By Dojo Master
Super Double Dragon is the last Double Dragon game developed by Technos (before the bankruptcy) that stuck to the traditional beatemup style of the arcade trilogy and its ports. Released only for the Super Nintendo, this game features enhanced graphics, multiple enemies and weapons, a plethora of martial arts moves and seven missions to complete. Unfortunately, this game is also the result of limited development time. Its sister version for the Super Famicom displays what a more complete version should have been like, though that game too is incomplete. So what we have is a slightly incomplete American version of a Japanese game. Hmm... I wonder how often that happens? To read what the full version should have been like, click on "The True Story" hyperlink above.
Super Double Dragon didn't have the marketing impact that Technos or Tradewest would have liked. It was easily eclipsed by the release of Street Fighter II (a year earlier in the arcades and the same year on the SNES) and didn't receive enough advertising. Nintendo Power, the leading Nintendo magazine, didn't even cover this game either except for a very small review. Double Dragon's popularity had begun to decline despite the fact that the cartoon and movie were soon to be released. Battletoads and Double Dragon, along with Double Dragon V, managed to attract more attention to the series than this game, despite not being real Double Dragon games and despite being released a year or two later than SDD. This game has been far overlooked when it did so much to add to the series.
Technos pulled a Super Castlevania IV with storyline on this one. Is it a new story? Is it a sequel? Is it a remake of the original adventure? Ah, just forget the past versions and think for a minute that we only know about Super Double Dragon. Those familiar Shadow Warriors have once again kidnapped Marian, who happens to be a cop. The leader, Duke, has his own dojo and wants to take over the town. He orders that the brothers surrender their dojo to him, but they won't tolerate any of that nonsense so they head off to kick some Shadow butt.
Super Double Dragon didn't use Mode 7 like Castlevania IV, or an FX chip like Yoshi's Island, which is disappointing, but the graphics are still clean overall. You'll notice a major improvement over every past version including the arcade games. The first mission is beautifully lighted by the casinos and the neon signs. Mission 2 has great detail and inside the airport you can see the airplanes through the glass (though it would have cool if they landed and took off as you fought). Other missions have very colorful buildings and streets, with beautiful detail in the sculptures and atmospheric statues. There are fights in moving elevators, stairways, bridges and even on a moving truck, which, by the way, was originally designed to allow players and enemies to fall of the back, but was never properly implemented until Double Dragon Advance. Unfortunately, Super Double Dragon suffers most from its unchallenging levels. They're just too linear. Whereas the NES versions featured timed jumps on moving platforms, falling spikes to avoid, boulders chasing you down a cave and the occasional bottomless pit, Super Double Dragon doesn't. Oh sure, there's a hole in the bridge on Mission 6, which always costs me a life, but that's about it. Long, mundane levels like Mission 2 can leave some players bored with the repetitive beatemup style and lack of a real challenge. I really feel that Technos could have come up with a more inspired level design and a more creative use of the SNES's hardware. Konami went nuts with Castlevania IV creating spinning rooms, dynamic backgrounds and size-changing enemies. Technos should have at least tried something new rather than leaving us with levels that can't even compare with the 8-bit NES games.
This time around, Billy and Jimmy have been given different sprites that aren't simply color-swapped, which is a nice touch. Billy has his blue suit and mid-length brown hair while Jimmy has his red suit and blonde flat top. They even have different punches. Billy uses a back fist and Jimmy uses a reverse punch.
This is simply the best soundtrack of any of the American games. Unfortunately, we once again didn't get the complete version. The title screen and Mission 7 share the same new and dull theme that is absent from the Japanese counterpart. So, we've been robbed of our favorite butt-kicking theme as we pummel the Shadow Warriors' leader. But it didn't completely disappear. The traditional title screen music from the first Double Dragon has been moved to Mission 5, but it lacks the fast-paced rhythm that is apparent in the NES and arcade versions. City Slum returns triumphantly in Mission 3 in the best remix I've heard next to the Original Sound of Double Dragon. Mission 1 has an excellent new theme that sets just the right pace, and Mission 4 has a nice new tune as well. Missions 2 and 6 are rather boring and repetitive, but hey, four out of seven isn't bad. As far as the music arrangement goes, Return of Double Dragon is better.
Super Double Dragon has a wide assortment of enemies with only a few recognizable characters from past outings; those being Williams, Roper and Jeff. Williams and Roper have a new look, but Jeff is once again just a color-swapped version of Billy's sprite with the same moves. The new enemies are interesting and rather creative, but their lack of difficulty makes them less remarkable or memorable than any of the bosses from the NES trilogy. A mostly original cast is certainly a welcome addition, but the bosses in any beatemup title need to stand out as strikingly cunning and difficult.
