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Double Dragon
Console: Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Developer: Binary Design (David Leitch)
Publisher: Melborne House/Mastertronic
Number of Players: 2
Release Date: Late 1988

Story | Codes | Characters


European box

European budget release

By "Psycho" Steve Halfpenny
Associate Editor


The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was a very popular home computer in Europe, especially in the UK.  The Spectrum couldn’t really compete with the Commodore 64 in a graphical sense but it still managed to compete with it on a popularity scale thanks to some great software.

Back in the summer of 1988 when I stood in a queue (as usual) for the Double Dragon arcade game, I seem to recall a little discussion with the current players who were of the opinion that the game in question would never come to the Spectrum and that if you wanted the DD experience at home, you had to buy either Renegade or Target Renegade (which for the record, was excellent for the Sinclair).  “But it’s in his magazine!” a friend of mine rightly informed them and our Lee brothers went to silence.  The magazine he referred to had been a summer issue of Sinclair User.  Hardly the most popular magazine on the planet, but it had a great section called “Blueprint,” which told readers about games that were currently in production.  This time they showed very early pictures of Double Dragon for the Speccy spread across two whole pages.  As the magazine said, many seemed to think that it was an “impossible conversion.  On Christmas day that same year I, no doubt like many other Spectrum owners and DD fans, would find out the truth.

Graphics: B-

If you’ve never seen a Spectrum before you might think that these graphics are really bad, but they’re not too bad considering the limitations of this machine.  Basically, the Spectrum had a serious problem with color and color clash.  You tended to get games with either a lot of color and no detail at all or decent enough detail with color problems.  DD is actually a good example of the latter.  The Mission 1 ground is blue and Billy Lee is transparent so this makes him blue.  The walls are yellow so when Billy stands up against them, they make him… well, you get the idea.  In the Sinclair User article the programmer said that he was very determined to get some color in there because everyone expected the whole thing to be monochrome but I believe that this is what slows down the game and causes the jerky scrolling.  I say this because other Spectrum games that used detail and so much color were also slow.  The Spectrum’s Double Dragon II hardly uses any color at all and that game runs smoothly while this has terribly jerky scrolling and a slight pause when certain moves like the flying kick are executed.  Sadly, this affects the game play greatly and is easily the worst thing about this version.  There is also a slow down when there is a lot of characters on the screen but this is nothing that the arcade itself didn’t do either.  The detail in the characters isn’t too bad although some enemies look a little different to their coin op counterparts.  This is still a Spectrum so you couldn’t really expect a perfectly detailed version of an arcade game minus the color (Some later games did come close to this however.  See the Spectrum version of Final Fight).  Abobo is now just some fat bloke who looks like he belongs in a freak show while Willy looks more like Dracula rather than the Shadow boss.  Thankfully, everyone else is far more recognizable.

Sound: D-

There is no excuse for this. Let me explain.  The 48K Spectrum was primitive in sound.  All you could expect was a few beeps really.  But a 128K Spectrum could have easily recreated all of the sounds and music of the arcade game (it could have also loaded the entire game in as opposed to relying on a pathetic multiload but that’s a different matter altogether).  The only sound in the whole game is a poor excuse for a grunt when a character is knocked down.  One funny thing about this is when Linda is knocked down she squeaks.  Offensive to women or just plain funny?  You decide.

Enemies: B-

Like the C64 version, you won’t be going one on one with Jeff despite the fact that he is mentioned in the manual and Abobo is incapable of throwing you, but apart from that they’ve all been nicely ported from the classic coin op.  Not exactly tough but there is some intelligence in there, especially if you’re one of those people who constantly does flying kicks.  Sure, most people will finish this on their first go but there is still a challenge, especially in one-player mode.  You only get five credits here and this can’t be adjusted.  The enemies' main weakness is that you just have to work out how close you need to get to them before you just have to keep punching or kicking until they die.  When you’ve perfected this, you’ll have no problems.  But hey, unlike the dreadful Commodore version, they show up when they should and have unique styles.

Weapons: B

We have the whips, baseball bats, oil drums, rocks and knives.  The explosives and boxes aren't here mind you.  Also, if you leave certain weapons off screen and then go back for them, they will no longer be there (a bug, not a feature).  Still, we are talking about a Spectrum here, so I won’t be too harsh.  Let’s be grateful that Willy’s machine gun is the saddest weapon here.  Like a machine gun fires one bullet at a time like that! (It’s still deadly though)

Controls and Moves: B+

All of the moves from the arcade game are included but one or two things can be a pain in the butt to pull off the first time if you’re on joystick.  Thankfully like a lot of Spectrum games, using the keyboard makes things a lot easier.  More to do with the graphical front, I have to say that the kick looks a little lame.  Billy doesn’t kick, he just waves his leg about a bit.  Maybe I’m just being picky because the controls and moves are really top notch for a late 80s' computer game.

Modes: A

The two-player option is here.  You will be fighting over Marian at the end and you have the chance to join in once the game has already began.  That was a big deal back then.  Okay, for the Spectrum it was.  You get a nice choice of what controls to use on the option screen including a chance to redefine your own keys.  One of the coolest features of this version though is that since the game loads in each stage separately, you get the option to play the stage you have just completed once again, instead of waiting forever for the next stage to load in.  Okay, so you might not finish the game doing things this way but it was useful back in ‘88, if say, you had only five minutes before you had to set off for school and just wanted to beat the black Abobo again.  Spectrum owners hated those pesky multiloads.

Conclusion/Overall: C+

You should never expect too much from the Spectrum but you still get the feeling that this should have been better.  Frankly, I think it was a cheek to print “You’ll never have to stand in line to play Double Dragon again” on the back of the box (I bet C64 owners loved that) because I did.  If only Binary Design had made the scrolling a lot smoother, faster and got rid of some of those annoying little bugs we could have been onto a real winner.  A soundtrack and elimination of the multiload for 128K Speccy owners was becoming the norm too, so since this failed to include these benefits, you can’t help but to feel even more let down.  Indeed, we have a game that deserved the very mixed reviews it received at the time of its release.  Saying all that, I think it would be most unfair to imply that Binary Design did a poor job.  Taking an arcade game and putting it on a machine that was technically a few light years behind it deserves credit when you consider how playable this is (which is far more than what can be said about the C64 atrocity).  Even though I was somewhat disappointed as a 9-year-old, I still managed to enjoy DD on the Spectrum, especially in two-player mode.  Sure, Target Renegade had already provided Sinclair fans with DD-style game play and even after the release of this it was still the better buy, but this really isn’t a bad conversion at all.  In fact after playing it recently for this review and being able to actually compare it to the coin op version via emulation, I would say that it is better than I remembered.