"I spent so many years of my life convincing myself that I loved Double Dragon 3. I see now the error of my ways."
For years, Iíve told people that Double Dragon 3: The Sacred Stones was my favorite installment in the series. I based this on the fun that I had with my cousin when I was 12, playing the game for a couple weeks in a futile attempt to beat it. Now, twenty years and thousands of games later, I can say that Double Dragon 3 now ranks as not only my least favorite title in the series, but it may also be one of my least favorite NES games.
Itís been a year since Billy (or is that Bimmy?) and Jimmy Lee defeated the Shadow Warriors. I guess the post-apocalypse didnít take, because the world seems pretty much normal compared to the Mad Max-inspired setting featured in Double Dragon II. Marionís been kidnapped again. Or killed. Or her bodyís been kidnapped. Itís hard to keep the story for the Double Dragon games straight from one to the next, but who cares? You walk to the right and beat people up.
From the moment the game begins, itís clear that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong since Double Dragon II. The character sprites are positively tiny now, smaller than they were in the first game, and somehow they feature less detail. The Lee brothers have an awkward fighting stance that causes the heroes to look more like they really need to pee and less like they are fearsome martial artists. The boring, miniscule characters donít translate into any noticeable improvement anywhere else in the game, either; the backgrounds arenít as interesting, the number of characters on-screen remains the same, and the animation is less fluid than before. If any one of these elements saw any type of enhancement I might forgive the pint-sized characters, but instead itís an across the board downgrade from the previous Double Dragon games.
Continuing this baffling reduction, the Lees have fewer moves at their disposal this time around. Gone are the rocket knee and hyper uppercut from Double Dragon II, which added some nice strategy to the combat when they worked properly. The cyclone kick remains, but itís still as finicky as it was before, and always seems to fail when itís needed most. There is a new move in the form of the hair flip. This awesome technique--where the Lees jump towards an enemy and grab his hair, flipping him over as they land--was admittedly one of the reasons I loved this game as a kid. Now I realize that itís not all that useful of a move, since it requires perfect timing. Pressing the required button too soon will cause enemies to duck out of the way and punish the foolish Dragon, while pressing it too late does nothing besides ending in a similar beat down.
Ah, yesÖ the beat downs. Make no mistake, folks--Double Dragon 3 is ridiculously difficult. Not in a satisfying ďlearn the game and overcomeĒ sort of way, but rather a ďthis game was poorly programmed and never play testedĒ sort of way. The enemies are merciless, savagely pummeling the Lees while theyíre down. That may be more realistic, but in the older games the enemies would back up just a bit when a player got knocked down. In Double Dragon 3, the Shadow Warriors do the video game version of kicking the hero in the stomach while he tries to stand up. This goes double if you get caught in a corner or between two enemies. The life bars drain way faster this time around, and itís easy to go from full health to standing at deathís door in an instant. In fact, there were multiple times that I died in the very first room of the game. Thatís right: the first room.
Eventually, I realized that the order of the day was to keep jump kicking and pray that I didnít get knocked down. Of course, relying on a single move quickly turns the game into a boring, repetitive mess, but it was that or start over. Yes, start over. Double Dragon 3 has no continues, and players get a single life. Folks, Iím not bad at video games by any means, and I can generally succeed with these tougher NES games with some tenacity and practice. But thereís no way Iím going to make it through this punishing game on a single life all by myself. Looking back, I think the sole reason I had so much fun with this game as a kid was because I had a partner with me. Playing this thing alone is just masochistic.
Now, there are a couple new characters that enter into the mix as the adventure goes on. Thereís Chin, the rotund Chinese claw master, and Ranzou, the speedy Japanese ninja. These characters are the bosses of level 2 and 3, respectively, and join the Lees after theyíre defeated. Itís possible to switch between the characters at will, but if one of them falls the next one steps up. This is the closest thing to an extra life that the game has. Additionally, each character has a weapon that can be used a limited amount of times per level, but this is such a finite resource that using it for anything besides bosses is a complete waste.
I spent so many years of my life convincing myself that I loved Double Dragon 3. I see now the error of my ways. Itís possible that, with a second player in tow and hours of practice, I might enjoy this game more than I did for this review, but itís still a deeply flawed experience. Instead of playing this inferior title, stick with Double Dragon II.
And please donít tell people how much I loved this game as a kid. Itís embarrassing.
Freelance review by Julian Titus (June 20, 2013)
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