Review: Double Dragon Advance (Game Boy Advance)


Double Dragon Advance
Genre: Side Scrolling Beat ‘Em Up
Platform: GBA
ERSB Rating: T
Developer: Million
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 11/11/03
Website: Double Dragon Advance

Wow. Doing this review brings back a lot of memories. Can you believe this was once one of the biggest franchises in all video gaming. That people would crowd around an arcade waiting to play Technos’ classic button masher? That the series would be done by SNK, by RARE, and by Capcom before coming to rest at my beloved Atlus? Yes, Double Dragon has been passed around like a cheap whore at a gang bang, but it’s still able to bring fond memories to the minds and hearts of long time gamers.

I can’t really say what makes this game such an aging alternative icon in the realm of video gaming. That’s like asking why SMASH TV brings back such found memories or why people can still prefer Mortal Kombat 2 to Soul Calibur 2 of Virtua Fighter. Some games just catch the zeitgeist and become popular beyond any understanding, even if they are a really good game. And then of course there are games like Tomb Raider and FF8 that are purchased by millions even though they’re only good for wiping your ass with.

But Double Dragon has survived tons of incarnations, from a horrible movie, to a decent cartoon for a few years, to a 2D KoF style fighter to even a team up with BATTLETOADS! BATTLETOOOOOOOOOADS! Sorry. Remember that above comment I just made about some games being classics? Yeah. Go play Battletoads after you read this. Trust me. BATTLETOADS!

We now return to our regularly scheduled review.

I know Liquidcross and I have been waiting anxiously for this game to come out. The only problem is of course the fact that Atlus 1) barely ever markets anything so people don’t know it’s out and 2) ship such small quantities of their games to stores so that no one but fanatics ever get to try their games, as they’re scooped up as quickly as the store gets them. When I bought it on Saturday the guy at EB looked at me and said seriously, ‘Wow! Double Dragon’s on the Game Boy? KICK ASS!’ So Atlus, please…PLEASE learn to market. You have River City Ransom and Shining Soul 2 coming out soon. And these are games that need a lot of public attention. If River City Ransom doesn’t sell like hot cakes, I may have to go a whole month without praising Persona. Yeah, you heard that correctly Atlus. Now go make some Magazine ads for RCR.

I keep getting distracted from this review, don’t I? So let’s stop delaying the inevitable and talk about some DOUBLE DRAGON MADNESS.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Okay, it’s many years in the future after a Third World War has devastated the Earth. How it still exists without crazy mutants running amok is beyond me, but this game was made in 1987 after all. There are no governments or law of any kind. There is only Anarchy. On the outskirts of New York city, there is a dojo run by the Lee brothers. There they teach a martial art known as Sou-setsu-ken. It is primarily for defense and protection. Both Lees are supposedly pacifists by nature, even if their entire game is one massive ass-kicking. They stand in direct odds with the gang mentality that populations the Big Apple, but as they are the keepers of the sacred book containing all the secrets of their martial art, they are left in peace.

Then one day the dangerous ‘Machine Guy Wily’ and his gang kidnaps Marian (Cue your Sisters of Mercy up baby!) and demands the book in exchange for the babe. And of course being pacifists, the two go on an ass-kicking spree of such violence not seen since Tiananmen Square.

Okay that’s a bit of a logic gap, but it’s the days past the bomb. Only a few centuries before monkeys take over the world! And violence is the golden rule now. So it does make sense.

And that was all the plot you’d ever get in the old game. Thugs steal your moll. Go get some revenge by smacking them with knives and headbutts. Now however, Million has added some cut scenes between levels with some nice graphics, but the plot takes on a holier than thou theme with a picture of the boss you just beaten badly smacked around and saying ‘I’d have gotten that book if it wasn’t for you pesky kids…and your incredible knowledge of the martial arts.’ And Billy and Jimmy saying ‘Martial Arts is not about violence. It is about the spirit and the soul.’ Which is easy for them to say after they’ve mauled literally hundreds of people to get their lady back.

And of course if you’ve ever played Double Dragon in two player mode, you know the swerve you’ll get at the end. Which again, completely makes no sense considering the kind and good nature of the Lee clan. Of course this does just further show that evil that is women and that if you treat them as anything other than objects, you’ll just get stabbed in the back about as many times as you would be if you were a pothead in a Jason Voorhees movie. KIDDING! KIDDING! But yeah, this game does give the impression that women are the root of all evil.

