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Atari 7800 Double Dragon Review!


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When it came to reviewing Double Dragon for the 7800, I had to make a serious decision of what I'm doing here. Am I relaying my experience with a game and giving a grade based on that, or am I recommending games to my audience of probably 4 guys who already play and own the games I'm talking about. Okay well I guess I'm assuming these will each an audience of literally dozens one day. Think big, why not. Anyway, am I recommending games for you or relaying my personal experience? Because my grade for Double Dragon will be vastly different depending upon that answer.

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This Box Looks Awesome on a Shelf!

When it comes down to it, I already know how I feel about most of these games and nobody care what I think. People read this stuff because they've already made a decision and their curious what others think, or they are deciding if it's something they want to experience. I'm going to grade this game on whether or not the latter should pick this one up. I'll make notes about why my experience is different from my recommendation when its appropriate. So the decision is made moving forward, all thanks to a port of a popular arcade game, on an unpopular (at the time) console. Let's move on and look at Double Dragon.

There was a time when Double Dragon was massively popular. It had a few successful arcade games, a whole bunch of home ports, a Saturday morning cartoon show, and I'm sure there are landfills full of all kinds of child's items with Bimmy and Jimmy Lee's faces on them. But now a days you'd be hard pressed to find somebody under 30 that knows what a Double Dragon is. Still, it was massively exciting to me as a child to have Double Dragon on my 7800 in the late 80's. Today it's an uncommon cartridge to find, and can sell for a lot of money when you do find it. So should you spend that money on it?

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I like the look of the Title Screen too...

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. The character sprites look okay, but most of the enemies look similar to each other. It makes it hard to tell if your fighting a Williams or some other chump. Abobo stands out nicely as the massive brute of the enemy gang and I do like his sprite. But the rest are mostly misses in my book, especially when compare to the arcade or even the NES port. The colors feel a little off to. I think most of the levels have nice details and look pretty decent, but instead of using a color pallet to reflect the gritty, greasy feel of a corrupted city they choose to go with some brighter tones. Maybe to make things pop more? I really don't know, but the odd coloring choice becomes even more apparent if you mess around with some of the graphical hacks out there for this game.

 

The animations are mostly passable, but I find it strange to pick up a baseball bat and see your character overhead swing it with one hand! Why doesn't he wind back and follow through like, you know, the way real people do!? I do think this graphics get the job done and are passable, but I think it should've been better all the way around. I do find some of the levels intriguing and there is nice variety in the scenery. That said, the sprites and colors are hit or miss in my eyes.

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Abobo looks pretty good, and so does that car!

Like graphics, the sound design has its up and downs as you play. I do like the familiar songs that play in the background. The music has that Double Dragon feel, which is really impressive since they used the stock TIA chip. But when you knock out an opponent and they start to blink out of reality, somebody revs up a car motor motor somewhere. What? No....no way! Okay I'm being told that's not a car motor, but the scream that Abobo makes when you defeat him. It's bad, but given the hardware they were working with, I'm okay with giving them a pass here. After all, it may be a mixed bag of audio but at least the bad stuff sounds humorous rather than obnoxious. I'd take that any day of the week.

 

I grew up with this version of Double Dragon, and I know how to play it. Beyond that, I know how to beat it and what works and doesn't work against the enemy gang. But if I put myself in somebodies shoes who was picking this up for the first time in 2022, I'm not sure they would have the patience or understanding to enjoy this one. And it's a game you have to work at to get the most out of it. I've given other games a pass for their trial and error mentality, but that's because I could see a natural progression in difficulty. That is, I could see how if somebody gave those games a real chance, they had a rewarding feeling to it. But Double Dragon is hard to learn, and when you find the winning strategy, it's just repetitive. It doesn't feel like you learned the game and become a martial arts expert. Rather, you found a way to exploit the AI and that's not rewarding.

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Right about here the bottom of the screen becomes less safe...

All of our hero's moves from other versions are present, but the controls take a while to get used to. And you don't get much of an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't. Your opponents have 2 modes essentially. They have a mode where they wonder around the screen to position themselves for their next attack. They almost never fight back when in this state. Then they have the attack mode, where if you get within their reach they will pound your face in. It can be hard to tell which is which at first, but even when you learn that it's just half the battle. But at the start it feels like the enemies will pound your face in without letting you have a chance to counter them. It's frustratingly tough and most people will walk away from it there I think.

