Double Dragon

(Editor’s Note: Technically, Double Dragon had it’s Sega Seal of Quality Revoked for being a rehash of a previous generation’s game, thus disqualifying it from our Top 50 list. But this game rules so hard we at least sent it off with a positive review)

As Double Dragon begins, we see a woman standing in the street being approached by a gang. Their leader has a machine gun and looks kind of like old WWF wrestler Razor Ramon in a yellow biker outfit. One of them punches her in the stomach, throws her over his shoulder and they calmly walk away.  At this point, you should already have realized that what you’re about to experience will be the greatest thing ever.

The game never explains why they kidnap her, but apparently this happened a lot during the 80s, because both the woman and the gang members seem pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. Once they’re gone, a garage in the background opens its door, revealing a really kickass Trans Am.  Standing next to the car are the two protagonists, Billy and Jimmy Lee. Actually, according to the artwork on the arcade cabinet the blue one is named “Hammer” and the red one is “Spike”.  I’m not sure how people figured out their real names, but I do know that they both look so much like the singers from Tears for Fears that it’s a little bit scary.

Interestingly, the gang is already out of sight by the time Billy and Jimmy hit the street, so they didn’t actually see anything happen. For all they know, the girl was never even there – it’s not like Razor Ramon left them a note or anything. But somehow they just know to chase after them and rescue their mutual girlfriend. And rather than go after them in their awesome car, which would be a lot faster and involve far less fighting with people who want to kill them, they decide to walk after the kidnappers.

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Mr. T, a gang member from the Beat It video, and the guy from Tears for Fears all race toward a loose knife while the biggest freaking cat I’ve ever seen looks on.

This turns out to be a pretty terrible plan, as they manage to go all of about 5 feet before they’re attacked. That’s the problem with looking just like a singer from Tears for Fears — everyone wants to fight you. About 5 minutes into the game, you are simultaneously attacked by a guy with a baseball bat, a woman with a whip, and a huge bald man with a handlebar mustache who wants to pummel you so badly that he smashes through a brick wall just to get at you. Shortly after that, you have to fight Mr. T while someone else throws knives and oil drums at you.

That’s the first level.

Now you may have read that last paragraph and thought to yourself “A woman with a whip? That’s kind of sexy.” I can assure you that its not.  Not even a little.  Double Dragon was the first beat-’em-up to have a whip-woman, but if your expecting some kind of long haired beauty in a revealing leather outfit like in Battle Arena Toshinden (or  a 1700’s era naval commander uniform like in Soul Calibur), guess again – the Double Dragon whip-woman has big 80’s hair and wears what looks like an aerobics outfit. Maybe tastes were different 25 years ago, but I just can’t imagine that kind of look was ever considered pretty hot. All I can say is that if you’re expecting Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, guess again.

The second level of Double Dragon takes place behind a warehouse or factory of some sort, where you fight on top of stacks of steel I-beams.  When you finally get to the building, the door opens up and three more whip-women come out.  Yes, that’s right, these women all take their whips with them even when they go to work at the factory. You can fight them, but it’s quicker just to throw them onto the nearby conveyor belt, which will carry them back into the building.  For some reason that kills them.  Or maybe they just had to go back to their jobs.  Either way, it gets them to stop whipping you, which is all that you’re really trying to accomplish.

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One of the ‘sexy’ whip ladies is thrown onto the conveyor belt, taking her back inside the warehouse where she will have to return to work.

The next few levels take you through a forest and eventually you enter the gang’s secret base. Like all street gang hideouts, it’s inside of a mountain, with gold walls and elaborate sculptures.  There are also spike pits, which sort of clashes with the rest of the décor but is effective for keeping away stray animals. Inside, you find your girlfriend suspended from a peg in wall by a rope around her waist. Clearly this gang has kidnapped her to decorate the wall.

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You then fight The Machine Gun Guy (according to the makers of the game, his name is Jeff; but he will always be known as The Machine Gun Guy to arcade-goers everywhere), who apparently only brought 5 bullets, because he’s much more interested in hitting you over the head with his gun than shooting you. Upon defeating him, if you are playing with 2 players, Spike and Hammer… err… Billy and Jimmy decide that they’re done sharing a girlfriend and fight each other. After this, the woman magically frees herself from the wall and hugs the winner. After all, no mere rope can restrain the love women feel for a guy who looks like he’s the singer from Tears for Fears.

It’s also worth mentioning that while this festival of ass-kickery is going on, some of the best music ever used in a video game is playing.

