The Game Boy Advance is not exactly lacking in ports of old NES and SNES games, so it is refreshing to see that with Double Dragon Advance, they decided to make it more of a re-imagining of the game than a true copy. However, while itís technically an original creation, it borrows heavily from the original Double Dragon arcade and NES games, and even has a bit of Double Dragon 2 near the end, so for those who were around for those classics, a lot is going to seem familiar. This is not bad in and of itself, but the decision on the programmersí part to include the same buggy gameplay as the originals seems misguided at best.
For the newer gamers and those who missed out on the previous games, Double Dragon is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, and the intrigue of the gameplay lies in the vast number of special moves possible. From flying knees to elbow jabs, the main characters have more moves than some one-on-one fighting game characters. In the case of Double Dragon Advance, the story mirrors that of the old arcade game. In a post-apocalyptic world where street gangs rule the city, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee run a quiet little dojo. Not appreciating the competition, gang leader Willy kidnaps Billyís girlfriend, Marion, in an effort to force them out of town. Billy and Jimmy donít stand for it, and take off to bust the heads of every single gang member in the city until they get her back. Itís just about the most clichť story in gaming, but because it is intended to copy the original, which was one of the first to do this story, it seems passable.
To start the game, you choose one of several game modes. If you choose the "Single-Player Dragon" mode, you play as Billy. If you have a friend with another game cartridge and the link cable, you can play the "Two-Player Double Dragon" mode, where one person plays as Billy and the other plays as Jimmy, and you fight your way through the levels simultaneously. A third, very disappointing mode, the "Single-Player Double Dragon" mode, lets one person control both Billy and Jimmy, alternating between the two with the select button. The character not being actively controlled simply stands there, being pummeled by anyone nearby. For the love of God, why didnít they at least attempt to give the non-controlled character some AI? The entire idea behind this mode just seems incredibly stupid. In fact, the only good thing I found with this mode is the fact that you can use it to play as Jimmy (kill Billy, and finish the game by yourself as the other brother. This is sadly the only way to play as Jimmy). Also available is a survival mode, where they put you in a room and make you tackle wave after wave of progressively more difficult enemies. Itís incredibly difficult without resorting to cheap tactics, but fun nonetheless.
Youíll find out very quickly that story mode is all about beating people up. As you scroll to the right (always moving in the one direction), youíll come across a variety of enemies looking to end your life. True to the seriesí roots, there is a variety of ways to dispatch them. From the hair grab to the jumping roundhouse, all the classic moves from the old games are here. A few new moves have also been added, such as the ability to stomp on downed opponents and a few dashing attacks. You can also pin just about anyone now, whereas in the old games, the bigger guys (like Abobo) couldnít be held down. Unfortunately, some of the old gamesí faults show up here as well. Itís quite easy to grab someoneís hair on accident, which is not good when youíre standing in a crowd of people, as you end up totally exposed. Clipping, hit detection, and move priority are also just as screwy here as they are in the classics, making me wonder why they didnít shoot for something more consistent in this update. Quite often it is simply easier to use the environment to "cheap" everyone to death. You can stand on top of a pile of boxes, and every time someone jumps up after you, you just kick them in the head before they have a chance to respond. Itís cheesy, but it beats getting knocked down every time you try to do a spin kick.
Thereís also a variety of weapons to use (and have used against you), but thereís so much apparent laziness in their design that they often arenít much fun to use, aside from the fact that they prevent you from accidentally doing the hair grab move. The baseball bat and axe both work identically, which makes no sense at all. It looks like your character hits them with the side of the axe, because he swings it the same as the bat but with the graphic changed. The whip and mace are the same situation, with identical animation and swapped weapon graphics. The nunchucks and kali sticks are also very similar, but at least the animation is changed a little. As you can see, thereís really only about half as many weapons as there initially appears. Also, as a side note, the enemies have an unfair advantage with the dynamite. It has a timer before it explodes, but for the enemies, it resets whenever they pick it up and explodes instantly if they hit you with it directly.
The enemies are fairly varied for this type of game, and include not only all of the old ones, but a few new faces as well. There are obvious "agent" clones from the move "The Matrix," complete with their "Morpheus"-clone miniboss, as well as a big, fat "Road Warrior" reject who melts when he dies. Thereís also a samurai who I donít remember seeing in a previous Double Dragon game. The problem with the enemies isnít so much the lack of them, however, as it is the lack of variety in each oneís attacks. Many enemies only have one or two attack animations, making them extremely predictable. For example, the new samurai guy has one move where he slashes with his sword, a move that interrupts your moves with a knockdown, and... THATíS IT. The bosses are a bit better, especially later in the game, but the basic grunts are pathetic.
Of course, all of these gameplay problems, from the goofy fighting to the limited enemy attacks, are exactly like the old Double Dragon games. Itís a good thing to remain faithful to the classic version, but are these things you really want to imitate?
One thing they didnít carry over from the original NES version though is the way you used to learn moves. In the old version, you earned points for each blow you landed, and the points went toward learning new kinds of attacks. You didnít have your full repertoire until near the end of the game. In Double Dragon Advance, you start out with all of your moves available to you. While itís nice to have everything at the start, the somewhat RPG-ish nature of the old game provided something to work toward. Not to mention, the spinning roundhouse feels much more impressive when youíve been working the majority of the game to get it. I know it would suck to have limited usage of your best moves, and I also know that the majority of Double Dragon games simply started you off with everything, but it seems like an update to the NES classicís system could have been great. Maybe when you earned enough points toward new moves, you could decide which attack to spend them on, that way you could get your favorite moves earlier. All Iím saying is that there was potential there, and it wasnít met.
The graphics are generally good all around, with some spiffy new cutscenes between levels that add to the story a bit. The level designs are varied, and while some are identical to the classics, some are all new, but they all at least maintain the spirit of the original. The characters have all been given a graphical upgrade, making them look similar to the arcade version of Double Dragon or better, though the number of frames per animation is sometimes a bit low. The sound is similar to the arcade gameís as well, with some classic tunes returning and a few new ones that provide the same general mood. The presentation of the game is not particularly ambitious in any sense, but what it does do is recreate the look, sound, and general feel of the classic Double Dragon very authentically while updating it enough to prevent offending younger GBA gamers weaned on Metroid Fusion and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.
Your enjoyment of Double Dragon Advance will most likely depend quite heavily on how much you enjoyed the previous games in the series, assuming youíve played them. Having played the NES Double Dragon countless times (and I mean I played it a LOT), I can say that I really enjoyed the game. Itís just like playing the old version again, but with enough new things and changes to keep it interesting. But for people new to the series, I could easily see them complaining about the cheapness that is the cause of more than half of their deaths, the choppy animation, the lame story, the lazy weapon design, and the fifteen different versions of the same character (Abobo, green Abobo, gray Abobo, mohawk Abobo, giant afro AboboÖ). If a game has flaws, it is inherently a flawed game, but if they are the flaws you grew up with and are used to, they donít seem so bad.
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