 

But if you stay with it then you'll start to see what does work, and unfortunately it's not a lot. You can really only land kicks and punches on enemies who are wondering about the screen. For the opponents ready to engage, you really have to rely on the jumping back kick. And that's the move you have to abuse to get anywhere in this game. Initially it's easy to pull off because you can keep yourself at the bottom of the screen to better work the controls to pull off the move. But in later levels the bottom of the screen is a straight drop to your death. And with only 3 lives and no continues, you can't afford to give any up to falling off the screen. Since the jumping back kick is needed for about 80% of the enemies, I could see people being turned off by the repetition even if they learn how to play.

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Machine Gun Willy is a BS boss to fight!  I hate him!

But despite the odd color choices, and the bad sound effects, despite the aggressive enemy AI and extreme learning curve, and despite the fact that there are much better ports out there, I still love Double Dragon for the 7800. I'm not going to give it a passing score, because if I look at it objectively then it could've been done much better. I do want you all to know that it is possible to enjoy this game, or any “bad” game really. Reviews are opinion pieces after all. Sure we back up our scores and findings with facts, but something I love may be something a lot of other people hate. And that's okay. But I do want to give scores that are realistic, and scores that I think will reflect the experience that the majority are going to have. With that, I can't recommend Double Dragon for the Atari 7800, especially for the price it goes for today on eBay. But load it up into an emulator anyway, and you might be surprised at how much fun Bimmy and Jimmy Lee still have to give in 2022.

 

Graphics: 5 out of 10

You can recognize locals from the arcade and tell what everything is supposed to be. But we've seen that it could've been done so much better, and given that I can't excuse the graphics.

 

Sound: 6 out of 10

Even though I couldn't excuse the graphics, I can give the audio a pass. Yes it is 2600 TIA sound, but I feel they did a much better job here than most other developers did.

 

Gameplay: 4 out of 10

The gameplay here just isn't good unfortunately. The enemy AI is tough to overcome, and the only way to win is through repetition. There are a lot of moves to use, but almost all of them are useless.

 

Value: 6 out of 10

One thing I'll say is your going to be playing this game a long time before you complete it. You'll have to learn how to play, then master the controls, and even then you'll have to play until you get a good run. So I do feel there is a lot of gameplay value for the money.

 

Fun: 3 out of 10

I had a lot of fun with Double Dragon. Personally the fun is like an 8 for me. But I think most people will find it to be a 4 or lower. That means that they probably won't enjoy themselves unfortunately.

 

Overall: 4 out of 10  Bad!

It pains me to give a game that I grew up with and enjoyed a score of 4 out of 10, but I think that's how most people are going to perceive it. But again, I want people to give it a try for themselves, because if your reading this then your interested in the 7800. And if your interested in the Atari 7800, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy this one. Everybody else can steer clear.

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Great review! 

What's interesting is how NONE of the home versions of Double Dragon really capture the magic of the arcade version.  There's always at least one little issue that isn't quite right.  Why?  It isn't that complex of a game.  Even on the 16 bit systems, they would try to enhance it a bit or change the controls or whatever. 

 

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I guess you never figured out how to trick the enemies? When you have one on the screen... they usually moved straight to the same horizontal line that you are on. But if you start to move your character up and down kinda quickly..then the AI gets confused and what happens is that the enemy will then lock onto a horizontal plane path towards you, but won't move down or up to the same level as you. There fore, you sneak down and elbow punch them or reverse jump kick. Even the Abbobo's do this and I used to be able to get that pair of green Hulk ones just before the final base by lining them up on either side of me, moving up/down to have them lock into their paths and then elbow punch them one...then the other. Rinse...repeat.

If anything, the enemy AI is incredibly dumb given this trick and you can just decimate them.

The boss at the end is a push over as you only need to focus on him and hit him so he doesn't have a chance to shoot at you. When you defeat him, all enemies disappear and the game is over.

 

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This version could have been so much better had they used more memory and POKEY chip.  There is a hack that has been made of this game and it is an improvement over the original version.  It's unfortunate that Activision did not put more effort into this port.  I did enjoy playing it when I got it as I was able to make it through the game.  I was never able to do that in the arcade.

Here is a video of the hack but just with the visual changes...

Here's a side by side comparison...

 

Edited by TrekMD
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