As much as I’d like to say that the game is perfect, the fighting system in Double Dragon is a bit flawed. You only have a few moves at your disposal, and the only one that is really effective is the “elbow punch”, which only hits people behind you.  The whole game becomes a weird routine of walking up to an enemy, turning your back to him, and then trying to elbow him before he caves in the back of your head with a bat. Your next most effective move is a headbutt, which actually hits people in front of you, but is performed by double tapping forward, which is tricky to time correctly. Most of the time you just end up jerkily walking toward your opponent while he pummels you in the face.  Not so good.

Aside from that, the only real flaw I have ever seen with Double Dragon is that it gives us a tantalizing, yet unattainable, glimpse into a world far more perfect than our own.  Is that such a crime?

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“OH YEAH!!!” shouts one of the giant guys as he bursts through the wall, realizes he isn’t wearing his Kool-Aid Man suit, and starts beating up your character to hide his embarrassment.

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Eliminations in Brief 7/29/09

Our company actuaries came back to us and explained that if we kept up our current pace, we’d finish up this project right around the time Stryker’s kids were done with school.  So we decided to pick up the pace a bit and bring back the one-sentence eliminations.  So today these 10 games leave the contest:

Thunder Force II – What’s the point of playing a game that’s similar to Sinistar, except there’s no evil robot voice shouting “Run Coward!” every few seconds?  That’s like eating a chocolate cake with no frosting.

Tecmo Super Hockey – Fails to live up to the standards of gritty realism we’d come to expect after playing Tecmo Super Bowl.

Gaiares – Note to developers:  If the amount of time it takes to watch the intro is about 10 times as long as the amount of time spent playing the actual game before the player gets bored, light the game on fire and try again.

Elemental Master – I’m a little rusty on my mythology, but I don’t remember the four basic elements being Suck, Frustration, Ugly, and… Crabs?

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Forgotten Worlds – This game isn’t doing much to help me remember them.

Alisia Dragoon – It’s nice to have a game that does all the aiming for you, so you don’t have to worry about all that “trying” nonsense that other games force you to do.

Arcus Odyssey – Answers the age old question “What if a bunch of people who suck at making games tried to reinvent Gauntlet?”

Smash TVYeah, we tried doing that – the game still wasn’t any fun and now we can’t watch Ghost Hunters.

Dinosaurs For Hire If you’re having trouble trying to figure out what’s not to like about a game with gun-toting dinosaurs fighting an army of ninjas, try coming back after you turn 11.

Two Crude Dudes – It doesn’t take long before you get sick of doing their Two Crude Moves over and over.

Weaponlord

Brad: Weaponlord is yet another Genesis fighting game that, despite a half-hearted effort to compensate, ultimately requires you to have a 6 button controller.  On top of that, they decided to throw a drastically different control scheme at you.  Thanks, Namco!  Maybe while you’re at it, you could come up with a few more ways to make this game unnecessarily complicated – perhaps figure out a way to reverse the audio and video so that the screen displays color patterns that represent sounds while my speakers broadcast a narrator describing what’s going on in the fight.

Weaponlord000What the hell?  Did you just throw a ghost at me?

Look, there’s a lot about Weaponlord to like – great animations and backgrounds, good AI, solid character designs.  And if you’re willing to sink several hours into getting the hang of the gameplay, the fighting system is quite deep and nuanced.  But the flip side is that most of the other top Genesis fighting games – Street Fighter 2, Fatal Fury 2, Samurai Showdown, etc. already have everything Weaponlord has, do it better, and don’t require a college-level training course to get the hang of.  And some of them even play adequately with just the standard 3-button Genesis controller.

In other words, playing Weaponlord is kind of like learning to drive a stick shift car after being raised on automatics – it’s frustrating at first, you’ll stall out all the time, and you’ll look like an idiot to casual observers who don’t realize how hard it is.  But if you stick with it, eventually you’ll get the hang of it, feel slightly superior to everyone else who can’t do it, and might even be able to impress your friends.  Become proud enough of this achievement, and you may even find yourself swearing that you’ll never go back to the old way.

In the end though, you’re still using the car for all the same things you would be if it were an automatic, without much in the way of additional benefit for all that extra effort.

Stryker: I think Brad’s onto something with his car analogy, but I’d argue that Weaponlord is more like a car that you steer with your feet and control the speed with your hands.  It’s a pointless change that gets passed off as innovation, but in the end, isn’t really any better than the way we’re used to, and might even be worse.  No thanks.  And while it was kind of a cool idea to work the fatalities in to be part of combos… who gives a rat’s ass about fatalities anymore?

