By Dojo Master
The video game that was based on the cartoon, that was based on the video game. I wonder if the programmers thought about that while they were developing this game.
As the fifth game in the series (Super Double Dragon being the fourth), newcomers to Double Dragon may wonder how this game fits in with the previous incarnations, and if it is truly worthy of being labeled as a sequel. The truth is that it doesn't, and it isn't. Unfortunately, Double Dragon V falls victim to two influences prevalent during the early/mid '90s. One is the Double Dragon cartoon. The other is the emergence of the tournament fighting genre. With the eruption of Street Fighter II in 1991, nearly every video game company took a shot at creating its own take on the tournament fighter. Some succeeded, others didn't. Gamers from this era will at least remember some of the more popular franchises such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct. While each of these franchises offered a different perspective and added fresh ideas to the genre, Double Dragon V didn't. Tradewest merely attempted to cash in on the success of the tournament fighting craze and the Double Dragon franchise without giving much thought as to what unique appeal the game could offer.
This game doesn't fit into the Double Dragon storyline for a reason. It's not from Technos, and it's based on the Double Dragon cartoon. So, how did this little game come to be? After Tradewest received permission from Technos to make a cartoon based on the game, Tradewest had certain copyrights on the cartoon. Seeking to expand their profits and promote the cartoon, Tradewest decided to make a game based on the cartoon, and they didn't need permission from Technos (as far as I can guess). Since the characters from the cartoon were a copyright of Tradewest, and the game was based on the cartoon, Tradewest had a legal loophole to change Double Dragon history. But I'm not sure that this change should have ever taken place.
Leland attempted to recreate the animated style of the cartoon and did a decent job in that respect. The characters are noticeably reminiscent of their cartoon counterparts. The game has a more cartoonish look than Street Fighter II and less polished graphics, but it is attempting to emulate the rather poorly drawn style of the cartoon. The game makes full use of a 16-bit palette and has well-drawn backgrounds with surprising depth. Flowing waterfalls, snorting dragon heads, moving flames and other animations accentuate the levels. There are even cameos from the cartoon such as the Dragon Cruiser. There are no destructible objects though, so you won't be knocking your opponent through barrels or into another section of the level.
The biggest problem with the graphics is that they just feel too choppy, as if the framerate is too low. The characters don't move as smoothly as they should. It's like watching old news reels from the 1930s, except in color. While the title looks fine in isolated screenshots, in motion it is has some flaws. The SNES version does feature the cleanest and most vibrant graphics of the three versions though.
Double Dragon V has an average musical score. The sound is also a little fuzzy. The comical impact sounds are unremarkable, and the music feels too generic. Just listening to the game gives the impression that the music could have been used for a plethora of other tournament fighters. It's not reminiscent of the series, and it's not reminiscent of the cartoon. You won't find any special remixes of City Slum or even the cartoon's theme here. It seems to me that Leland should have attempted to reproduce the cartoon's music for the sake of unity. At least it would have impressed fans of the Sunday morning show. There is an announcer who says the usual "Round One" or "Jimmy Lee" wins. The announcer is nothing special, however.
All of the enemies from the cartoon are here as well as some new ones that were never featured in the show. There is no explanation for the additional characters. Sekka, Bones, and Dominque are simply introduced as part of the cast. Blade is one of the generic henchmen that accompanied the Shadow Warriors on their missions against the Dragons. Each character is represented with his or her proper weapon and attire from the cartoon. Dominique and the Shadow Master are bosses in the game and are available as hidden characters. Jimmy Lee is only present in his Dragon form, but it would have been nice if you could unlock his alter ego, the Shadow Boss. Also, it would have been nice to see the Lee brothers in the transformed, armor-wearing state.
Double Dragon V doesn't really have any weapons, except the ones that each character uses. Billy and Jimmy have swords, Jawbreaker has his mouth, Sickle has his sickles, Countdown has rockets and missiles, Ice Pick has a sword, Trigger Happy has an arm cannon, Blade and Sekka have claws, Bones has a gun, Dominique has a whip, and the Shadow Master has his special half-sickle, half-sword, which surprisingly is one of the flaws in DDV. The Shadow Master is supposed to have a sickle on one end and a sword on the other, but there are two sickles. Perhaps I'm being a overly analytical here.
Controls and Moves: B-
The button layout is based entirely on Street Fighter II. There are weak, medium and strong punches and kicks. Weak attacks are faster, but do little damage. Strong attacks are slow, but do maximum damage. Medium is a balance between the two. You can also throw by pressing medium punch while next to an opponent. Each character has his or her own unique moves and special moves.
The deviation from Street Fighter II takes place in the execution of the special moves. I suppose Leland thought it would be innovative to attempt a different control scheme, but it only proves to be an awkward implementation in an already awkward game. Whereas Street Fighter II utilized charging attacks (such as holding back and then pressing forward) and sliding attacks (such as sliding the control pad from down to forward), Double Dragon V relies upon a strange variation where you hold the control pad one direction and quickly change directions. Example: for Jimmy Lee's air attack, you hold forward for two seconds then press down and punch. Any attempt to slide the control pad from forward to down will botch the movement. It's an unnatural motion that will throw off gamers already used to Street Fighter II's general control scheme.
The fighters themselves are balanced enough. It's not as if a beginner can pick up the controller and smash buttons against a seasoned veteran to win. A mixture of standard and special moves are necessary to pummel your opponent.
There are three modes: Tournament, VS. Battle and Quest Mode. Tournament takes you through the entire game, fighting everyone randomly. VS. Battle is for two players to compete in. Quest mode has a story line to it, but is basically the same as Tournament. There is also a battle demo, which doesn't serve any purpose. In this mode, you can choose two characters and the computer will have them fight each other while you watch. I don't know why that feature was worth including. The Dossiers mode allows you to view each character's description, which is incredibly lame. There is also an option mode that allows you to change the time limit, sound, music, continues and controller set up.
Double Dragon V is a completely new game, breaking away from the design of the past Double Dragon games. The game features decent hit detection, responsive controls, a fair balance and a reasonable character lineup. Unfortunately, it does nothing to add to the tournament fighter genre. It just copies the Street Fighter II engine with little inspiration. Ultimately, mixing a bland tournament fighter with the universe of the cheesy cartoon series was a bad idea. Perhaps if Tradewest had only focused on one goal, such as creating a tournament fighter based on the game series or a beatemup based on the cartoon, this game would have been better. Unfortunately, it just doesn't strike a cord with a traditional DD fan like myself. While it may look pretty, the game play is nothing compared to a true Double Dragon game. The fact that this version was advertised more and had better ratings than Super Double Dragon is also an insult, not to mention the fact that it was inappropriately given the label of Double Dragon 5. Can you enjoy this game? Yes. It's not horrible by any means, but it's not Street Fighter II either.