Does anyone else agree with me that Super Double Dragon for the SNES is a very underrated game? Why is it that this game isn't referred to very often by fans of the beat 'em up genre? Is it just me that doesn't hear people praise this game? Instead, more accolades are given to the Streets of Rage series, the Final Fight series, and even Battletoads & Double Dragon, which in my opinion are all inferior to Super Double Dragon.
Don’t get me wrong though. All of those titles are among my top favorite games. They all resonated with me and really shaped my sensibilities towards the genre. I just feel that Super Double Dragon isn't given the credit that it probably deserves. It usually isn't even mentioned in the same sentence with those series. This isn't intended to be a rant, but rather an open question. Do other beat 'em up fans see this game as a pillar of the genre, or am I blinded by my own fanaticism?
In the year 1992, Double Dragon saw its debut on a 16-bit console. The series had a strong following in the 8-bit era, (except for Double Dragon III) and was seeking continued success on the SNES. The series was in need of redemption after the big letdown that Double Dragon III was. Mission accomplished, because Super Double Dragon delivered. It still remains my second favorite video game of all time. I can remember when my parents got it for me on my 6th birthday. To this day, it remains one of the best birthday presents I have ever received. Everything about it was great. The controls were innovative and way ahead of their time. The music was exceptional and on par with the great soundtracks found in the first two Double Dragon games. The graphics were sharp and uncluttered and most importantly, the combat was satisfying.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of beat ’em ups of its time, Super Double Dragon utilized nearly every button on the SNES controller, rather than the standard jump and attack buttons which were prevalent in other games of the genre. In Super Double Dragon, you weren't hampered by a predetermined combo of punches that occurred by tapping one button in succession, which most other games of its kind utilized. Instead you were able to kick, punch, grapple and jump, all independently, thus giving you the option to string together your own choice of attacks. In addition to the many various attacks, there were several other moves which you could perform from within a grapple. You could throw knees, punches, and toss your opponents over your head, just like in previous Double Dragon games. Word of caution. As fun as it is to throw enemies in Double Dragon games, if you throw a Roper or Williams in this game, they'll throw a temper tantrum and come at you with roid rage.
You also had to ability to kick backwards while in a grapple, but it was largely ineffective, since most enemies wouldn't get close enough to be hit. Holding the shoulder buttons while fighting, modified some of your attacks. If you held a shoulder button and pressed punch, you would throw a spinning back fist. If you held a shoulder button and pressed kick, you would throw a small spinning kick.
There was one feature in particular which allowed you to charge up power, via the shoulder buttons. If you were able to successfully charge up your power all the way, an angry mode would ensue. When in this angry mode, you experienced superhuman strength, enabling you to send enemies flying with kicks and punches. This game also included the infamous hurricane kick. In order to perform that, you would fill your power meter anywhere between 50%-99% and press one of the face buttons. There was also a secondary method of grappling which you initiated by timing a block with an incoming enemy punch. If timed right, you entered a slightly different grapple, which contained slightly different moves. All of these control innovations, made for a simple yet relatively deep control scheme. This level of freedom and versatility, opened up the possibilities and prevented combat from becoming stale. To me, this was one of the most pivotal features of this game and one that separated it from the pack.
The introduction of many new weapons was a welcome addition. Some of the series staples were present, like the knives, the bombs and the barrels. The new weapons to bludgeon your enemies with were nunchucks, a staff , a punching bag, a boulder and a boomerang, which was virtually useless. The nunchucks were by far the best weapon in the game. They had both speed and power. The staff was pretty good too, but it had shorter range and was slower to strike with than the nunchucks. The punching bag and the boulder only appear in one level each, but they are pretty powerful. The boomerang is a joke and should be avoided at all times. It will more than likely hurt you more than it will hurt your enemies. You can't catch it after you throw it and the amount of damage it does is pathetic. It's not worth the risk of wielding it.
Enemy design was another strong point in this game. The characters in this game had more of a lifelike look to them, rather than the cartoonish, disproportioned models we were accustomed to from the 8-bit Double Dragon games. Unfortunately that realism came at a cost, as there was no place for Abobo’s exaggerated character design in this game. A Double Dragon game doesn't feel complete without this guy in it.
