Atari Poop – Double Dragon
One of the most bizarre and, quite frankly, stupid, things I can imagine a video game company doing is porting an arcade game to a variety of systems from one console generation one year, and then porting the same game to a 12 year old system from the previous generation a year later. Well, that scenario perfectly describes what Activision did with Double Dragon, porting the arcade hit to the NES, followed by the Atari 2600 the next year (the same year as the Atari 7800, SMS, among others), and you know what, although a truly bizarre move, the result was absolutely not stupid and frankly nothing less than groundbreaking! Trust me.
A lot of people loved Double Dragon for the NES. Personally, I hate beat’em ups, and this game does not get spared by that hatred, but I can appreciate many of the elements present in the game. The graphics were decent for the time. The ability to pick up various weapons added a level of gameplay beyond simply punching and kicking. The game was also known for being rather difficult, which is something most of us retro gamers claim to love about the older games.
That being said, the game does suffer from quite a few problems. Among them, we have the famous tag-team of NES flickering and slowdown. Then, there’s the atrocious “platforming.” It almost single-handedly completely ruined the game for me. Finally, there’s a kind of weird RPG element to the game on the NES. You get points for every punch and kick, and every time you get 1000, you go up one “Technical Level,” meaning you’ve just learned a new move. I hated this. Don’t get me wrong, RPGs are far and away my favourite genre, but you mean to tell me that I can kick a bunch of people and then miraculously learn how to upper-cut? I already know how to upper-cut! I just crouch down and punch upwards. And don’t get me started on your inability to both jump AND kick from the beginning. Now, if the new moves were awesome abilities like shooting fireballs or spinning around and kicking everything on the screen in the face, then I’d understand the need to “learn” these things through experience.
So, what does all this have to do with the 2600 version? If you played and even remotely liked the NES version or if you believe yourself to be a retro gamer, then you are compelled to absolutely love Double Dragon for the Atari 2600 for it is a visionary and flawless piece of gaming.
First, all of the problems that plagued the NES version have been fixed. Flickering and slowdown are non-existent. The solution: only have one enemy able to attack you at once. In essence, the screen in split into two, with one enemy on top, the other on the bottom, and as you move from one area to the other, only the enemy in the area you find yourself in is able to attack you; therefore, none of the pesky flickering and slowdown nonsense!
Second, I mentioned that the game has a few memorable tracks, which implies that it has a few I don’t care for. This is also fixed by having only a sample of a few songs played in a loop constantly. You get to hear the best parts of the best songs, over and over! It’s totally great.
Third, all of the platforming is gone… I think. The game is super difficult, so it’s possible I didn’t get far enough to reach the platforming areas. Also, every time I play, I get a really bad headache. It’s probably because I’m not getting enough sleep, what with the new baby and everything. It definitely doesn’t have anything to do with the soundtrack or graphics.
Which brings me to point number four: the difficulty. This game is way harder than the NES version. To begin with, you don’t learn any special moves as you amass points; hence, none of that lame, tacked-on ersatz RPG crap. Special moves are cheating in beat-em ups and anyone who disagrees is the enemy. As well, most of the moves you can make are useless. It doesn’t even matter that performing them requires you to press the button while also pushing the joystick in a specific direction, since you never seem to hit the enemies before they hit you… unless you only use the elbow (but remember, no cheating, and that includes cheap tricks).
In the end, this game is just like the NES classic except better in every aspect that retro gamers claim to be important. It is more difficult, more basic, and the graphics more retro. In fact, since the emergence of retro gamers as a community, we’ve seen a trend that this game preceded by nearly two and a half decades. You want to talk about a game that was retro before retro was cool? Double Dragon for the Atari 2600 was the very first retro demake. It is the original hipster of video games.