As far as overall enemy difficulty goes, I have a few complaints. First of all, when at least two enemies are on screen they will position themselves directly on either side of you and stay within this distance no matter how you move. You can see this in the screenshot above with the nunchucks. One guy punches you in the back of the head while the other pummels you from the front, and they even maintain this distance as you move or get knocked down. The additional enemies just stand around while this happens. The enemies need to be more random and sporadic in their movements. You'll often find their attacks slow and predictable, or just downright irritating. Another complaint is that the bosses are too easy. They don't pose anywhere near the same threat as our favorite green-skinned giant, and they have no introduction either through musical cues or cheesy dialogue (I love myself some cheesy martial arts dialogue). Your character is also constantly bombarded by low-level thugs as you try to take out the bigger guys, apparently to make up for the easy battles. The bosses aren't intelligent, and they aren't fast. I wish the bosses provided more of a challenge like they did in DD II and DD III.
The enemies' predictable movements and overall lack of speed slow the action down a little too much. Because of this, you never really have to chase after them like you did with the elusive ninjas in Double Dragon II and III. Faster gameplay would have helped.
The weapons in this version are extremely helpful and improve the game greatly, but they possess a few faults that keep this category from getting a perfect score. The fire bombs are back in a similar fashion from Double Dragon II on the NES, but they don't explode upon impact. Instead, they tumble as they hit the ground and take a few seconds to detonate. Unfortunately, in order to use fire bombs effectively, you'll need to exploit the predictable AI behavior noted above by coaxing your attackers into walking right into the blast. Knives are back in a similar form from the first Double Dragon on the NES. They inflict massive damage but you'll have trouble taking them from an armed assailant. If you're really skilled, you can stop knives in midair with an extremely well-placed punch or kick, but this is a tough to pull off. Boomerangs make a clumsy introduction in this game as there is no way to catch them on the return swing. It's an example of the shoddy programming based on rushed development. Barrels and rocks also return in their similar forms. They inflict reasonable damage and can be kicked while on the ground. The most useful weapons are the nunchucks and the bo staff. Surprisingly, the staff has a shorter reach than the nunchucks, and it can't deliver nearly the same amount of damage. In fact, the nunchucks practically make your character unstoppable, though they are a rare commodity.
As a little surprise, Technos incorporated some hidden weapons for those who pay attention. In Mission 3 you can actually hit the speed bag and punching bag. Use these items correctly and you'll knock over anybody in your path (including yourself if you're not careful). After too many hits, the chain on the punching bag breaks and you're free to wield it like a barrel or rock, heaving it on top of your enemies. It's hilarious and helpful.
Controls and Moves: A
Super Double Dragon displays the logical progression of DD's combat system. Gone are the aerial-based attacks from DD II and III on the NES where your character leapt nearly halfway up the screen and executed a barrage of spinning and flying attacks. Instead, the Lee brothers have a more realistic ground-based fighting system that leaves the jump button feeling isolated most of the time. Your overal speed has also been slowed down and the prior run ability from DD III is gone after such a glorious introduction.
The punches and kicks still have separate buttons like the previous games, but SDD utilizes an early combo-based system that was later improved upon in Double Dragon Advance. Basically, the punches and kicks change with each successful hit, meaning that your first kick could be a roundhouse, but the second could be a hook kick and the third could be a spinning hook kick. Kicks can also differ between high and low attacks simply by pressing on the D-pad, which allows you to change up your combos even more. You can mix punches, kicks and even jumping attacks to form several different combos. There is a decent variety of jumping attacks, including wall jumps, but they are too slow to be truly effective and they leave much to be desired from the game's slower physics.
The block button was a new addition to the series here. Depending on which enemy is attacking you, your character will either deflect an incoming attack or seize a limb. From there, you can execute various moves on your trapped victim and even hold him in place while you throw kicks in the opposite direction to protect your back side. It's an ingenious idea that allows you to efficiently deal with group attacks. You can also throw your trapped attacker on top of anyone who's standing behind you.
The other new addition to the game is the charge meter. This allows you to pull off enhanced punches and kicks, and even a horizontally traveling cyclone kick when the meter is partially charged. When it is fully charged, the meter powers up your character, which enables you to knock down opponents with a single hit and recover from attacks much quicker. This augmentation is short-lived, but the meter can be quickly powered up again.
The one-player game has only one mode. The two-player game has mode A or mode B. In mode B both players can hurt each other. In Mode A they can't. A second player can also join a one-player game at any time. Just plug in a controller and start pummeling enemies with a friend without hitting reset. This is one of the best features to be added to the series and it should be implemented in all future DD games. Unfortunately, there is no options menu, meaning that players cannot select the difficulty level or access the music test like in the Japanese version.
Even with its repetitiveness due to its rather straightforward and unchallenging level design, Super Double Dragon is still an outstanding game. It's true that at times the game feels like it is lacking in both challenge and substance, but the two-player mode is absolutely stunning and eradicates any noticeable flaws by sucking you into addicting six-character brawls. SDD offers a deep, yet not-too-difficult experience that any gamer can enjoy. The wide variety of moves allow for unique fights every time. As an SNES exclusive and official sequel to the amazing NES trilogy, SDD provides a truly rewarding experience that has yet to be copied. There is simply nothing like it, and that makes it a must-have.