An Estival ST Festival: Double Dragon & Double Dragon II

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Mento

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One of the phenomena I wanted to visit with this Atari ST retrospective is how Arcade "coin-op" conversions tended to translate. No 8-bit or 16-bit system was perfect when it came Arcade game conversions, mostly because the tech behind Arcade cabinets could evolve from game to game, while most home systems remained static for the five or so years of their average lifespan. Even so, the computer versions of these Arcade games were plagued with additional complications due to the fact that the ST joystick had a single button and most of the grunt work was performed by mercenary developers for UK/European publishers, who contracted the licenses for ST/Amiga/C64/ZX ports from their Japanese/US holders.

Double Dragon, a hugely influential brawler, was originally released in the Arcades by developers Technos Japan (who had already set a precedent for the side-scrolling brawler genre with their earlier Renegade) and publishers Taito in 1987. UK devs Binary Design, which would also develop the home computer version of Sega's Shinobi, had quite the task squeezing a two year old Arcade game onto four year old computer hardware. The result was... well, we'll see for ourselves in just a moment.

Because I didn't think Double Dragon alone was sufficient, I've thrown in its 1988 sequel (which also came out on the ST in 1989 courtesy of Binary Design): Double Dragon II: The Revenge. Oddly, that conversion fared a little better, at least graphically. (Usually I'd put the theme tunes here, but YouTube has failed me. You aren't missing much: Double Dragon's loops the first four seconds over and over until the game's loaded, at which point it plays the rest. Double Dragon II literally plays a small loop for about ten seconds as it loads the game and then stops. In both cases, there's absolutely no background music while playing. Instead, here's the classic original Arcade theme.)

Double Dragon

Welcome to Double Dragon! I think this title screen is probably the best part of this game, at least visually. It might've been the first time I saw kanji in any context, come to think of it.
Welcome to Double Dragon! I think this title screen is probably the best part of this game, at least visually. It might've been the first time I saw kanji in any context, come to think of it.
Once you get into the game, though... well. The backgrounds are all right, but those sprites...
Once you get into the game, though... well. The backgrounds are all right, but those sprites...
Everyone has these weird bowling ball faces. Although, you do get to see some blood in this game. Take that, Nintendo.
Everyone has these weird bowling ball faces. Although, you do get to see some blood in this game. Take that, Nintendo.
The elbow's still your best bet, but the way the controls work in this game makes both it and the other super move (the flying kick) tricky to pull off. If you hit the fire button, you get the basic punch. If you hit the fire button and hold a direction, you'll get a different move: if you hold fire and hit the direction away from you, you throw them 'bows. Fire and towards is the kick. Fire and down is the headbutt.
The elbow's still your best bet, but the way the controls work in this game makes both it and the other super move (the flying kick) tricky to pull off. If you hit the fire button, you get the basic punch. If you hit the fire button and hold a direction, you'll get a different move: if you hold fire and hit the direction away from you, you throw them 'bows. Fire and towards is the kick. Fire and down is the headbutt.
The grapple happens automatically if you're occupying the same space. It's a useful trick to just stand over an enemy until he gets back up for a free toss. Also, check out that face! Pixel art ain't easy.
The grapple happens automatically if you're occupying the same space. It's a useful trick to just stand over an enemy until he gets back up for a free toss. Also, check out that face! Pixel art ain't easy.
DD's Linda has her trademark whip here, but what's with the hair? I suspect she was modeled to look like Samantha Fox. (Feel free to GIS her, though I'd maybe suggest putting the SafeSearch on.)
DD's Linda has her trademark whip here, but what's with the hair? I suspect she was modeled to look like Samantha Fox. (Feel free to GIS her, though I'd maybe suggest putting the SafeSearch on.)
More goofy MS Paint faces as I grab Linda's whip and make use of it. Finding a weapon really makes this game a whole lot easier. Like, shockingly so. They'll tinker with the range these weapons have in the sequel.
More goofy MS Paint faces as I grab Linda's whip and make use of it. Finding a weapon really makes this game a whole lot easier. Like, shockingly so. They'll tinker with the range these weapons have in the sequel.
Everyone's favorite meathead Abobo is here too, albeit with a permanently concerned scowl and a fu manchu. I'm not entirely sure what's happening with his proportions either.
Everyone's favorite meathead Abobo is here too, albeit with a permanently concerned scowl and a fu manchu. I'm not entirely sure what's happening with his proportions either.
My favorite thing about fighting Abobo is that he just lies there when you knock him down; eyes wide open, contemplating his mortality. Like he just talked to the guy in Radiohead's
My favorite thing about fighting Abobo is that he just lies there when you knock him down; eyes wide open, contemplating his mortality. Like he just talked to the guy in Radiohead's "Just" music video. Didn't think this version of the game would make you feel for Abobo, did you?
Abobo's African-American cousin is a little more active, though just as worried. It's like none of this really matters, deep down. Also, that cat is chilling so hard it's absorbing the light around it.
Abobo's African-American cousin is a little more active, though just as worried. It's like none of this really matters, deep down. Also, that cat is chilling so hard it's absorbing the light around it.
After defeating the final enemy on a stage, it suddenly desaturates artfully. A single rose falls onto the storm drain, and Abobo turns to the camera and asks simply
After defeating the final enemy on a stage, it suddenly desaturates artfully. A single rose falls onto the storm drain, and Abobo turns to the camera and asks simply "Pourquoi?"
The second stage opens with one of my favorite features: a big hole to knock enemies down. Of course, you're also setting yourself up for ruin. Anyway, I think that's probably enough Double Dragon to... wait a moment.
The second stage opens with one of my favorite features: a big hole to knock enemies down. Of course, you're also setting yourself up for ruin. Anyway, I think that's probably enough Double Dragon to... wait a moment.
OK, this ass shot is definitely where we should be ending our look at Double Dragon. It's largely the same as the Arcade version, though a few liberties have been taken as you can see.
OK, this ass shot is definitely where we should be ending our look at Double Dragon. It's largely the same as the Arcade version, though a few liberties have been taken as you can see.

