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Double Dragon and Bad Dudes:
A Simple Comparison by a Simple Man

By Larry Petit

There were many, many similar fighting games that followed in the wake of Double Dragon.  After all, DD was a colossal hit, one that appeared on just about every console and computer of the late '80s.  Even the newly revived Atari 2600 received a port in 1989, continuing the trend set in the early '80s of the Atari 2600 getting all of the popular games over its rival, the also still-living Intellivision (no offense, INTV fans, but Atari did have the stranglehold, though I'm not sure it still applied in '89).

So anyway, you basically couldn't walk down the street without hitting Double Dragon in some form or variant.  Not many games get that kind of attention.  Many early '80s classics appeared on just about every system of the time, but we're talking after the crash, when video games were finally making a real comeback, no doubt due to the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  Hey, Commando and Rampage had many conversions, but I don't think they ever saw the amount Double Dragon had, not to mention the phenomenon that was two-player street fighting goodness.

So, where am I going with this?  Why such a long-winded set-up?  Because, Double Dragon was incredibly popular, and incredibly popular games always have competitors.  Most range from passable to mediocre.  Some are downright awful, and very, very few manage to be better than the game that inspired them (and in Double Dragon's case, I don't think any game was ever better).  In 1988, the stage was set for a rivalry, and Data East was going to provide the competition.  Ladies and Gentlemen: Bad Dudes!


They certainly aren't making any vague references, are they?  Nope, Bad Dudes goes right for the jugular.  I remember seeing this ad when I was little, and in fact, I still have the magazine that featured it.  I have to get something off of my chest: I actually had Bad Dudes for NES before I had Double Dragon for NES.  I never had a preference, as I never played these in the arcades at the time, but I'm sure this ad had something to do with the purchase (not to mention the fact my cousins told me there was blood in BD, and that kind of thing is cool to a little kid).  This was the early/mid '90s, when NES games were on their way out, so finding a used copy was easy and cheap.  I think I've made up for this though, as I have 9000 ports of Double Dragon, but Bad Dudes stays just where it should, on the NES.

The plot is similar to Double Dragon: you're in charge of a rescue mission, and the only way to complete it is to hit the streets and start punching people.  Instead of rescuing your kidnapped girlfriend, you have a bigger goal in mind: you have to rescue President Ronnie (it's Reagan!).  Arcade Bad Dudes featured the same two-player action Double Dragon did, but DD moves in a 3D plane where you can go in the background and foreground.  BD only lets you go straight on a 2D plane, albeit a two-tiered plane (there's an upper and lower level for you to fight on).  You don't fight over President Ronnie at the end of BD, but you do get to share a burger with him.  No joke!
When I first started getting into Double Dragon, I sort of took on this "Bad Dudes hated Double Dragon so I hate Bad Dudes!" attitude. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't going down the street shouting this, this was long after both games' heydays, but the attitude was apparent in a certain Internet video game forum (not the one here at the Dojo).  In retrospect, I wasn't being very fair.  Data East was just going for the sell here, I don't think there was ever any real rivalry between the games; this wasn't Mario vs. Sonic.  I doubt fist fights erupted in arcades where the two games were placed next to each other, at least not over which game was better.  Nevertheless, Data East put up a challenge, and here, in 2006, we're going to answer that challenge.  We'll tackle this by points made in the advertisement, because if the ad had any effect on making me buy the game, then it certainly worked on someone else, too.  Maybe I was just impressionable.  Whatever.  Bring it on, Bad Dudes, bring it on!

It's been 18 years since Bad Dudes tried to steal the beatemup throne, so trying to "ask anyone who's played them both in the arcade" just isn't going to work.  I'd get funny looks, and I get enough of them on my own.  I don't need Bad Dudes' help.  Notice that even though Double Dragon is supposedly inferior in every way, it was still popular enough to warrant Double Dragon II, but we'll get to that later.  Which one is better is strictly a matter of opinion.

"Bad Dudes has better graphics. Better action. Better playability."  For posterity, we'll throw "Better sound" in there, even though the ad makes no mention of it.  Graphically, both were really good for the time, but they're in different styles.  DD fell between realism and cartoon-style, creating a look that was pleasing, but also conveying gritty street fighting very well.  BD went simply for realism, and it also looks very good.  There's not quite the variety of enemies in BD (most of them are ninjas), but everything graphically would fit well on a Sega Genesis/Megadrive.  Better action and better playability, at least to me, seem to go hand in hand.  Just like the graphics, there are two different styles of game play.  DD used three buttons, and you were able to execute an impressive variety of moves: in addition to the standard punch-kick-jump kick, you could elbow smash, head butt, that weird jump-side kick, throw over your shoulder and knee to the face.  BD doesn't have quite the assortment of moves, but since most of your enemies die in one hit (in the arcade version), you don't really need them.  You have punch and kick, both controlled by one button, jump kick, the flying spin kick and you do have an elbow smash and back-kick, but they're pretty random and really no more effective than any other move, save for one: You're able to charge up and do a power punch by holding down the button.  It's not so effective on regular enemies, as you don't really need it, but it helps on bosses (one of which is none other than Karnov, star of his own Data East game, too).  Okay, so in retrospect, BD does have a decent selection of moves to pull off and the game seems to move faster than DD, but that doesn't necessarily make for better action and playability.  As already mentioned, most enemies in BD die in one hit.  Bosses of course take a few more, but the game seems to move faster.  DD, on the other hand, tried to actually simulate street fighting, so it's not really "slower," just more involved.  In the case of weapons, DD has the knife, whip, bat, barrels, boxes, boulders and dynamite.  BD has the knife and nunchucks.  However, BD lets you regain health and pick up extra time if you come across them.

