Double Dragon III was one of the first Famicom (NES) games that I owned as a kid, and I played it for hours and hours. I loved it so much and thought it was a really good game. But when I read about how other people felt about this game, I was surprised. I found out that the Japanese release had an English fan translation available, so I revisited this game recently.
Let’s talk about the game today!
Double Dragon III is a side scrolling beat ’em up game that was developed and published by Technos Japan Corp. in Japan as Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone for the Nintendo Famicom. Later on, the game was localized and published by Acclaim Entertainment in North America and Europe with the title Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones. The game has a single player mode and two player co-op modes. In this game, you take on the role of Billy Lee (the second player controls Jimmy Lee) as he sets on a quest to obtain three mysterious gems.
This game is notorious for it’s difficulty, and I can see why. Similar to other beat ’em up games, you’ve got a health meter in this game. However, this game does not have any items or power ups that will replenish your health. The health meter only replenishes at the start of every stage. You also do not have extra lives in this game. If your character dies, he’s gone for the entire game.
Thankfully, two additional characters will join Billy in his quest when you defeat them later on. They kind of function as extra lives for you. You can switch between characters at any time, so if one character is low on health, you can bench him and keep him alive for the next stage. If you’re playing the Japanese release, you are given one chance to continue if all your characters die on Stage five. The English releases don’t have any continues at all.
Moves and Abilities
In terms of moves, the playable characters in Double Dragon III are similar. Levels are on a plane instead of a flat platform, and you can move your character across the plane in eight different directions. The B button does a kick, and the A button does a punch. Pressing B and A together does a jump. You can do a flying kick or a special flying strong attack depending on when you press the B button in mid-air.
Each character also has his own limited use weapon. Billy and Jimmy have nunchaku (spelled nunchuks in the game) which can be used up to five times per stage. Chin, the second boss and first recruitable character, uses an iron claw which can also be used up to five times. Ranzou, the third boss and final recruitable character, carries twenty shuriken with him on every stage.
Billy and Jimmy are the balanced fighters in Double Dragon III, weaker but faster than Chin and stronger but slower than Ranzou. Jumping straight up, they can do a spin kick which hits front and back and has good priority. In a two player game, Billy and Jimmy can do a double spin kick which is even stronger. Jumping forwards, they have a head pull throw which is very flashy but hard to connect with.
Chin has strong attacks and has the most health, but he is very slow. He’s even slower than the regular enemies! He can string together a five punch combination that kills most of the regular enemies, especially in the early stages. His iron claw simply makes these punches even more powerful. He has a jumping double axe kick as his vertical strong attack. The diving headbutt is probably Chin’s best move.
Ranzou moves fast and has a really high and far-reaching jump, but he has the weakest attacks. Instead of punching, he attacks with his sword. His kicks can knock down regular enemies with one hit, but it has a long wind-up time. You might think his shuriken are useful but enemies often duck and avoid them. His vertical strong attack is a drop kick and his horizontal strong attack is a jumping sword slash. His best attack is probably his regular flying kick.
The addition of Chin and Ranzou is what I really like about this game. Because you can change characters in the middle of playing, you can really think about which character to use in different situations.
Not Enough Content
Now that I’ve had years of experience playing hundreds of video games, I can see the issues of Double Dragon III. The biggest one is the lack of content which results to a really short game length. There are only five stages in the game, and you won’t get to recruit your new team members until stage two and three. So you only really get to utilize your full team in stage four and five.
And the stages themselves, with the exception of the fifth stage, are really short. Stage 1 and Stage 3 only has two short sub-sections before the Boss room, while both Stage 2 and Stage 4 have only one and then you’re already at the Boss room. In most beat ’em up games, you have to move a little, then beat a couple of bad guys. And then you get to move a little again, then you have to beat a couple of bad guys again. But in this game, the regular enemies just keep on spawning so you’re facing two enemies almost every time. You can stay at the start of each stage and just wait for the enemies to come; once they’re beat, it’s going to be a nice leisurely walk to the next area.
Harder and Harder
The original Japanese release of Double Dragon III was already challenging. The strategy for beat ’em up games is to not get surrounded and keep your enemies to one side. But the developers gave the regular enemies some moves to counter this. First off, an enemy can leap into the arms of a second enemy. The second enemy will then toss the first towards you, resulting in a stronger flying kick attack. There are also three types of enemies that have unlimited throwing weapons at their disposal. To avoid this, you have to be in constant motion. Since enemies just keep spawning, you won’t get any breathing room until you’ve defeated all the enemies in that area.
If that’s not enough, whoever localized this game for North America and Europe must have realized that the game is really short. So they made the NES release of Double Dragon III even more difficult. I already mentioned the lack of continues, and they didn’t stop there. They reduced the health of each of the characters and increased the number of enemies per sub-section!
Challenging enemy A.I. and the absence of health items, extra lives and continues can be a really grueling experience. Given that most people played the English release, I can see why this game was generally disliked because of how challenging it was.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
Visually, I liked how Double Dragon III looked. All the sprites were quite detailed and it’s easy for me to identify them thanks to the details put into each one. They’re animated well enough. There’s the typical NES glitch where parts of the characters would sometimes disappear, but I’d attribute that to hardware issues since other NES games have them too. What stands out for me in terms of graphics are the stages. Each area is quite distinct and colorful, which makes me wish that they had put more stages in the game.
I like this game’s soundtrack even more than the visuals. I think this game’s music is quite underrated, actually. It never gets mentioned when talking about good 8-bit chiptune music, but there’s so much to like here. My favorites are the title screen theme and Chin’s boss theme.
In terms of presentation, the developers also did a really good job. They incorporated a few cutscenes to help move the game’s narrative along, as well as a good transition sequence featuring a world map to indicate where the next stage is. Each of the characters has an epilogue in the ending sequence. The HUD and the menus are all very clean and easy to understand and navigate too.
I still enjoyed my experience with Double Dragon III, and I still prefer it over the previous two games released on the NES. But I can see why a lot of people didn’t like this game. It was very difficult and also very short. I wish the developers spent more time on this game and added more stages, because it’s fighting engine is enjoyable and I love the idea of being able to play as some of the boss characters that you beat.
I would still recommend this to anyone who enjoys beat ’em up games. Just be aware that this game is going to be a difficult one. And here’s a tip for anyone who wants to play this – a turbo controller will really help you out.
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