For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home, "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - and pitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favorite program in the universe: MAME.

by Rob "Flack" O'Hara

"Double Dragon: One of the most powerful games ever! The outstanding graphics take you through six screens of a daring attempt to rescue a girl captured by a ruthless street gang. Spike and Hammer are the heroes who must save the kidnapped lady.

One player can fight alone or two players fight as a team! If play stops before the rescue is complete, the game can be continued from that point by adding additional coins. The graph at the bottom of the screen indicates strength.” – Double Dragon Operating Manual

I played my first round of Double Dragon at the AMC 10 Bowling Alley back in 1987. Most arcade games at that time only allowed for one player at a time, which forced players to take turns while playing games together. In fact, for the longest time our bowling alley arcade only had one two-player game in it (Karate Champ). Cooperative two-player games were a relatively new concept back then. Double Dragon’s two-player mode allowed for two friends to punch, kick and head butt side-by-side through four enemy-infested levels. Double Dragon’s format became so popular that it was copied hundreds of times by other companies. The Double Dragon games themselves were converted to almost every major gaming platform, but with MAME you can enjoy the original games themselves.

Double Dragon
Technos/Taito (1987)

In the original Double Dragon, brothers Billy (AKA Spike) and Jimmy (AKA Hammer) have set out to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian who has been kidnapped by the Black Warriors. As previously mentioned, players can assume either the role of Billy or Jimmy, and two players can play side by side at the same time. You’ll want to be careful though, as players standing too close together will quickly learn that they can inflict damage upon one another. You experience this out a lot when one player picks up a whip.

Players have several moves in their arsenal. MAME players should be aware that Double Dragon uses three buttons, one for kicking, one for punching, and one for jumping. There are several other moves available in addition to those. A double tap on the joystick in either direction will throw a head butt. Pressing jump and then kick will perform a jump kick, while pressing both buttons simultaneously will launch a back kick behind you. If you manage to grab hold of an enemy, pressing the jump button will throw them. The most important attack to perfect is the elbow smash. By pressing jump and punch at the same time, you will throw an elbow attack behind you. Learn to throw your elbow and you can pretty much beat Double Dragon on a single credit. Turn your back every time an opponent approaches. When they walk past you in an attempt to punch you in the face, throw the elbow. Nobody said members of street gangs were smart. Be sure to practice your timing of this move. If you hit the buttons at slightly different times and you’ll end up jumping in the air and getting punched in your Double Dragon booty every time.

Along your journey you’ll also run across several weapons that can be used both by you and against you, including baseball bats, whips, dynamite, and throwing knives. While none of them are as consistent as the elbow attack, each of them offers a certain amount of sadistic enjoyment. Like most other beat-em-up games, you can interact with your environment in Double Dragon as well, so when all else fails pick up an oil drum or wooden crate and smash it over someone’s head.

If you notice the game slowing down or flickering when there are a lot of enemies on the screen, this means MAME is working perfectly and is emulating the game exactly how it ran in arcades. Maybe this is an indication that the Black Warrior Street Gang is inside your computer attacking the hardware as well.

After four levels of action (assuming you’ve either mastered the elbow technique or have pumped a lot of credits into the game) you’ll finally rescue Marian. If you’re playing in two-player mode you’ll have to duke it out to determine which one of you gets to leave with the girl, which kind of sucks if you think about it since in the beginning of the game Marian was Billy’s girlfriend. That’s gratitude for you.

Double Dragon
Nintendo Playchoice (1988)

Double Dragon became so popular that it was converted to many different platforms, one of which was the NES. When Nintendo launched their Playchoice-10 Arcade machines, the company converted the NES version of Double Dragon and made it available for the Playchoice-10 hardware.

Unfortunately, many of the cool features available in the original Double Dragon did not appear in Nintendo’s version. The biggest feature missing was the lack of two-player cooperative mode, which is what made Double Dragon so unique in the first place! Without that it was simply Renegade! Other than a two-player mode, Nintendo did a decent job of translating the feel of the original game into their own format. The basic idea is the same of course, but the game play is slightly different. Unlike the original, you’ll have to earn advanced moves by collecting hearts throughout the game.

TIP: Nintendo’s Playchoice-10 Arcade system gave players a time limit based on the amount of money inserted. Each credit inserted gives you 300 seconds, or five minutes. To play Double Dragon, you’ll want to do the following. Insert several credits for additional time. Press the minus key to select Double Dragon. Once selected, press player one start (1 on the keyboard) to cycle through the game’s different modes, and player 2 start (2 on the keyboard) to launch the game. Additional time can be purchased at any time using the credit button (5 on the keyboard).

