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The Mystery of the two Amstrad CPC versions of Double Dragon  

By "Psycho" Steve Halfpenny
Associate Editor

Updated June 2003.

I meant to do this update ages ago but never got round to it (weíre talking like, last October here!).  Here it is now becauseÖ Well, letís just say that the good news as of late has rekindled my love for Double Dragon.  Anyway, I received an awesome email late last year from none other than the Amstrad CPC programmer himself, Richard Aplin.  I mailed him back asking about the possibilities of an interview but sadly, he never mailed me back.  Nevertheless, I thanked him for the kind comments he made about the Dojo and in particular, my review of the classic arcade he brought to life on the ancient 8-bit.  Here are some of the highlights from the e-mail he did send me.

Regarding the original Double Dragon on the Atari ST and AmigaÖ

ďWell, actually, I patched it together in a rush for Christmas after the original programmers screwed it up royally - yes the Amiga version was a straight port of the ST version, and yes, most definitely, they both sucked.

I also (later) wrote DD1 on the Amstrad, which I'm glad to see you liked a bit more. I was quite pleased with itÖĒ

Yes, you could say that. As were the few CPC owners that got to play it. Now onto Double Dragon 2Ö

ďI did the Amiga version, which was a bit rushed, but was a _lot_ nicer than DD1 - if I remember I did proper hardware stuff; overscan, decent blitter support etc.. - then ported it back to the Atari ST.

I really can't even remember if I did DD2 for the Amstrad or not.. such a long time ago..  actually I think I did, but heyÖĒ

Yes, I believe you did, but youíre forgiven for forgetting.

Mr. Aplin, we salute you! A darn shame that not all Amstrad users got to experience the goodness that is your version of the original.

Updated September 2002.

Folks, it seems we have the answer!  A former Amstrad CPC owner recently emailed me and had quite the explanation for the mystery of the two Amstrad DDísÖ

After reading a rave review for DD in a French CPC magazine simply titled ďAmstrad CPCĒ and not having the patience to wait for the game to hit the shelves, our anonymous Lee brother fan decided to import the gameÖ and ended up with an awful port that only vaguely resembled the monster arcade hit.  This poor version was from the UK, yet over the pond in France, Amstrad owners embraced a darn good version of DD.

Just to explain what the heck happened, it seems that the good version was distributed by Virgin Mastertronic (a part of Virgin) whilst the poor version was distributed by Melbourne House (another part of Virgin).  Both were worked on by different teams from Binary Design.  Furthermore, the good version only appears to work on a specific type of Amstrad, namely the CPC 6128.  The poor version was made for the cassette tape based CPC 464, but if converted to disk it works on any Amstrad.  It seems that in the UK (and perhaps other places in Europe) they just distributed the hideous Melbourne House game and thatís a real shame (not so surprising though since we were more into the cheaper more user-friendly cassette tapes than five inch floppy disks).  Anyway, Iím told that the good game was indeed designed on an Atari ST as was the Amstrad version of DD II, hence the similarity in graphics design and the weird range of color (which, to agree with our ex-CPC owner, should really have been changed after the transfer. The ST was capable of using thousands of colors whilst, letís just say that the CPC was not).

The former CPC owner expresses his disappointment after loading up the crummy UK port;

ďI was 10 years old and a real fan of the DD arcade when I discover that my Double Dragon CPC version sucks a lot and the one in the magazine obtained 90%, I want the light of this story (my parents had called everywhere but everywhere said that I had the ONLY version, everywhere lied!)Ē

Ah, one of the worst things about being a kid is when you know whatís going on and nobody believes you.  Anyway thanks, Mr. Anonymous for all your help!  Iím sure things worked out the day you got a PC and were introduced to the world of emulation.  For now, this case is closed (unless somebody emails me and tells me something completely different).

