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Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Console: Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Developer: Binary Design
Publisher: Virgin Mastertronic
Number of Players: 2
Release Date: Late 1989

Story | Codes | Characters | Credits


European box

By "Psycho" Steve Halfpenny
Associate Editor


Whereas Double Dragon on the Spectrum was hailed as an overall disappointment and actually quite pathetic, one year later this somewhat fairly straight arcade conversion of Double Dragon II received good reviews from the critics but they all seemed to agree that it still wasn’t really the best fighting game on the Spectrum.  The extra memory that came with the 128K Spectrum was never utilized in the first game so it came as somewhat of a relief when it was announced that this time round, it would be.  However, little did we know just how much the game would suffer when ran on your usual bog-standard 48K Spectrum.  For the sake of this review, I’ve given scores for how the game runs on both the 128K and the 48K machines, because in all fairness, they are different versions.

Graphics (128K): C-

Whilst they move at quite the pace, these graphics are just plain ugly.  Neither player one nor two look anything like the Billy or Jimmy Lee we’ve come to love and have a cheap 1960s cartoon feel to them.  Enemies are little better.  The amount of sprites used is simply not enough.  The first DD was criticized for its “squashed potato heads” but I prefer those characters over extras from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Also unlike the original DD on the Speccy, the game is completely black and white, blatantly done so that the game can keep a consistent speed and not slow down too much like the first one did.  And it doesn’t; there are occasions where a lot of enemies are on screen at one time and the game doesn’t slow down at all.  Problem is, it’s just too fast now.  There is no weight behind these sprites either and they just fly all over the screen in a frantic jerky manner.  Whilst this might make the Spectrum version a unique and fun experience in itself, it just doesn’t work, especially since the level design is so close to the arcade game.  One minute into the game you’ll have finished a mission or died, which ever comes first, so whilst the action never lets up it almost feels like you’re playing an LCD game (okay, I exaggerate, but something is drastically wrong here).  Scrolling is at least consistent with the character movement this time round but much like the C64 version, these graphics have little in common with the arcade machine.  As for the backdrops, I’m told that they were scanned straight from the coin op and thrown onto the Speccy, but it’s obvious that nobody has taken any amount of time to clean them up.  Messy.

Graphics (48K): D+

On the 48K Spectrum, things are even worse because half of the play area is gone and the game is shortened drastically.  The screen size is probably this way so that there is never any slowdown, but it still sucks. (The first screenshot on the left is from the game running on a 48K Spectrum, all of the rest come from the 128K Spectrum.  Notice how the background colors of black and white switch places.  There could be numerous reasons for this, i.e. it could be because I was working with a cracked version, it’s due to emulation or it could be just a bug.)

Sound (128K): C-

For sound, the first Double Dragon was a major disappointment. With DD II, it’s not all bad but it should be better.  In the C64 version of the Revenge, we got a fairly recognizable version of the Mission 1 tune (you have to listen more carefully, people! I don’t blame Cloudmann for not noticing).  On the Amstrad we got a rehash of the tune that appeared on that computer’s port of the first DD.  Here on the Speccy, we once again get no in-game music and sound effects seem to be just what was available at the time.  For instance, the whip sounds more like the wind blowing.  128K owners also get a bit of a bonus in a fairly good intro screen tune also, which incidentally is an exact replica from the in game tune on the good version of DD I (and II) on the Amstrad CPC.  That mystery is getting more bizarre all the time.  Oh, and you get a nice little tune at the end of the game.  Alas, no unintentionally funny attempts at grunts this time.

Sound (48K): D-

Taking into account that the 48K Speccy’s sound was more like an Atari 2600, I’m almost forgiving the missing title screen music.  The in game noise is practically non-existent however.