For its age, the story behind Double Dragon hasn’t held up that well. Things are far more sophisticated these days. But Million and Atlus have done there best to add more to the plot by adding aforementioned cut scenes and a prologue and epilogue. And they deserve some kudos for trying to update the plot, while leave the engine relatively alone. Good for them. But in the end, it’s still lacking in the plot. But then, we never played Final Fight for gripping speeches and thought provoking dialog either…

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics.

For all intents and purposes the game looks pretty much like it did back in the arcades back in 1987. Hold on. Keep reading younger gamers. See, Double Dragon blew everyone away with its graphics. And even today I find Double Dragon better looking than a lot of new games. All the characters have received a graphical update, but the big roided up muscle men, the chicks with whips, Machine Gun Wily, they all still look very much like they did back before Bush the First took office. The backgrounds are plush and vibrant. It really does seem as if you’re walking through an evil forest of doom, or on top of a Semi that is nigh impossible to stay on top of…

The cut scenes are very good for 32 bit graphics. Both characters do in fact take after the cartoon versions of Jimmy and Billy in terms of appearance now, but I actually think that’s a nice touch.

For a GBA game, the old school graphics are still as impressive as they ever were, and the bonus addition of the new painting style cut scenes just add to the fun. A bonus treat I wasn’t expecting. Anytime 15 year old graphics can stand the test of time, it’s a classic.

Graphics Rating: 9/10

3. Sound

God, I love the Double Dragon music. Especially the opening theme. Brilliant, face paced and is just the right mush to button mash too. Again, I’m impressed Million didn’t f*ck with the winning combination Technos came up with when they originally designed the game.

My personal favorite tune in #11 aka Fight of Fate. (BGM mode is unlockable when you beat the game in normal mode BTW) It’s cheesy, and hokey, and yet fun to smash things too. Like Tenchi Universe’s English theme: You can’t understand why you like it so much, you just do.

The Castle Stage music is almost Castlevania in intonation. It reminds me of SOTN whenever I hear it. And that’s a very good thing in terms of quality. After all, when have you EVER heard anyone bash SOTN’s soundtrack.

The music to Double Dragon is good enough that I’m listening to all the songs while writing this review. And it’s neither a distraction or a bother. It’s just great tunes.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control

Ouch. Well, there’s always a bad part. Can I just say to Million, next time you had a block feature to Double Dragon, MAKE SURE IT WORKS. When hitting the block button does nothing but make Billy look like a deer looking into the headlights of an oncoming car, well, it’s just annoying as f*ck. I tried it on both my GBA and my SP, and STILL the annoyance came.

Although it is really great to see a ton of new moves added to the DD game, and also new weapons, the game is still inherently, whoever hits first wins. And that can be very annoying at times, especially since most characters have a longer reach than you, and the newly added Agent Smith’s are faster. So at times you have to rely on the old Double Dragon standard. Run away, use the Misawa Roaring Elbow and repeat until dead. Cheesy as shit, but every single old school Double Dragon fan KNOWS what I’m talking about.

I was also happy to see new weapons added. When an AXE got thrown at me I was like holy crap! I also loved the addition of Staves and nunchaku, but you are so fast with them, that is you get either, the game might as well be set on easy mode unless enemies surround you and cheese the hell out of you.

Just remember though, that’s what the game was designed to be. Remember it’s an Arcade Beat ‘Em Up. You’re supposed to get your ass kicked by it so you can keep plugging quarters into the machine. Cheese is what helps you defeat the depletion of your wallet in these types of games.

It’s a lot of fun, and once you catch on to the fact the block ability only works when no one is around, you can just get down to pummeling people.

If you can stand games where you’ll end up doing the same move more times than you blink in a day, you’ll enjoy Double Dragon. If you’re masochistic enough to never use the dashing moves, you probably will get frustrated, but it’s still fun as hell. Just always remember that the game is either super easy or super hard depending on what moves/weapons you use and how many thugs are on the screen at once.

Control Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

Double Dragon can be beaten in under two hours. It’s a short smacking things around game. However, with 4 levels of difficulty, the game can be played quite a few times and still feel fresh You want to talk masochism. TRY EXPERT LEVEL. Sure, the computer can block. But can you? EVIL! You can also set your number of lives from 1 to 5 and your number of credits (Continues) from 0 to 10. If anyone can beat Expert with one life and no continues, you will officially be the god of all video gaming. Seriously. Mario will bend over and allow you to sodomize him if you can do this challenge.

