Reviews
Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons
Derple Dragon

By Seán O'Sullivan - May 8th, 2013

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There’s a magic in the best videogames that’s easy to overlook. Modern games are crafted by dozens, possibly hundreds of artists, slaving away on myriad components that are then woven together into the rich tapestry of interactive entertainment that we take for granted. The best games have such harmony between the graphics and sound and music and game-play mechanics that the player cares little about the individual elements, but rather that holistic, transcendent experience.

A hallmark of games that are merely good is that players will happily overlook the rough elements to focus on on the overall feeling, carried through rough spots by the goodwill built up through earlier proficiency. Games are more than the sum of their parts, and when gamers reflect on the time they invested, are unlikely to fixate on the elements that could have been better. So that’s what makes Gravity’s Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons such a daunting prospect to review. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that there’s not a single element that this game gets right, and I would submit that it ought to become the new watermark for what constitutes a “bad” game.

The first impression that Double Dragon II makes is a poor one, which is fitting, because it will continue to keep making them until you come to your senses and give up on the endeavour. You begin by selecting “Local Game” (which is needlessly specific for an offline-only game), and then select one of two unremarkable male characters while a “Waiting for Player2″ message lingers (a message that will reappear between every stage).

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Nothing helps sparring more than a practical uniform.

The first stage is set in a dojo (appropriate for a training level), which exhorts “basic is best way to master of your skills” before putting you in charge of a lady who wasn’t on the character select screen. Equally jarring is that this lady’s massive gelatinous bosoms are spilling out of her karate gi. Move the analog stick and you’ll start to fear that something is terribly wrong with your Xbox, as it seems to hemorrhage frames like never before. After a moment, you’ll realize that it’s an optical illusion, caused by the combination of jerky animation and the way the camera skips along the track as it pans from left to right.

A punching combo appears on screen, and a simplistic battle theme plays. 12 seconds later the music stops; two seconds later, the theme starts again. Welcome to how music loops in Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons. Enemies pile into the arena with no artificial intelligence other than “walk in a straight line towards the player”, often leading to a chain of enemies in a line, running on the spot behind their buddy who is being pummeled by your simplistic, unsatisfying combos.

After what feels like an eternity of learning the basics, it’s time to start the epic story. Some dude bursts into the dojo, and guns down the pendulously breasted lady. There’s no explanation, or really any real payoff (spoilers!) but a lady is dead, so it’s time to take to the streets to beat up a load of identical looking people!

Once the game kicks off proper, the game doesn’t dally around before revealing the full extent of its wretchedness. The graphical presentation is a modernized take on the 1988 Arcade original, and the results could maybe go toe-to-toe with a 1995 era Playstation title. Polygon count is low, jaggies are everywhere, and textures are indistinct and repetitive. Run up against the invisible walls and your avatar will run on the spot. Launch into a combo and watch as your character gets increasingly misaligned with the enemy until he’s swinging at air – don’t fret though, since the enemies clearly have a hard time with the controls too, owing to how they’ll often get confused mid stream, turning their back on you and swinging blindly at nothing. Sometimes they’ll get shy and stray outside of the invisible boundary that you’re allowed to follow, so you can play the meta-game of coaxing them back into killing range.

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A barrel of fun? Not really.

No care or craft has gone into the fighting system. Enemies will routinely swarm you, and you have no way to escape, save for dying and relying on the explosion that accompanies each credit invested to prolong the misery. The bosses and sub-bosses rely on a counter-system that isn’t explained in the tutorial, or even possible to pull off when squaring off against more than one enemy. The button to pick up weapons will prompt your character to bend over regardless of what’s around him, and if you’re a few pixels off from an item’s “sweet spot”, you’ll see him reach down, touch it, then stand right back up empty handed. Not that the weapons are worth the gamble of trying to pick up anyhow – they break almost immediately, and they don’t offer much variety: despite a few different models, the swing and throw animations are all the same.

There are a few flourishes for flavor: some arenas feature fixed, cinematic cameras that not only disorient, but are also prone to being blocked by environmental objects. Other stages feature maddeningly banal Quick-Time Events, which will only prompt dutiful button mashing because failure will result in repeating the past ten minutes of drivel. There are horridly implemented stage traps that move the camera away from the still vulnerable player, and a few platforming sections with broken mechanics that treat the player in a hateful fashion.

Your hair will gray and your teeth will be ground down to dust as you progress through this torture implement of a game, and you will be rewarded with barely one quarter of the achievement points, and the overwhelming assurance that you have wasted your life. If you want a videogame that convinces you to stop playing videogames, play Double Dragon 2: Wander of the Dragons.

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