People are talking if not complaining about games being remade, I’ll take you back to 2003 when Double Dragon was remade for the Game Boy Advance. Back then it was just a port, a better version of an arcade game that was already twenty years old. Double Dragon was already a game with around a dozen versions across multiple consoles, so why not port it onto the Game Boy Advance?
For those that don’t know, Double Dragon is one of the original belt scrolling arcade brawling beat’em ups. The Game Boy Advance follows close to the arcade classic rather than the NES version I grew up with. Twenty years later, the Game Boy Advance version includes new enemies, new levels and extended missions. In this version, you can play solo or link up two cables for some simultaneous brawling action.
The story is as its always been, you are the brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee and your girlfriend Marian has been kidnapped by an evil organization known as the Shadow Warriors. The game kicks off with an iconic kidnapping that has a gang member William punching her in the stomach then carrying her off with his boss Willy and others in the background. Then you come out of a garage ready to fight with anyone that gets in your way.
To make the game more interesting there are cut scenes in the way of gorgeous still frame images and text. The images are one of the highlights of the game and portray a crazy plot that goes beyond kidnapping Marian. By the end of the game it’ll make the Lee brothers seem like mythological heroes. Each dying boss will tell you their last words that will lead you to the next mission.
The controls are easy, but go deep. Double Dragon Advance makes full use of the four buttons on the Game Boy Advance. You’ve got a punch, a kick, jump and block. The block feels useless and forgotten. Its not a sort of catch block that Super Double Dragon had where it opened up a whole new array of attacks. Pressing the punch and kick simultaneously will unleash a bigger attack such as a headbutt. Double tapping either left or right will send your character running straight forward letting you clothesline, push kick or windmill kick. There’s even a way to charge your attack for a devastating jump knee.
They only get deeper when you can double over an opponent from kicks, then grab their head, knee them and throw them into enemies. You can even mount a downed foe, but I didn’t find that useful when this version really stacks the enemies against you. There’s even a face crushing back elbow you can use, but its pretty rare when I found it necessary. All of these moves and maneuvers make the game interesting, but without unlocking them, you’ll be using the same ones all the way to the end.
One of the big problems that I have with the combat is your range. Short range is fine, but you can punch an enemy twice, where they’ll move the slightest bit out of range. You’ll still be face punching them, but not affecting them. So you have to move in when an opponent is doubled over. It just doesn’t make sense. So punch punch, move in and uppercut. Its the same for your kicks too. Enemies get knocked out of range.
Your foes can also hold you for others to beat up. Its a nice touch. The enemies really gang up on you. They’re smart enough to attack you from both sides, even on easy difficulty. Getting up becomes difficult, unless you just move up or down to get out of their alignment. One of the odd things about the game is when you’re dead, you’ll get up to die flat on your face. It just seems unnecessary, but I guess it draws attention to your death.
You’ll be forced to jump a few times by the end of the game, jump to get on platforms, jump over bridge gaps and subterranean waterways. Failing these gap jumps or falling into any pit means instant death. The death pits become more frequent the further you dive into the game. It gets to a point that it becomes an exploit. If you die in pits, so do your enemies. You can keep knocking even the big boss enemies into pits. Of course its a sort of risk or reward, they can knock you into pits if you’re not careful.
The game options give let you select your lives, continues and even difficulty. Every 50,000 points will give you an extra life. For every death, you restart where you were and every continue does the same, making continues the same as lives. If you’re going to have both, why not make them different like force you to restart the level if you use a continue? I’m sure no one will agree with that thought. I went through the game on normal (medium) difficulty and enemies just seem beastly with too much health. Afterward, I gave easy a try and it was much more bearable. I have a certain tipping point with brawlers when they become boring and monotonous. That’s why advanced players can make use of stronger attacks to speed up the game.
As for the enemies, you have the old classic staples like William, Linda, and Rowper, but a lot of new enemies make their appearance. Some feel like they’re from Super Double Dragon, but others feel fresh, made specifically for this game. Also included is the masked boss Burnov from Double Dragon 2 that won’t die, but he’ll teleport out when he’s defeated.The toughest enemies have to be the suits that rapidly punch and kick, before they straighten their ties to let you stand again. New bosses have other worldly powers, such as cloning themselves or diving into a shadow that bounces around the floor to hurt you.
Enemies will come out with an arsenal of weapons. Linda will have whips and maces. Williams and Rowper will have throwable barrels or rocks, knives, bats, dynamite and axes. Chin has nun-chucks and double batons. In terms of valuable weapons, I’d pick the whips and maces for their distance, but the nun-chucks and batons feel fun to use.
There are eight missions in total that will take you through the mean streets, into a factory, to the woods, underground and into the Shadow Warrior’s enemy stronghold full of death traps. You’ll even get to ride on top of a truck and throw enemies off the back. Each area feels unique and has a lot of detail. Bosses will rip through walls. You can climb up ladders, jump on top of things, both of which don’t seem that useful. The final level is laden with traps including the infamous wall traps, but they’re just far easier to avoid here. They even telegraph where they’ll be.
If the arcade game isn’t enough for you, there’s always survival mode that has you confined to one room with progressively tougher enemies. Its a nice addition, but it just gets dull after a while. After each loss, you’re graded. Its sure to keep people playing a bit longer.
The graphics are big and bold for the small screen. Enemies are a lot more colorful. Each enemy has multiple clothes, skin tones and Abobo even has different hairstyles. Abobo has a hilarious rainbow of colors, white, black, Hulk green, chalk white, yellow and blue, which makes me call him Smurf-bobo. He’ll come out bald, but have a mo hawk or an Afro. Changing enemy colors goes a long way to add to the feeling of progression.
As for the music, well it could be better, the sound is sub standard compared to a console twenty years its senior. It feels slower and twangy. While its not bad, its just not the amazing tunes that I grew up with.
The major problem I have with this game is how far you need to walk in order to push the screen forward. This allows enemies to ambush you when you can only see 10% of the screen ahead of you. Getting pinched by enemies can be frustrating, but smarter players will avoid it.
In conclusion, Double Dragon Advance is a fun, playable brawler with plenty of moves and diversity for a stale genre. Its worth picking up and playing, you just won’t find much more than 90 minutes of fun.