Weaponlord002

Winner gets to live in that gigantic – whatever the hell that is – in the background.

I also don’t buy into the idea that it’s somehow impossible make a deep, interesting fighting game with only a 3-button controller.  These folks (well, this company anyway) went on to make Soul Calibur after all.

Mr. Do!: Hey Weaponlord fans,  I’ll start listening to your lame arguments about how great this game is when you can find something to talk about other than how awesome the fucking fatalities are.

Trouble Shooter

Brad: Finally, a game that fulfills your fantasies about 2 Japanese schoolgirls.  No, I mean the other one where they fly around and shoot things… What?  Why are you looking at me like that?

Trouble Shooter002

…and it makes filling out job applications take FOREVER.

Stryker: Technically, Crappy Shooter would have been a more accurate title.  But I suppose that wouldn’t have been as marketable.  Then again, if you’re going to lie, why not call the game Awesome Kickass Adventure That Has Nothing to Do With Flying Teenage Girls?  I might have wanted to play that game.

Galahad

Brad: This was another game that we only had the cartridge for, so everything we know about the its story came from playing it.  As far as I can tell, Sir Galahad is on a quest to retrieve miscellaneous items that the other knights carelessly discarded throughout the land.  Every level seemed to be a matter of going to one place, grabbing an item, and carrying it to the other side of the level.  Generally, I’m not real big on the storylines in video games, but if you expect me to play through a knock-off of Ninja Gaiden with bad level designs and tons of cheap damage, I’m going to need a little more motivation than “Hey, go pick up the junk we left laying around.”

Galahad001

And pick up my prescriptions while you’re out.

Stryker: A popular misconception about the Knights of the Round Table is that they were always off on quests to slay dragons or find the Holy Grail or some shit.  That’s just a bunch of made-up nonsense to sell children’s books.  The real knights ran around in basketball shorts doing errands for a chick with green hair, usually while being attacked by birds.  And the countryside was littered with spikes.  Thanks for finally setting the record straight, Galahad.

Galahad004Ok, so I guess now Galahad is a samurai.  Super.  At least the dragon looks happy.

Mr. Do!: I took me an hour to get through the first level because I couldn’t figure out that you’re supposed to press the down direction on the control pad to enter the cave.  Seriously, who uses the down button for that?

Battle Master

Blending genres always seems like an appealing idea – I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of an RPG where you get to fight the battles, or a strategy game where your troops level up – but it really only works if you’re mixing together elements of good games.  So when Battle Master combines aspects of a really bad RPG with a really bad strategy game and puts that into the framework of a really bad action game, the end product is, not surprisingly, really bad.  It’s sort of like buying an expired cake mix from the dollar store, and then substituting the eggs and chocolate frosting with paint chips and used motor oil.  You can still call it a cake, but it’s probably going to crumble apart right away and taste like the inside of someone’s shoe.  Plus you’ll probably have to buy a new oven.

And that’s kind of what you get with Battle Master.  To be fair, I didn’t have to buy a new oven after playing it, but that’s really the only good thing I have to say, and come to think of it, that’s almost certainly the least demanding or relevant criteria I’ve ever applied to a game.  Judging it by the standards we normally apply to games produces less favorable results – the controls are slow and clunky, and the screen doesn’t really let you see enough to play it effectively as an action game.  Strategy-wise, the AI is completely braindead, lacking even the most rudimentary pathfinding abilities, and shouting orders at the TV is every bit as effective as trying to command your troops within the game (assuming they haven’t all gotten stuck on a rock and left behind already).  It’s like commanding an army of the world’s dumbest kittens.  And the only elements of RPG gameplay that appear to be present are everyone’s favorites – inventory management, wandering around villages, and bad graphics.

Battle Master000

Oh, an unexpected, instant Game Over as punishment for… playing the game normally.  Thanks Battle Master!

Finally, Battle Master features one completely unforgivable (not to mention unnecessary) gameplay design choice – the inclusion of pit traps that appear without any warning at all and result in an instant game over.  There’s absolutely no excuse for that shit, and putting them in sends a pretty obvious message to the player – don’t bother getting too involved in this game, because we just plan on jerking you around the whole time.  At least they made that clear pretty early in the game.

So yeah, if you want to play a frustrating, slow, and hard to control action/strategy/RPG, give Battle Master a whirl.  It won’t break your oven.

Tiny Toon Adventures: ACME All-Stars

Brad: I just want to start by saying that a 3-on-3 combination soccer/basketball tournament sounds like enough fun that I’m kind of surprised they don’t have them in real life.  The soccer field would have to be a lot smaller obviously, but it sounds like fun.