What else is nice are that there are two new modes to play. The first is where you must play both Lee brothers at the same time. Yes. At the SAME TIME. Can we say hard? You hit the select button to switch guys. And while you’re beating the shit out of bad guys with one, your brother is standing around like Rain Man. It’s a great challenge. And it pisses me off to no end. But I love it.

The final mode is Challenge mode. You have one life. That’s it. And you must see how many bad guys you can beat up until your inevitable demise. My record is a pathetic 25. What can I say? I try not to use the elbow strike.

Million has added a few new touches, most of all is the customization, that allows you to maximize a game that wouldn’t be worse the 30$ price tag otherwise. It’s still short, but the added modes do help to justify the cost of the game.

Replayability Rating: 6/10

Balance

Heh. Haw. Snicker. Guffaw. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Whew. Let me catch my breath. I’m sorry. Am I supposed to cover balance? In a side-scrolling Beat ’em Up? That’s hilarious.

Come on people. This is a game where first punch wins. Where if you are corned, you might as well put the SP down until your life is gone. Where if you have a pair of Staves or chucks that the game might as welllet you move on to the next stage. Where Machine Gun Wily rarely fires his machine gun!

It’s a great game people. But don’t come looking for everything to be balanced. For the Block button to work. To be able to get out of situations when surrounded. For opponents to give you a challenge when wielding certain weapons. It’s either super easy or super hard, with no middle ground.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality
Heh. Nowadays it’s not going to stand out compared to other games that are out there. TONS of games have taken the format, style, and even the story of Double Dragon and warped it into something that hides the plagiarism.

But the thing is, 15 years later, people are still making games that WANT to be Double Dragon. That wish they could have the name recognition and fan base. That could make as much money as this game did. If a company has a game even HALF as successful as Double Dragon, it’s a hit. If a company has a game even compared to Double Dragon, it’s a big bit of flattery.

It’s a classic. It’s original as games get. It set trends, made millions, and set the gaming world ablaze back in 1987. If you honestly can’t appreciate it now that it’s on the GBA, you’ve got some real issues.

Give one of the greatest video games ever made a spin on your GBA or SP. It may be short, but there is a reason it’s called a classic.

Originality: 9/10

8. Addictiveness

You will play this game until you beat it. Oh yes. You will. Sure you will probably be a whiny sissy boy and shunt the difficulty down to 0, crank the max continues to 10 and lives to 5 each credit, but you won’t stop until you beat it. You will swear when you somehow miss the foot jump over a broken bridge, or slide off the truck to your doom not knowing how or why. But you will play. You will play and play and play and play. Just be glad it’s on a handheld instead of still in the arcade.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

Atlus is to be blamed for the lowered score on this. Double Dragon should be pimped like when Technos and Capcom had control of the franchise. But how many of you knew this was coming out aside from my “DOUBLE DRAGON!!!!!” occasional rants? Exactly.

God Damn It Atlus! I love you. But please learn to market! Hire Bryan Berg! He’s graduating soon. Bring me on as a consultant! It’s what I do for a living! This game has the ability to be loved by everyone with a GBA and who isn’t stupid enough to think ‘3D graphics roxxor!’

Double Dragon is a classic. It really is. But 2d graphics and side scrolling beat em ups are sadly what the casual fan no longer wants to see. They want 3-D heaving breasts. And this is why I casual gamers so. It’s called talking to women, not paying 50 bucks for pixilated electronic nipples.

Double Dragon is a game everyone should play? But will they? Thanks to bad marketing, and the current gaming obsession with graphics over gameplay…it’ll be in the bargain bin in six months. Fuck you all.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Double Dragon is not only the classic it once was, but Million has added a lot of new moves, weapons, graphics and modes to keep it feeling fresh and innovative. It would be nice to think this is the beginning of a Double Dragon Revival, but in truth it’s going to most likely be a one shot. I’m hoping I’m wrong though, as this game has enough meat in it to warrant a purchase. But then, how many places offer Game Boy rentals?

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Jesus, what is it with Atlus releasing great games that need to be played, only to having their final score brought down by bad marketing. First Shining Soul, then Demikids, now this. I might has well just slap a 6.5-7.0 rating on everything Atlus releases and have my reviews all say the same thing: A Great game that you need to try. Sure there are some big issues in regards to balance and the fact Atlus relies on only hardcore fans to get the word out, but it’s a game worth playing and seeing if it’s your thing.