Not so long ago, we looked at the unique NES version of '80s arcade hit Double Dragon and specifically how its "VS. Mode" prefigured the way the walk-and-punch genre that Double Dragon popularized would eventually be overtaken by Street Fighter II and the one-on-one fighting game. And here were are, just a few weeks later, with the final devastating proof of how it all went down.
The Neo-Geo version of Double Dragon -- specifically the PlayStation conversion which has been brought over from Japan unlocalized through a joint effort between Hamster and Monkey Paw Games -- completed the circle by utterly abandoning the franchise's roots and going full-on fighting game. The mere fact that it's simply called "Double Dragon" seems to imply this was meant to be a new start for the series, like 2009's Star Trek or last year's Tomb Raider. It also denotes another facet of the game: Rather than being based on the arcade Double Dragons per se, it's more akin to the video game version of Street Fighter: The Movie. Yes, Double Dragon is based on Double Dragon, the hilariously terrible 1994 movie based (loosely based, it should be said) on the brawlers.
Actually, the game looks nothing at all like the film, taking a sort of grimy, low-rent Hollywood production and processing it back into its original medium as a candy-colored cartoon of a game. The only way you'd know this was meant to be a movie adaptation without being told is from the low-resolution introductory FMV crammed with film clips, and the fact that it features a few movie-specific characters (again, as with Street Fighter: The Movie and Captain Sawada). Otherwise, the design teeters somewhere close to classic Double Dragon, though the massive character sprites lack the charming lopsided look that defined so many Technos games.
No, it's really pretty much just another Street Fighter wannabe, from the visuals to the mechanics. Put this in a police lineup with the likes of World Heroes and Fighters History and you'd honestly have trouble picking it out as a Double Dragon adaptation. Two characters face off against one another and attempt to punch the other into submission, generally using move sets derived from Capcom's games. You've got your fireball motion, your dragon punch motion, the sonic boom-style charge back, and so on and so forth. It makes the occasional effort to do something unique, but on the whole Double Dragon feels like so many other fighting games of the era. Considering Double Dragon inspired Final Fight which helped define Street Fighter II, it's pretty disappointing to see this brand reduced to a pale imitation.
On the other hand, this version of the game does include something called "Tiny 3D Mode," in which the fights are presented as a sort of shadow-box diorama. The background recedes into the distance, with the characters occupying the middle space. It's not very useful -- the PlayStation's low resolution means that the zoomed-out characters become a jumbled mess of pixels, which makes their animations and tells difficult to read -- but it's kind of charming in the way that Back to the Future Part II's vision of the world of 2015 is charming. It's just so goofy you can't help but like it.
Unfortunately, though, Double Dragon isn't particularly memorable. There are a few '90s-era fighters I'm happy to revisit, but this isn't one of them. It's uninspired, derivative, and clumsy... not to mention a terrible eyesore. The fact that this was Technos' final Double Dragon game... well, that's just heartbreaking, you know?
While I appreciate Monkey Paw's bringing Double Dragon West for archival purposes (Japanese text, what little of it there is, still intact), it's definitely more a curiosity than a must-play experience.