Another of my favorite all time series is Double Dragon, and I don't think I'm the only one. The first two games in the series are at near legend status. Problem is when you have such a hit is that all sequels are invariably going to be compared poorly to it, hence the case with this particular game. This side scroller has a lot going for it, with decently sized, well animated characters and a lot of different techniques and combinations. But in the end it comes off pretty shallow.
You yet again choose to play as either Bill or Jimmy Lee of the Double Dragon duo. Unlike other entries in the series each brother actually has different graphics and attack animations. There is a wide array of different martial techniques in your disposal this time around. Each has a quick punch or kick auto combo that can be mixed up between the two. The generic jump kick can now be done off of walls (akin to a "triangle jump") and you can still bust hair pulls and shoulder throws and commandeer enemy weapons like knives, nunchucks, etc. Best of all you now have the ability to block which is something lacking in all other double dragon games, although this is as much of a curse as a blessing (more on that later.) The Hurricane kick special is still here, however now you have to charge it with the left and right buttons. When your special meter is full all attacks will do double their original damage. The ability to run which was added in Double Dragon III has been removed.
For the first time you can block an enemie's attack, and depending on who is attacking you will block the attack or trap the opponent's arm in this like Judo armbar type deal, whereupon subsequent punches or kicks will smack the living bejesus out of him. While you've got him trapped you can also punch and kick backwards to take out the slimebags trying to sneak up on you. This arm trap thing is pretty effective and just looks damn cool. Problem with this though is you have to time it just right, too soon and the guy just waits until your guard goes down and nails you.
But all is not right in Double Dragon land. The game is hard (Well, let me rephrase that. The game is hard until you learn how to play it right.) I'm never one to shy away from a challenge, but damn man. The computer is relentless, it will surround you and attack from both sides, hit you as you try to stand up, and do crap you can't defend against (like sliding kicks and such.) However the A. I. does follow a specific pattern that you begin to notice - a guy with a knife will always back off and throw it once you engage someone else, When you hair pull or arm trap a guy a different guy will attempt to jump kick you from behind, when all three attackers are on the same side of you one of them will forgo attacking and try to sneak around back of you, etc. Sometimes the A. I. can be pretty stupid - when a bad guy throws a boomerang at you he'll usually get hit with it on the return.
The thing that makes the game hard though is that each little generic dude takes one hell of a beating before they go down. There's no life meters for any of the enemies like in say Final Fight, so you have to estimate on who is about to drop and who isn't. You would think the maximum for a common enemy would be say three knock downs. You would be wrong. From the moment the game starts the Shadow warriors mob you and refuse to die without some major punishment. They just keep coming back, and the result of this is that the game ends up moving a lot more slowly than it should. So the only way you can effectively get through the game is by using the special moves, hurricane kicks, weapons, arm grabs, etc. This is fine (as that's what the game is supposed to be) but there should be more of a learning curve from the beginning.
Add to this that there isn't a lot of different enemy types in the game and it can get a little boring. In an 8-bit side scrolling fighting game you can get away with having five or six different bad guys and maybe some palette swaps. It's a running joke in these types of games that each gang is made up of clones or a huge family that all shops at the same clothing store. Here the dirtbags you beat down look good and are animated rather well, problem is there's like five of them, over and over, and actually there's less because one of them is a palette swap of you. So really you're fighting the same four guys over and over and over. Contrast this with Streets of Rage which came out before this and has like 17 different enemies. Speaking of enemy types, there's no returning characters from other Double Dragons games. No Willy the machine gun guy, no Linda the mohawk punk rocker chick, etc. Fine, we don't need them. But they made a fatal mistake in this game: No Abbobo. Umm, sorry. It's not a Double Dragon game without Abbobo.
Overall the game feels somewhat lacking. There's no story explained, no cinemas or cut scenes, no nothing. Apparently there was supposed to be cut scenes inbetween the levels but they were left out to get the game out on time. Ahh, so that explains it: The game was rushed. I thought so. Thus as a big fan of the series I feel it is my duty to tell you all to avoid this game and stick with the NES versions. This game has the graphics and technique down but is missing too many vital elements that make a game "fun."
Graphics: Outstanding. Very detailed and smoothly animated characters, good detail in the backgrounds. Some areas of the game have parallax going on but just enough to enhance the experience.
Sound: Generic side scrolling beat'em up rock music, the usual grunts and groans, nothing special.
Gameplay: Good fighting technique for the main characters, but sadly it's ruined by too tough generic enemies and slow moving gameplay. The lack of little touches like recurring characters or environmental hazards limits the experience.