Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 9

Double Dragon III

Here we have another game I dismissed in my teenage years as real pile.  I had loved the two previous DD games, but when I got a hold of DDIII, I was nonplussed.    Unlike the previous beat-em-ups, this game gave you one life and your hit points evaporated like heat from a delicious waffle.  I died so many times trying to get out of the first room, I figured the game was obviously broken and it quickly went into the "do not rent again" box.

It was no surprise that it showed back up here in the mix of hardest NES games ever.  If there was one thing my limited encounter with this game could attest to, it was its difficulty.  I was not looking forward to spending five good hours playing this game, getting killed by those same three guys in that same first room.  However, as with yesterday's TMNT entry and so many other games (Uncanny X-men for example), there is a learning curve and once you overcome it, the game really opens up for you.

Double Dragon III has a wicked learning curve.  Wicked.  Remember, I had played the other two, I was not a DD novice, but this game cannot be played like the previous two.  In those games you could take punch after punch and come back for more.  Billy was made of sterner stuff back then.  And you really could come back for more because you had extra lives.  Not so in DDIII!  When your last hit point is gone it is GAME OVER. This automatically ramps the challenge up by a significant margin and you haven't even started the game yet!  To make matters worse, Billy's moves are a little different, and although you still have them all at the outset, you'll feel like you are learning them all over again, so your first few fights will be a bit sluggish and awkward.  Standing and punching or kicking isn't going to cut it.  These are the very reasons I gave this game up for dead oh so long ago.  I couldn't get past these learning curves.

However, when you are shackled to a game for 5 hours you had better get with it or it is going to be a long gaming session.  Fortunately, while the learning curve in DDIII is steep, it is not insurmountable.  And once it has been breached the game really shows its stuff.  After you get the hang of how to keep Billy alive (and how to exploit your two best moves, the classic cyclone spin kick from DDII and the new jump-and-grab-'em-by-the-head-and-toss-them), the game has several features that help keep you going right to the end.  The most significant one is the ability to add new fighters to your team.  When you beat the martial arts masters in the game, they will join your cause.  And you want them, badly.  Chin and Ranzou have some of the most powerful and useful moves in the game and can make later levels much easier.  The biggest plus, though, is that they act as extra lives.  If you die while playing as one of the masters, you'll be allowed to continue on as another character.  Thus, you can effectively accumulate three extra lives through the course of the game.  The other big help is that the game is relatively short, only five levels deep.  While each level is complex and full of gut-punching bad guys to battle, you can learn to master each one with some time and practice and before you know it you are in Egypt ready for the final showdown.
These two moves are essential to your eventual success.

I made it to the final battle three times in the five hours I played this game.  I have no doubt that with a little more time, I could take DDIII down.  That said, Double Dragon III features a big learning curve and makes significant breaks with the traditions of the series that will require a certain amount of re-education on the classically trained gamer's skills.  The level design is strong and the challenge is great.  Double Dragon III earns it #22 ranking on this list.

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