Stryker: The game never explained why Buster and friends wanted to win the tournament so badly.  They never come off as the jock type in the cartoon show, so it’s kind of hard to imagine them getting so wrapped up in a sporting event.

Tiny Toons All-Stars001Hampton stands cluelessly under the net and gets ready to let Furball shoot uncontested.

Brad: I’m going to reach deep into my bag of favorite 80s movie clichés and assume that they need to win the tournament to get the prize money so that can save something from being bulldozed and turned into a golf course for the super-rich.  Maybe the Looniversity itself; although it wouldn’t make much sense that the school would host a sports tournament and put up the money it needs to survive as the grand prize.

Stryker: It’s possible that you’re putting too much thought into this storyline that you just completely made up and wasn’t actually part of the game to begin with.

Brad: Perhaps.  Either way though, they’re going to have their work cut out for them, going up against Montana Max.

Stryker: He’s the show’s top heel.  And he has money.  In fact, that’s the only thing they ever say about him in the theme song.

Brad: With all his money, he ought to be able to put together an all-star team of high-priced free agents.  Kind of like the New York Yankees.

Stryker: Except he’ll only sign them if they’re also villains.

Brad: Ok, so more like the Philadelphia Flyers, then.

Stryker: Luckily, the roster of Tiny Toons bad guys is kinda thin.  He’s got Dizzy Devil on the team, but that’s the only real big threat.

Brad:Aside from that his team was the skunk character who I don’t remember the name of, and Furball.  Was Furball even a bad guy?

Stryker: According to the song, “Furball’s unlucky.”  I don’t know that it makes him a bad guy, though.

Brad:Are you looking these up, or do you just know the Tiny Toons song by heart?

Stryker: I… um… shut up.

Brad: Anyway, a backcourt of a skunk and alley cat isn’t going to score you a lot of points, even if one of them gets to spend most of the game being guarded by Hampton.

Stryker: Speaking of which, maybe I’m expecting a bit much out of a Tiny Toons sports game, but it seemed like nobody  knew how to play defense.  Basketball especially – I don’t know if anybody could prevent a fast break.

Brad: Yeah, and you can’t leave Buster Bunny alone under the hoop the whole game and expect to win.  He’ll eat you up.

Tiny Toons All-Stars002

Stop it!  Two of you are participating in this game.  This is why nobody takes women’s sports seriously.

Stryker: At least whatever they lacked in defensive know-how, they made up for in cheating.  At one point, Dizzy turned into a tornado and wiped out two of my guys to set up an easy lay-up.  How’s that legal?

Brad: Two of my soccer goals came by knocking down the goalie and then kicking the ball into the open net.  The rest of the time I spent tripping whoever had the ball, while the computer did the same to me.  This was a lot dirtier than I expected for a Tiny Toons game, and probably not a great way to teach kids sportsmanship.

Stryker: I’ve seen prison soccer games that were cleaner than this.

Brad: No you haven’t.

Stryker: It was in a movie.  On the Spanish channel.

Brad: You don’t watch the Spanish channel.

Stryker: I was at a Mexican restaurant.

Brad: Anyway, the low point of the cheating had to be in between games when Montana Max actually ran one of the other players over with a car.  Now that’s a rivalry – even Michigan and Ohio State never go Car-Fu on each other.

Tiny Toons All-Stars005

Tiny Toons All-Stars006

Montana Max is a student of the Marshawn Lynch School of driving.

Stryker: And it wasn’t all cartoony, either.  Not like when Elmer shoots Daffy at point blank range and spins his beak around.  This actually looked kind of like a real hit and run.

Brad: I guess the equivalent would be if Elmer blew Daffy’s head clean off… or maybe not so cleanly.

Stryker: Could you imagine that happening in real life?  Like two players from the Washington Redskins are walking into the stadium and suddenly, out of nowhere – BOOM!  Jerry Jones drives up and nails one of them with his car?

Brad: Hmm…  the more I think about it, the only part of that I find hard to believe is Jerry Jones driving his own car.  The rest actually seems pretty feasible to me.

Stryker: So anyway, what did you think of the game?

Brad: It was ok, but got old pretty fast.  The whole “no defense” thing made it pretty repetitive, and the only thing that kept the soccer games reasonable was the presence of super goalies, which isn’t much fun.

Stryker: Not the best Tiny Toons game, not the best arcade basketball game, and not the best dirty soccer game.  FIFA ’95 is a lot more fun and comes with a “shove” button.  Mediocre times three still equals mediocre.  Let’s get rid of it.

Brad: Agreed.