Enemies (128K): D+

What the hell happened here?  In a very dumb and throwaway manner, Burnov is no longer the boss of Mission 1.  Instead he appears halfway through and all of the enemies die after being knocked down twice with just a kic.  Furthermore, whilst being quite tough, all of the enemies die immediately after you hit them with the whirlwind kick.  And since there is no regular flying kick you’ll be doing this a lot.  I wasn’t expecting Willy to die straight away after my first attack.  Also, and this is the major blow, there is no long haired Abobo, Jeff, Oharra, Chin Taimei and no Lee ghosts at the end.  Like all home computer conversions, it was rushed to no doubt meet the deadline to hit the shops before Christmas, but here it really shows.  The positive side with all this however is that the difficulty has been radically changed to perhaps compensate for the ease of enemy disposal; enemies can be tough once they gang up and you only get two credits so at least the balance in this game hasn’t been totally screwed.  I’ve actually found it tough to get to Mission 3, which is a good thing.

Enemies (48K): D-

See above and remove Burnov and Abore.  So that means, all you have left are Williams, Roper, Linda and Willy in the shortest Double Dragon game ever.

Weapons (128K): B+

Thankfully, all of the seven weapons from the coin op version have made it.  Sorely missed the last time was the dynamite, so I was happy to see the grenades in there.  It must be said that I had some trouble picking up weapons now and again; you have to stand to the left or right of them before pressing fire.  This can be somewhat annoying as you can imagine.

Weapons (48K): D

Oh dear.  Boxes, whips and knives only and only the knife is of any use.  Just keep flying kicking everyone.

Controls and Moves (128K): C+

I believe all the moves except one from the arcade are in there but control is slightly painful.  There are some major problems with the background and foreground getting in the way when you want to move back especially.  During my last play, Billy became ‘stuck’ on more than one occasion and this was due to the scrolling not moving forwards or backwards with him in unison.  Also, the spin kick completely replaces the normal flying kick, which was a ridiculous idea indeed since it polishes off all of your enemies straight away.  Worse still, the normal kick destroys your opponent after two knockdowns.  I think that overall the kicks have been made too powerful (you don’t need to even bother with the hair grab plus knees to the stomach), the game runs too fast as well, and with an infinite lives cheat on, I completed the game in what felt like ten minutes maximum.

Controls and Moves (48K): D-

Okay, get this: The spin kick is gone and the normal flying kick is back.  However, because this is so much easier to pull off and hit than the spin kick, you can run through the entire game in around five minutes (probably counting loading times also) by just hitting everyone with this one move.  Dumb!

Modes: B

I was lead to believe that Virgin had included the option to use more than one button so that you could recreate the coin-op feel with the left and right attacks, but it doesn’t appear so (Note to Cloudmann: In the C64 version you can use two buttons!).  Oh yeah, and the two player mode is retained but I wouldn’t really have expected anything less.

Conclusion/Overall (128K): C-

It was good of Virgin to eliminate the multiload for 128K users so that the full game requires just one.  It was also good of Virgin to speed up the action, but talk about overdoing it.  The speed at which you’ll get through this game is just stupid (if you can), especially when there isn’t that much there.  Control is a bit south of reasonable and it doesn’t help that these visuals are ugly as hell with so little color to speak of.  These graphics look nothing like the coin op and are overall worse than the original Speccy game, despite not being at all sluggish.  Not much can be said about the sound either.  It’s there, but only just.  Overall, Double Dragon II received positive reviews at the time of its release and is fairly playable because of the challenge it offers, especially when you compare this factor to the Speccy’s version of DD I.  Personally, I was not impressed then, nor am I today.  Throw it on the pile.

Conclusion/Overall (48K): D-

It’s awful on the 48K and can be completed in five minutes tops, as previously mentioned.  What I haven’t mentioned is that all of the obstacles are missing (the combine harvester and the stuff in the Willy’s lair) and some stages are split in two, which means lots of loading (actually, the loading time takes longer than the playing time).  Worst bit – you load in the final confrontation with Willy… he stands alone (unlike on a 128K)… you flying kick him once… well done!  You’ve completed the game.  Astonishingly bad.

By the way, whilst I’ve never seen them in action, I believe that the MSX versions of DD I and II are pretty much identical to the Spectrum forms (the latter ran on a 48K too).  I’m not sure if DD 3 ever made it on that machine but if it did it’s probably a safe bet to say that it would have been a port of the Speccy game.