmy have one generic "hyah!" that they use with their running attacks. The enemies also have their familiar "bluah" sound when they die. No voice acting though (not that we need it).
All of the enemies from the original game are back in a multitude of colors. Million added a little cultural diversity to the game (if you want to call it that) by offering various palettes for the standard goons. The enemies have their similar AI from before but it has been adjusted to suit the new weapons. Enemies will follow you relentlessly and surround you on all sides as up to six bad guys attack you at once with no slow-down on screen. There are also a few visitors from DD II with no explanation as to their inclusion. They're simply there. There are also the new agent-style baddies that have a striking similarity to Steve from SDD, but many fans seem to agree that they are based upon the agents from the Matrix movies. There are also a few new enemies, but I have to let out a gripe. The Mysterious Warrior from DD II returns as the boss of Mission 7, except his name is Raymond. Raymond? What kind of a name is that for the cryptic Mysterious Warrior? Anyway, aside from his name, "Raymond" has to be one of the coolest characters as he splits into several versions of himself and you're forced to dispatch his duplicates while searching for the true Raymond. Most of the enemies decently balanced, but the agents just piss me off. Once they start their combos there is no stopping them until they adjust their ties. So if you happen to be in their way when they begin unloading their combos, expect to lose an entire life. The only saving grace is that they always stop to adjust their ties afterward, which leaves a window of opportunity for you to unload your own combos.
The original weapons are back along with a few others from the sequels. The ball and chain is here along with the whip. The baseball bat and axe are both swung but can now be thrown as well to devastate any enemies in their path. Also, if you toss a weapon into a wall, it will bounce right off and be available for reuse. Boulders and oil drums are back and you have the ability to kick them toward enemies. Knives and dynamite are abundant here as well. New to this game is the Kali Sticks. The Kali Sticks, along with the nunchucks, prove to be your most valuable assets in the game. They won't make players nearly invincible like the nunchucks from SDD, but when used properly, they can take out even the difficult bosses. Weapons are absolutely abundant in this game and at times there are too many to choose from. Fortunately, the L-button can be used drop one weapon and choose another. Weapons can also be carried through the entire level unless your character dies with one in his hands or the game automatically progresses you to another section of the level (i.e. the moving platform in Mission 2).
Controls and Moves: A
The familiar punches, kicks, back kicks, jump kicks and backward elbow return. Knee kicks can also be executed similar to SDD. The L-button is also a designated block button, but I rarely used it since Billy almost never grabbed anybody's arm. Pressing A and B simultaneously causes Billy to crouch. From there you can execute the hyper uppercut or hyper knee. The hyper knee doesn't have the same reach as the uppercut though, so you'll likely use the uppercut more often. While jumping you can execute a standard jump kick, backward jump kick, dive kick or even a cyclone kick. There is also a triangle kick for going off of walls. Unfortunately, the cyclone kick doesn't hover at the top of the spin like in the NES versions of DD II and DD III. When an enemy is bent over you can go for the hair grab and follow up with the knee smash or shoulder throw. Running has been added but you can't move up and down while running like you could in the NES version of DD III. However, you can do special running attacks, and they are great for taking out countless enemies when you're feeling overwhelmed. There is also the headbutt and Tae Kwon Do kick, which finishes off an opponent with about four rapid-fire kicks. Once an opponent is on the ground you can stomp him ala Bruce Lee or finish him with straddling face punches.
DDA makes excellent use of an innovative combo system that requires finesse and timing rather than the repetitive button smashing of Konami's recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot. Here's an example: unleash your punches on a foe until Billy uppercuts. Then immediately execute a headbutt as a juggle and follow up with a stomp and sitting face punches. There are other ways to execute the same basic combo and every enemy is vulnerable to the hair grab.
I found the controls to be slightly unresponsive as you try to turn while you're punching or kicking. You actually can't. While you're smashing the punch or kick button your character will be frozen in place, unable to inch forward or turn quickly. This creates a problem because enemies will be knocked back inch by inch with each punch until they are out of reach and you will be stuck there still swinging while you remind your fingers to stop pressing A.
There are four modes to choose from. The one-player Dragon game is simply a one-player adventure with Billy Lee. The one-player Double Dragon game allows a single player to control both of the Lee brothers, but not at the same time. It's an interesting idea, but with no help from the game you'll leave one brother to get helplessly pummeled while you attempt to switch between the two with perfect timing. The two-player Double Dragon game allows a friend with a copy of the game to join in, but not at any time like we saw in the Game Boy version of Double Dragon II. Both the one-player and two-player Double Dragon modes feature "friendly fire" that can't be turned off, so both players had better be careful not to hurt each other (unless sabotage is your goal). Finally, there's the Double Dragon Dojo survival mode. One player attempts to take out as many enemies as possible with one life and receives a rating at the end. This is a great addition to game and adds to the replay value for those who just want to pick up the game and play it for a few minutes. In the options menu you can select up to five credits and five lives (10 with the code), and select three different difficulty levels (four with the code). The only problem is that in a two-player game both characters share the same credits even though they have their own lives. So that means players have five credits or less for two people rather than one, and if you play the game with a rather inept friend, he can drain all of your credits and sink both of you into the quagmire of early defeat.
Beating each difficulty level rewards you with a new code, or you can just follow our "Codes" link above to get them. And if that's not enough, try finishing the game with two players. You'll be rewarded by beating the crap out of each other over Marian as she yells from the sidelines. It's pulled straight from the original arcade game and it's hysterical.
It turns out that you can actually do a two-player game using the Game Boy Player attachment for your GameCube. To do this, you must have two copies of the game, a GameCube, a Game Boy Player, a Game Boy Advance, and a two-player link cable. Set up the Game Boy Player and connect the GBA to the Game Boy Player by connecting the two-player link cable to the link port on the front of the Game Boy Player. Make sure there is a copy of the game in the GBA. Set up a two-player game on the Game Boy Player. Your GBA is now the second controller. Both players will be visible on the TV except for when someone climbs a ladder. Then you'll have to use the TV and GBA as separate screens. Thanks to Agent Gravy for sending this in.
Million did an amazing job here. This is truly what fans have been waiting for. The game has basically been doubled in size compared to its original version (and given its additional modes). There's enough here to consider this a different game on its own and thus its own section in the games page. The added benefit of the Game Boy Player also gives fans the chance to finally play a proper port on the big screen - with a friend no less. But then again, there's no two-player mode with a single cartridge, which would have been handy considering the limited production of this game. The wide variety of modes, moves, weapons and characters makes this a game that fans will come back to again and again for at least two reasons: the survival mode and the two-player mode. The one-player Double Dragon mode is intriguing, but I don't see anyone except absolutely hardcore fans utilizing it. It could have been improved so much if the computer would just take control of Jimmy. It's not like that's impossible. Computer-assisted comrades have been used in more complex games like first-person shooters. Perfect Dark had them. Therefore, this game should have used that feature.
While it's true that not every previous element from the DD series has been added (three-player mode, anyone?), Million has added enough while still keeping DDA true to its arcade progenitor, and hopefully leaving enough left over for a Double Dragon Advance II. With all the added features, which are easily sufficient, I can honestly call this the best Double Dragon game so far. In fact, it's really a "Super" Double Dragon.