Double Dragon Advance Review
Developer Million has really done a good job recently bringing classic beat-em-up games to the GBA. Before they put together the impressive River City Ransom EX, they did their own port of the classic 1987 smash hit Double Dragon. Those who weren't around for the heyday of the original arcade game might not know just how innovative and genre-defining it was - the great graphics, two player cooperative action, and sharp graphics all contributed to its success.
Of course, we've already seen quite a few ports of the original, even to the NES over fifteen years ago. Most of the ports to consoles include very different graphics or gameplay, and they rarely captured the feel of the arcade game. Million, though, has done an excellent job in redrawing the original graphics and adding all kinds of new stuff - enemies, moves, and levels - and mashing them all together perfectly.
The original's three buttons - punch, kick, and jump - are all available in this game, with the jump button on the right trigger. There's also a new block/counter function on the left trigger, but I had little success in using it in most fights. Since you'll be fighting four or five guys at once fairly often, setting up a counter for one enemy's attacks usually opened me up against another enemy's hits.
All of the moves in the original arcade game are back in Double Dragon Advance, and we also get many more to use as well. Some of these moves were originally seen in sequels, while some other bits were added to the various console ports. You can also run, do several types of jumpkicks, and even combo a few special moves together - if you can time the moves right. Million puts all this together to make the action really fun, and it truly brings the game into the 21st century.
The best thing about Double Dragon Advance is that the style of the original graphics is still here, and while they have redrawn every pixel, it feels instantly familiar to those who played plenty of the arcade game. They've also included a bunch of new animations and stages that mesh very well with the classic stuff. It really is a major enhancement to the game, and while these 2D graphics are laughable compared to how some of the best 3D games look nowadays, some excellent hand-drawn art still holds merit in my opinion.
Many of the original enemies are back, and quite a few new ones are here as well. The boss of Double Dragon 2's first level is now in DD Advance, and a few more new foes (complete with a slew of new attacks) are mixed in as well. The stages are also enhanced, and there are several more than what we saw in the original arcade game. One of the more interesting stages takes place on the roof of a moving 18-wheeler, and the game handles all the high speed scrolling as well as up to four or five enemies at once with ease.
The original Double Dragon had a fairly good amount of moves for its time, but nowadays they just wouldn't cut it. For that reason, Million added a huge amount of new moves for Billy and Jimmy to use, and most of them are quite useful along with the original attacks.
Story has also become a bit more important - even in beat-em-up games - since the late 80s, and we also get new cutscenes in between stages. It's still the same story, though, as Machine Gun Willy still kidnaps Billy's girlfriend and forces you to go after him.
DD Advance now includes many hazards you should watch out for - there are quite a few pits you can fall into, but you can also knock your enemies into them for a cheap, quick kill. This sort of danger makes the game fairly interesting, as you will want to fight near the edge to knock enemies into it. The problem is that with one slip-up, you could be taking a dive in there yourself.
All of the weapons are available from the original game: knives, baseball bats, dynamite, barrels to throw, whips, and more. We also get some new stuff, like nunchaku or a pair of kali sticks, along with a nasty-looking flail and a battle axe. You can also throw a couple of the weapons and they'll travel across the screen - an excellent way to take out a group of enemies.
The game also includes a few combos that you can use on your enemies, and these really do work nicely without being so powerful that that's all you want to fight with. Since there are quite a few enemies for you to fight at once, you'll have to maneuver your way into hitting without being hit yourself. Unlike some beat-em-up games, the enemies here will swarm over you and will attack you even if you're in the middle of comboing another guy. For this reason, you have to be careful about which moves you decide to do - even the best set of moves will leave you open sometimes. Overall, the game's action is satisfying for a beat-em-up and genuinely fun. The game is quite short at about an hour's worth of gameplay, but Double Dragon Advance does stand up well to multiple play-throughs.
There are a few extras you can unlock by beating the game on its three difficulty levels, but these don't really add up to much. The game does allow two-player link play for those who have two GBAs as well as two cartridges, which is nice to see - Million's GBA port of River City Ransom EX lacked this feature, and it was sorely missed.
There's also a bizarre mode where you control both Billy and Jimmy throughout the normal game, and you must tap the Select button to switch characters. Yes, the guy you're not controlling is a big, open target just standing there. It's an awkward mode to actually try to play, and I imagine it was only added simply because it was pretty easy to implement. Finally, there's also a survival mode where you fight seemingly endless waves of enemies - you only have one life, and your score is simply a count of how many enemies you've killed.
Considering the GBA's weak sound hardware, it's always nice to have a game that can overcome this obstacle and deliver some decent sound anyway. Double Dragon Advance delivers here, with crisp sound effects and some decent renditions of the classic game tunes. Quite a few of the original sound effects are back in some form or another, but they're overall clearer and just more complete.
Beat-em-up fans would do well to try Double Dragon Advance, a well-made and greatly enhanced port of the arcade classic. There are a ton of new moves as well as new enemies and stages, and the fighting is a blast. Two player link mode is in, but don't expect much in the way of unlockable features. If you had fun at the arcades with the original game, you've gotta give this one a try.