Abobo’s absence notwithstanding, this was a really good looking game. Levels were well drawn and diverse and character animations were fluid and realistic. Some of the more interesting levels took place in a casino, the jungle, atop a moving truck and in an underground lair.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for some people, this game didn't include any of the challenging platforming segments found in the first two Double Dragon games. I'll admit, the platforming elements in those games could be hair-pullingly frustrating, but I think this game would have benefited from some type of platforming sections, to keep things novel.
Getting back to graphics a little bit, apart from good enemy design, enemy variety was also above average for it's time. You would see recycled character models throughout the game, but new characters were introduced gradually enough that you didn't quickly become bored fighting too many of the same enemies. Also, enemy clothing, skin and hair colors were regularly changing, which helped to alleviate monotony. Here's a list of all the characters in the game. Some of these names were taken from the manual and some are nicknames that I gave them when I was a kid.
From left to right: Hulk Hogan, Roper, Sword guys, Jeff, Suit guys, The Hoyts, Jackson, Fat Clown, Carlem, Duke.
I know I mentioned the music already, but it bears mentioning again. It is superlative, to say the least. The music in this game is not just among the best of the series, but among the very best of the entire Super Nintendo library. The tracks are energetic, catchy and pertinent to the ass kickings happening on screen. Some of the songs are remakes from the first Double Dragon, but the majority are new and original. Bottom line, these tracks will irrevocably occupy your subconscious mind, whether you like it or not. So will some of the sound effects. Such as the amusing sound the characters make when they die. It sounds like they are throwing up.
As good as this game was, it had it's faults. This game was far too easy, which was a rare complaint for games of this era. The enemies were just too dumb and weren't as aggressive or responsive as I would have liked. A lot of times, enemies would go too easy on you. For example, they wouldn't attack you from behind very much. It all too often allowed you to put an uninhibited beating on most enemies, without ever having to worry about an attack from behind. Enemies also didn't block nearly as much as they should have. Enemy attack patterns were too predictable as well, making their moves unacceptably easy to telegraph. You could usually guide enemies to take a certain route, so you always took the fight wherever you wanted it to go. Another exploit was being able to steer enemies into bombs. Overall, you just didn't feel challenged enough playing this game. My only other gripe was the fact that the game lacked a plot or even the most rudimentary form of a story line. It would have made the game a little more engaging to have some kind of narrative to follow. The absence of a plot fails to give a sense of meaning and urgency to all the fighting, which creates a bit of a disconnect for the player(s).
Despite some obvious flaws, the good still heavily outweighs the bad. This game still remains one of my most played video games. It's gratifying combat, killer soundtrack and entertaining coop always keeps me coming back for more. I have fond memories of playing two player coop with friends and family. It has an irresistible nostalgic charm and endless replay value. It's truly a timeless video game to me. This October marks the 20th anniversary of it's release. In my opinion, we still haven't seen a better Double Dragon game since. I've been wishing for a worthy sequel or remake for 17 years now, but still nothing. Hopefully all of this waiting will pay off someday.
Throughout this article, I have been referring to the US version, as that is the version I grew up playing. Truth is, the Japanese version is far superior. Considering this is Retro Junk, it would have been dishonest of me to write an article of a game that I only discovered a few years ago. If you are a fan of this game who has never played the Japanese version, you are doing yourself a disservice. Stop reading this and go play it right now. It is superior to the US version in every way. For one, it has improved enemy AI. Enemies have the ability to duck, in order to evade certain attacks. Enemies also tend to block a bit more, which is good. A difficulty setting was added, allowing you to play on easy, medium, or hard. However, even on hard, the game is unfortunately still too easy. There are a few new music tracks, which are just as good in quality as the rest of the existing tracks. I believe the only track missing is the stage one track, which in my opinion was the weakest and least memorable track anyway. Jimmy Lee's roundhouse kick has a slightly different animation and lastly, there is a bonus level, which technically isn't a new level of its own, but rather an extension of the final level. It all adds up to an even greater game than the US version. Seriously, give it a try.