It seemed like the best timing for this review since Double Dragon IV is about to release. I’m excited to try it! Also, like many others, I always thought Super Double Dragon was supposed to be the fourth installment in the franchise. It makes a lot more sense now though, especially when I realized that this entry was actually meant to be a reboot and reimagining of the first game with a fresh look and much more experience now in dealing with creating games for consoles under Technos’ belts. The Japanese version was even given the title The Return of Double Dragon and this was the first game not somehow based off of an arcade port. With all of that considered, it sounds like this Super Nintendo exclusive should have knocked it out of the park. There are a few issues though…
Released in 1992, for some reason this game felt slower to many people than previous entries on the NES. This aspect doesn’t bother me, and I wonder how much slower the action actually is, or if it is just in moving across the stage, or possibly just certain animations. It is tough to tell, but many say this is what keeps them from enjoying the game. This one plays similarly to the originals, but the team attempted to focus more on ground combat in this time around, though I still found myself jump and spin kicking a lot for hairy situations. The weapons are here of course, powerful as ever, and it is stupid that the Lee brothers can’t catch the boomerang on its return in the American version. The biggest additions are a super meter that must be filled for various special moves and the ability to block, which if successful can lead to a counter attack. All of this will be needed though, as combat can be difficult here.
Hit detection is a problem, creating a lot of unregistered attacks, and being especially frustrating when the player actually gets too close to the enemy, as both sprites will stand on top of each other punching randomly with neither connecting. I would do this on purpose sometimes just to make sure the sword wielding assailants couldn’t slash me while I took out one of their friends. It’s incredibly easy to get surrounded if special moves aren’t applied well and the bad guys have dangerous combos that can be devastating. The North American version did not have an options menu, so there was no way to adjust the difficulty setting. Crowd control is much easier with two players and that mode honestly makes things a more fun overall experience.
Those are the big problems with the title—all gameplay issues, but that will hurt when there isn’t anything more to the game. It drops players right in the mix, immediately having enemies with ill intent marching towards them and the fighting never stops. No intro at all. Not even our old simplistic favorite of Marian getting punched in the stomach and kidnapped or shot. Where is she in this one, now that I think about it? Why is the ending only one paragraph of text when there wasn’t a story at any point? Okay, so there are some other problems with this one, but thankfully, I found some answers to these questions.
The game was extremely rushed due to Technos’ financial issues. The company knew it was in dire straights and wanted to get games out to make as much money as possible, so the focus was put on a finished, or at least ready to ship, game versus one with content and a bit more substance. Everything from option menus, extra stages, and even story cutscenes were left out to save time for the American release. Marian herself was originally planned to be a big part of the game, rumored to have been a playable character in early planning, but she was at least supposed to be in the story as a policewoman, investigating the nefarious gang—quite the upgrade considering her past in the series. Technos has resorted to outsourcing parts of their games to outside teams in the past, which could be partially to blame for some of this, and the U.S. sales were low due to a strong lack of media coverage for the title—probably because the money just wasn’t there—and the simple fact that there were better games coming out around that time. The Japanese version of the game is the superior one because they had more time with it and added back in a lot of the things I just mentioned and more. As an added bonus though, no need to know the language to play it.
Yeah, that is a lot of negative, but let me talk about the look of the game. Graphics and colors were good, and the sprites were just fine. I really enjoyed the various stages and how they were shown, with them rarely feeling too boring, but I do think a lot of creative opportunity was wasted. I enjoy the energetic and fun music, but it also just feels a little bit below the line of just really good, as the franchise has produced much better in other titles. I never claimed that this was the best installment in the Double Dragon series, I think like most, that part two wins that distinction, but there was always something that drew me to this one and made me call it my personal favorite. I’m a bit torn now though. I’m playing through it yet again and still enjoy what I’m doing, but the flaws are much more pronounced then I had remembered. I may have to blame nostalgia or lack of experience for this one, but I would still recommend it, just not as anyone’s introduction into a series with such a strong legacy in the genre.