Thursday, April 24, 2014
As it patterned itself after the NES version of the game, PCE Double Dragon II doesn't go the typical brawler route of assigning a particular attack-move to each button. Instead, a press of I has your character lash out at foes to the right, while a push of II unleashes fury on brutes to the left. Should you be facing your assailant, your attack will take the form of a jab; otherwise, a kick will be delivered. It isn't a completely sensible system--had I been required in real life to do an about-face each time I wanted to boot a hard-charging enemy, my victories-in-combat total wouldn't be nearly as high as it is. The counterintuitive setup can be gotten used to, though--and a pleasantly easy-to-perform spin-kick can be utilized if there's no time to be devoted to directional considerations.
Little strategy or technique is needed to dispatch most of the hoods you'll come across. It's easy to draw the jump-kick-happy variety into launching an aerial assault before stepping aside and hammering them when they land on the spot you left unoccupied. You can grab a stunned hooligan and pulverize him or simply toss him off one of the many conveniently available ledges-leading-to-nowhere. Whatever methodology you go with, the controls should serve you well until you come across one of the out-of-place and quite-unnecessary platforming sequences.
Though those leaping gauntlets could be considered "changes of pace," DD2's designers should've realized its gameplay is far too simplistic and repetitive to be stretched over nine boards (even if the last merely comprises a bout with a cheap boss who puts on a disappearing act).
Granted, there are lots of different environments to "explore," including cities, jungles, temples, and subterranean factories. But you come face to face with the same few small-sprite thugs on just about every battleground.
The game tries to provide incentive for making multiple trips through all those areas by including three different ending sequences (each of the available difficulty modes has its own).
But while the separate epilogues are indeed very different from one another, the story behind the adventuring is unlikely to prove interesting except in its odd endeavor to be as silly as possible. Plot elements as absurd as the heroes busting through brick walls and hanging from the landing skids of airborne helicopters are relayed via coarsely sketched artwork.
The goofiness extends to the in-game visuals, as caricatural characters and bright backdrops give the game a cartoony look that, while not wholly unappealing, seems inappropriate for a title that would have benefited from an added dose of grit. The penultimate level is populated by large foes and full of neat surprises, but there's little drama to be enjoyed up to that point. Weak sound effects and a low-key soundtrack plagued by ill-chosen vocal elements don't help establish atmosphere that would be suitable for a rough-and-tumble 16-bit beat 'em up.
PCE Double Dragon II is a game caught between generations. It looks nicer and plays more smoothly than its NES forebear, but it certainly isn't as memorable or impressive as the likes of Final Fight or Streets of Rage. It's pretty good, but it's also pretty expensive--and thus hard to recommend except to players in desperate need of a two-player brawler for their Duo.