The Amstrad CPC


The Amstrad CPC computer series was the third most popular set of 8-bit machines in Europe just behind and released after the C64 and the Spectrum.  Sadly, the machine never made it to the United States.  But not to worry, the CPC cost far too much for what it was anyway and really couldnít do anything the C64 couldnít do better, right?  Perhaps on paper.  In reality there were a few titles, mostly arcade hits, that were not only better on the Amstrad but in some cases, far superior to their C64 and Spectrum counterparts.  Double Dragon was one of these exceptions.  Well, one of the versions of it was anywayÖ

Double Dragon for the Amstrad

The original CPC version of Double Dragon was almost certainly released in winter 1988, around the same time as all the other computer versions.  Handling all the home computer versions was Binary Design, a well respected software company.  Sadly, none of these versions came close in recreating the classic that was the arcade game.  It may look pretty but here is what the disappointing Amstrad CPC version looked like:


It was programmed by the same man who handled the Spectrum version, one David Leitch.  According to an old magazine I own, the arcade hit was firstly converted to the Atari ST 16-bit home computer and then to the Amstrad CPC and then to the Spectrum.  If you compare both of the shots below, from the Spectrum and Amstrad versions respectively, you can see the similarities.  The option screen is almost identical, as is the new (bad) design on everybodyís favorite enemy: Abobo.

(Amstrad)                              (Spectrum)

(Amstrad)                              (Spectrum)

(Amstrad)                              (Spectrum)

What am I pointing out here?  Well, if youíre wondering what the game was like, take the Spectrum version, add more color and take away what little challenge it offered by adding more lives.  Whilst your there, make the sound effects even worse and slow the game down to a point where a snail on dope would get frustrated - if you can in fact do that.  Itís hard to explain how truly awful this is, yet itís still better than the garbage C64 owners ended up with.

The OTHER Double Dragon for the Amstrad

But wait!  Whatís this?  The above shot is from another Amstrad CPC version of Double Dragon, and itís brilliant!  In fact, Iíd say itís one of the best arcade conversions Iíve ever played on any home computer.  This is the version I reviewed here on the Dojo because it is so much better than the first version.  The only thing that the first version seems to have over this second one is the final missionís obstacles, a better option screen and Billy Lee not looking the same as his brother.  But as if these things matter when the second version blows the first one away in every other aspect.

(Amstrad POOR version)                              (Amstrad GOOD version)

Where did this second version come from?  Well, letís take a look at the Atari ST/Amiga version.  These graphics seem to have more in common with the good Amstrad version than the bad one.  Letís use Abobo again to show this (who incidentally, is far closer to his original arcade counterpart than in the other version).  Also, check out the high score tables.


(Amstrad GOOD version)                                      (Atari ST / Amiga)

(Amstrad GOOD version)                                      (Atari ST / Amiga)


Okay, so maybe this means that two different companies were involved.  Perhaps the guys who did the Atari ST/Amiga versions did the good Amstrad version and the people who did the Spectrum version did the poor Amstrad version.  That would certainly make some sense.  Itís very uncommon but there are a few cases where the same game has been created twice for the same machine by two different companies.  But then the Amiga ST and Spectrum versions are credited to Binary Design and/or Mastertronic.  And to mess with my head some more, so are both Amstrad versions.  Just look at this:

(Amstrad POOR version)                              (Amstrad GOOD version)

Sure, the team is different but itís still the same company.  I mean, what theÖ

Upon careful examination on the available evidence, this is what it looks like: Binary Design ported the game from the arcade to the ST (and Amiga), then to the Amstrad, then to the Spectrum and then someone in his infinite wisdom ported it back from the Spectrum to the Amstrad.  As ridiculous as that sounds, it certainly looks that way.  But why would anyone do such an idiotic thing?


Confused?  Yeah, me too.  There is still a lot of evidence needed.  Judging from what Iíve seen online and after talking to former Amstrad owners, I believe that the majority of them played the first Amstrad version of the game, which is a real shame because this other version is far superior.  What was the availability of this second version anyway?  Did Virgin Mastertronic/Melborne House make Binary Design redo the whole game because the first version was such a mess?  That seems a highly unlikely if you ask me.

If anybody out there knows anything more, please email myself or get in contact with the Double Dragon Dojo and letís solve this mystery once and for all.  In closing Iíd just like to thank a Mr. E J Murphy for opening this strange and unsolved case.  Up until recently, I was completely unaware.