Though awkward in many respects, the heart and soul of Double Dragon still exists here. It's not the home version I'd recommend everyone rush out and buy, but I found it serviceable enough as a kid, to the extent that I still remember how the infinite continues cheat works. (You and a friend both die with one continue left, and then hit the respawn button simultaneously. The counter freaks out trying to allot the one remaining continue between the two of you and adds on another 255. If you were wondering.)

It might just be I'm giving the complexity of Double Dragon a little too much credit. Anyway, onto the second:

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Welcome to Double Dragon! Too! Like that Kavinsky calligraphy on
Welcome to Double Dragon! Too! Like that Kavinsky calligraphy on "The Revenge" there.
So what's immediately apparent with this one is the amount of extra attention they spent on the sprites. They all animate a lot better, and there's more to distinguish the individual enemies. That guy's literally cartwheeling into shot.
So what's immediately apparent with this one is the amount of extra attention they spent on the sprites. They all animate a lot better, and there's more to distinguish the individual enemies. That guy's literally cartwheeling into shot.
He's still doing it. This is how you know the Black Warriors mean business this time.
He's still doing it. This is how you know the Black Warriors mean business this time.
The game's also considerably easier to control for whatever reason, which means I can pull of flying kicks like there's no tomorrow.
The game's also considerably easier to control for whatever reason, which means I can pull of flying kicks like there's no tomorrow.
I especially like the new looks for Roper and Linda. They're almost Arcade-perfect, which is a big boost from last time. Feels like the depth of field has been reduced to make room for all these big sprites though.
I especially like the new looks for Roper and Linda. They're almost Arcade-perfect, which is a big boost from last time. Feels like the depth of field has been reduced to make room for all these big sprites though.
The
The "go this way hand" is female in this game. I'm glad even the indicators are getting equal gender representation.
This guy is usually called O'Hara in Double Dragon ephemera (like Williams, there's a few enemies named for Enter the Dragon characters) but he kind of looks like Family Guy's Joe Swanson, but with working legs.
This guy is usually called O'Hara in Double Dragon ephemera (like Williams, there's a few enemies named for Enter the Dragon characters) but he kind of looks like Family Guy's Joe Swanson, but with working legs.
Burnov introduces himself by grabbing you from the edge of the screen and punching you in the face. The bosses in Double Dragon 2 don't mess around.
Burnov introduces himself by grabbing you from the edge of the screen and punching you in the face. The bosses in Double Dragon 2 don't mess around.
This game also introduced the Lee brothers falling to the ground dramatically whenever their health bars ran out. They seem really bummed out about it too. Poor guys.
This game also introduced the Lee brothers falling to the ground dramatically whenever their health bars ran out. They seem really bummed out about it too. Poor guys.
Burnov, naturally, vanishes like a Jedi after he is defeated. Wherever he is, he's in a better place. Without his pants. Best not to think about it.
Burnov, naturally, vanishes like a Jedi after he is defeated. Wherever he is, he's in a better place. Without his pants. Best not to think about it.
You literally start the second stage with your back to this sub-boss, whose name escapes me. That's clearly him on the wanted poster though. Way to be subtle, guy.
You literally start the second stage with your back to this sub-boss, whose name escapes me. That's clearly him on the wanted poster though. Way to be subtle, guy.
Actually, there's a certain symmetry with this level: it begins almost exactly the same as the second stage in the original game.
Actually, there's a certain symmetry with this level: it begins almost exactly the same as the second stage in the original game.
The second boss is Abore, and he's no joke. All right, a blond Terminator knock-off in red corduroy pants is kind of a joke, but he'll still slap that health bar right out of you.
The second boss is Abore, and he's no joke. All right, a blond Terminator knock-off in red corduroy pants is kind of a joke, but he'll still slap that health bar right out of you.

The Atari ST Double Dragon 2 feels much like the first, though a little faster and a little more fluid. There's a significant upgrade to the character sprite graphics too, but that lack of music and single attack button might still be a dealbreaker for most. I can scarcely believe this is the same developer, though it's possible they got some outside help for the art (or they just traced it this time instead of trying to draw it from memory, which works too).

However, given that the only other non-Japan exclusive home version we saw was the NES version (which, while solid enough, couldn't quite match the Arcade look that this game does), it might be the best of a bad bunch.

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Slag

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Man I never saw these version od DD before, kinda wish I hadn't. Those sprites are awful.

DD may have the weirdest version history of any major game I know of.

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