As for sound, DD has one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time.  Period.  BD's music isn't really bad, but none of it is all that memorable.  There' no BD equivalent to the City Slum theme, that's for sure.  Both have speech synthesis, but while DD uses generic yells, BD actually says "I'm Bad" triumphantly at the end of each level, in addition to the generic grunts.  DD wins musically, in the end, but that was almost a given if you've ever heard the game.

"And we're even available on more systems than they are."  Not true.  While the convenient chart at the right indeed appears to have more conversions of BD, they left the Atari ST section blank, and DD was definitely ported to that computer, though I don't know if that happened before or after the ad was printed.  True, there was never an Apple II version of DD, but considering how well that conversion of BD plays, that's a good thing (trust me).  The chart doesn't even show the Sega Master System (SMS), which DD was on, but BD was not, so that evens the score up right there, not to mention the countless other computers left off (in which one or both games could have appeared on).  And then there are the games that appeared after the ad, such as the Atari 7800 and 2600 versions, both in 1989, and the Sega Genesis/Megadrive and Atari Lynx conversions, which appeared in the early '90s.  And you can't forget 2003's Double Dragon Advance.  So, while the claim that there were more conversions of BD may have been temporarily true (hard to tell, without an exact print date of the ad, and exact release dates of all conversions of both games), DD definitely and undeniably won out in the long run. I'm not holding out for Bad Dudes Advance (or even Bad Dudes DS) anytime soon.  If they were playing fair, Data East would have included a few boxes in the chart featuring systems BD wasn't available on, but like I said, they were going for the sell.

"And the game play and graphics of the home versions are amazingly true to the arcade original."  Well, this is probably a shot at the many mediocre ports DD received on home computers of the time, as well as the altered NES version.  At any rate, it's hard to fit an advanced arcade game into the formats available in the late '80s.  However, BD doesn't seem quite as complex as DD (relatively speaking), so porting playable versions may very well have been easier (not to take anything away from BD, because good programming certainly speaks for itself).  2D instead of 3D seems a bit easier to make happen, though I'm by no means a programmer.  This is probably more of a case of whether the conversion was rushed through development or not.  In the case of the IBM PC versions, neither one is exactly stellar, but if I had to choose, I'd pick DD.  I haven't played the C64 DD, but I'm willing to bet BD is better (how could it not be?).  And of course, sometimes comparisons aren't available.  As previously mentioned, the Apple II never had DD, but the 2600, 7800 and SMS never had BD.  And then, there's the big one of the late '80s, the NES.  Both games were on the system, needless to say.  DD was altered drastically, but with all of the tampering, it remained ridiculously fun to play.  BD, on the other hand, remained pretty faithful to the arcade, but played somewhat choppy, though by no means bad (voice synthesis was so scratchy it should have been left out, though).  Neither game had two-players cooperative play, but BD switched players just like NES DD did.  In the end, how well the conversion played probably depended on how rushed the game was and how well the programmers could work around system limitations.

"Bad Dudes makes Double Dragon play like a dinosaur.  One soon to be extinct."  Well, that obviously never happened.  Remember, there was a Double Dragon II, but the ad conveniently doesn't mention that (In Data East's defense, DD II may not have been released when the ad was printed).  We even make their, um, sequel pale in comparison!  Yeah!" it would say, I'm sure.  Of course, there was a year in between the two: DD in 1987, BD and DD II in 1988, so the sequel is a moot point.  DD had a head start.  Whatever.  I don't think BD has the fan base that DD enjoys today.  Enough said.  BD never saw a sequel, for the record.

When all is said and done, it's just a typical advertisement.  It makes a lot of points, but none of them really mean anything.  I don't actually think Data East was going to try to exterminate its competition, but the way it came out swinging is pretty surprising.  Is Bad Dudes a bad game?  No, not at all.  It's a bit simplistic, but it's fun.  Not too long ago I even went through the entire NES version again.  The arcade version is certainly the best, but it just doesn't measure up to Double Dragon.  Yeah, I know I have a bias.  The arcade DD is my all-time favorite game, but I tried to compare with an open mind.  Hopefully I succeeded.  This isn't the only game Data East put out to steal the Double Dragon crown by the way.  It also licensed Irems Vigilante, which has the game play of Kung-Fu Master, but the look of Double Dragon.  It's not bad, but I think I prefer Bad Dudes.  So in conclusion, was there any kind of real rivalry going on here?  I don't think so; Data East was just shilling its product.  It is interesting to go back and compare the two, and I'll admit, I had fun writing this article.  If you want to check out Bad Dudes, you could try the MAME emulator, or for a watered down experience, find the NES version.  It's pretty common, so the coin-op must have been popular.  I'm sure the pull-no-punches ad campaign didn't hurt, either.  However, instead of gamers choosing just one, I'd like to think they eventually bought both.  I know I did.

I have since played the C64 DD (both versions) and BD, and just as I suspected, BD is way better than the common version of DD, but it's actually about on par with the rarer Ocean version.  It's not bad, and in some ways it's superior to the NES version.