By Larry Petit
In the late '80s you had a few different consoles of choice if you wanted the latest in video games: the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Sega Master System (SMS) and the Atari 7800. While the 7800 quickly fell behind due to a lack of support and modern games, the situation with the NES and SMS was actually quite interesting. The NES was dominant (to say the least) in the US, while the SMS was dominant in the UK (and the 7800 even had a bit more success there, as well). Enter Double Dragon and the numerous conversions that followed. No matter what system you had, you were covered. All three major consoles got their conversion, but it was pretty obvious that the NES and SMS conversions were going head-to-head, so comparisons are inevitable. The SMS version follows the arcade much more closely than the NES version, but still isn't a perfect port.
The SMS was capable of superior graphics over the NES, and often some games could be mistaken for 16-bit at first glance. Double Dragon doesn't quite meet those standards, but it still looks really nice. Characters are very nicely detailed, with actual shading put into them. Abobo in particular looks excellent. Backgrounds are also good and follow the arcade version. They're not completely faithful, as anyone who was addicted to the coin-op could tell you, but they don't deviate as far as the NES version. Certain details are missing, but nothing drastic. There is, however, a lot of flicker, and Jimmy looks completely ridiculous with blue hair, but everything is bright and colorful, though not as clean as one would hope. All in all, very nice graphics.
If you were buying Double Dragon only for the sound (and face it, the soundtrack really was that good), then you would be disappointed with the SMS version. The SMS simply didn't have great sound capabilities. They weren't bad, but sound wasn't a strong point. The soundtrack here follows the arcade and is definitely recognizable as Double Dragon, but it suffers from the aforementioned capabilities. The music is full of those little drumbeats the SMS was so well known for (you know what I'm talking about), and none of the sound effects are all that good. While leagues better than the shrill 7800 soundtrack, the SMS version just can't compare to the NES Double Dragon.
The gang is all here. Williams, Roper, Linda, Jeff, Abobo (in all of his various forms) and Big Boss Willy all appear where they should. So why the slightly lower score, when everyone is included? Because the difficulty is so unbalanced. While this can also be attributed to the controls and moves, enemies seem to have a distinct power advantage. There is absolutely no reason one jump kick should take out a whole life-block, especially when it's done by the first enemy of the first level. And anyone who complained about no-stun problem in the NES version should see this one; the enemies can always counter you, especially when they jump-kick. This becomes especially annoying in the last two missions. So, while it's nice to have the whole stable of characters, the difficulty is a little too high from the get-go to be completely satisfactory.
You have the bat, knife, whip, dynamite, boxes, barrels and boulders. Everything is included and it all works pretty well. Not much more to say about this. Good job on Sega's part.
Controls and Moves: B-
The enemies may be a little too hard, but the biggest problem with this version is control. While it's not bad at all, it just isn't as tight as one would hope. You can do the standard punch-kick-jump-kick, as well as that flying reverse kick or whatever it was. You can do the knee smash, but the game only seems to let you do it randomly. The elbow smash is also included, but it's tricky and not really worth the trouble. Add all of this to a no-stun problem, and you end up punching and moving away the whole time. Punch and move, punch and move, rinse and repeat. Controls are pretty responsive, on the bright side, saving this from a C+ rating.
The biggest advantage this conversion has over the NES one is the fact that two players can fight together; a definite plus, as that was the biggest complaint about the NES version. As previously mentioned, there is a lot of flicker, but it's not too bad. It should also be mentioned that no matter how many continues you use or don't use, if you lose all of your lives on Mission 4, you're done. So, if you have enough continues, you might as well let Green Abobo wipe you out once before heading into Mission 4.
Definitely not a bad conversion, but somewhat disappointing. Had game play been refined just a little bit more, and the enemies toned down, this would have been the best 8-bit version. It's not a bad port at all, and when it comes to conversions from this era, this one is near the top. It's easy to see why this is one of the most common SMS games, but for as faithful as it is, it just doesn't match the NES version in overall fun. The NES port didn't have a two-player cooperative mode (and that one-on-one feature doesn't count), but it just plays so much smoother. However, if you want two-player action on an 8-bit console, this is the one to go for. It's hard, but less frustrating than the 7800 port. All in all, a pretty decent translation. Makes you wonder what Double Dragon II could have been like on the SMS.