By the way, if you thought the original version had slow down, wait until you chug your way through this one. Woo hah!

Double Dragon II – The Revenge
Technos/Romstar (1988)

Billy and Jimmy did a good job of rescuing Marian but not such a good job of guarding her because in the first five seconds of Double Dragon II the Black Warriors gang shows up and shoots her! You would think the Black Warriors would be the ONE group of people the brothers would be looking out for! In Double Dragon II, Spike and Hammer aren’t out for rescue. This time, they’re out for revenge.

Although the game looks similar to the original Double Dragon (with slightly updated graphics), players will notice two things right off the bat. First of all, Double Dragon 2 runs faster, which means you’ll have to think faster and act faster as well. Second of all, the control scheme has been changed. Instead of three buttons that jump/kick/punch, you now have directional buttons. Jump is always jump, but the button on the same side you’re facing always punches, while the button to your backside always performs a back kick. So the buttons are constantly swapping depending on which way you’re facing in the game. Jump + the “back” attack button still throws the awesome elbow, which you’ll need if you want to get very far in this game.

Double Dragon III – The Rosetta Stone
Technos (1990)

In the third game of the series, Billy and Jimmy have been sent on a quest to recover three long lost Rosetta Stones (which is odd since the title of the game is Rosetta Stone, singular). Along with the Lee brothers, you can purchase a whole slew of additional fighters. Those of you with big MAME cabinets will be excited to learn that Double Dragon III supports THREE players at a time! Those of you who have played this game will not be so excited.

Personally, I always liked the cartoon-like graphical style of the first two games. In DD3, the graphics have been updated and the game begins to look like every single other Capcom beat-em-up of that era.

The most annoying thing about Double Dragon 3 is its upgrade system. At the beginning of the first level you’ll see a flashing arrow that pointing toward the Weapon Shop. Upon entering the shop, you’ll see what Double Dragon 3 is all about: quarters. For only one additional credit, you can purchase extra guys, additional tricks, more energy, or power ups. And by additional credits I don’t mean things you can earn in the game, I mean you have to drop more virtual coins into MAME. There’s a reason this game wasn’t very popular in arcades.

The familiar health meter from the previous two games has been replaced by a digital readout of sorts. Each enemy attack that lands will drop your number. Like Gauntlet, once it reaches zero it’s lights out (in other words, you just get one man). The three-button control scheme from the first game has returned (one button always kicks, the other always punches) but that still won’t help you much here. For this review I just dropped a buck’s worth of virtual tokens into MAME, and I still haven’t beaten the first mob of bad dudes, much less found any Rosetta Stones. In fact the only stones I’ve found are the cobblestones which my character seems to constantly be lying face down on every time I try to get anywhere in this game.

Double Dragon 3 is without a doubt the most difficult and credit-hungry game of the series. Maybe Technos was trying to recover all the money they lost from people that beat the first two games on only one quarter using the elbow move.
Double Dragon (Neo-Geo)
Technos (1995)
On the heels of the Super Mario Brothers and Streetfighter movies came Double Dragon: The Movie, released in 1994. The following year, Double Dragon (Neo-Geo) was released, making it (I believe) the first game based on a movie based on a game.

In the Neo-Geo version of Double Dragon, the game has morphed into a one-on-one fighting game. Players get their choice of ten characters. Along with Billy and Jimmy, several bad guys from the movie and previous games are available (like Abobo and Burnov) as well as several other generic baddies you’ll recognize from the series (like chicks with whips and ninjas). You can even play as Marian (or technically Marian’s corpse, since she was murdered in DD2).

For an MVS game, MAME handles the Neo-Geo version of Double Dragon surprisingly well. The game contains lots of layers and moving sprites, all of which MAME appears to be able to reproduce fairly accurately on any semi-modern machine. Like most other MVS fighters Double Dragon uses four buttons, so make sure your controller has all four buttons mapped. If you’re using the keyboard, you’ll need to use all four player keys (left ctrl, left alt, space, and left shift) to perform your attacks.

Although it really doesn’t affect the game play, be on the lookout for several digitized scenes from the movie that appear through the both the game’s trailer and in the background of several scenes within the game.
As you can see, the Double Dragon series evolved quite a bit over its eight year run. Back in the day I played a lot of Double Dragon ports on various consoles (NES, Super Nintendo, and the Commodore 64), but now with MAME I can finally play the originals the way I remember them. Good luck, and happy punching!

You've played plenty of bad games on game consoles, but what about bad arcade games? In the next MAMExpose, we'll look at a few titles that aren't worth a second look, let alone a second quarter.

A new "MAMExpose" can be found here bi-monthly!

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Last updated: Sunday, August 07, 2005 08:44 AM