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In Defense of Double Dragon: The E.T. of 2600 Fighting Games

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[i started this piece as a post for here on AtariAge, but decided to flesh it out a little to post elsewhere. Pardon some of the more obvious stuff laid out for laypeople. I just thought I'd post it here anyway.]

 

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I'm thinking Double Dragon is the E.T. of Atari 2600 action/fighting games.

 

Both of them were ambitious in concept. They're graphically advanced games on the system (for their respective times, a very long 6 years between E.T. in 1983 and Double Dragon in 1989). Both are very difficult thanks to design shortcomings of one kind or another. Neither is a truly great game because of problems with gameplay. In E.T.'s case, the infamously rushed six-week production schedule was to blame -- even Howard Scott Warshaw admitted there were some big problems with it. (Recent hacks of E.T. have apparently significantly improved a lot of the issues.) Collision detection with those damn pits was too sensitive for most, among other things. Double Dragon suffers most from trying to cram a 1987 game into a 1977 piece of machinery. The problems most people have seem to be the difficulty and the way controls are strange and a little unwieldy at first.

 

Granted, there are plenty of differences. E.T. seems like it was cutting-edge in concept (with its quest/items/multiscreen/multi-enemy world) at the height of the system's power (just before the industry crash). A "manual reader", so to speak. Double Dragon was a quickie cash-in on an antiquated system ("Let's do a whatever we can for a 2600 version, to squeeze a few more bucks outta the licensing deal."), in a pre-"retro-gaming" era where it seemed kinda futile to even bother with outdated consoles. Though, I think despite the "quickie cash-in" origins, programmer Dan Kitchen really did a great job. (Just based on my limited experience.)

 

For Double Dragon, the idea of having three or four non-flickering sprites on a a variety multi-colored backgrounds and environments seems absurd. And with several different musical themes! Frankly, not even the NES version did all that without flicker. And this is a Pong machine. Of course, people don't usually complain about the graphics. It's the fighting. The enemies never seem to get stunned by your punches and kicks. Meaning you don't have enough time to follow up your first strike. The enemies move so fast, it's hard to use the joystick to move, and then immediately slam into a counter-intuitive "button+direction" combination to attack. It's clumsy, but on a controller with one button, it seems like the most reasonable option. Graphical shortcomings and the "enemies can't cross the equator of the play field" thing are weird workarounds to bring the game to the 2600, but what can you expect? The arcade version of Double Dragon was dedicated hardware equivalent to roughly, what... the 16-bit Genesis/SNES era of fifteen years later? The 2600 cartridge was, what... a $20-$30 quickie?

 

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"Is it a great game?" Probably not. Technical marvel doesn't mean much without gameplay. And while I don't think this is as bad as everybody says, it's not one of those instantly-perfect combinations of player interface and onscreen action. Muuuuch better than its reputation would have you believe, though. Just like E.T.

 

 

"Should it have been attempted?" I think that's kind of a strange question to ask. Why should anything be attempted? But it was, and it's got about as much Double Dragon as one could reasonably fit into a cart. Two player multiplayer, weapons you could pick up and use, different kinds of enemies, colorful backgrounds and worlds... and Abobo.

 

I'm relatively recent to the wide world of 2600 games -- I haven't been playing consistently since back in the day like many people here. But I loooove me some beat 'em ups. And the Double Dragon series has probably been my favorite since about '87 (when I was a kid). Strike that. The first two games, mostly. Over and over. With some of the others for later generations along the way. When I got into the VCS, finding out there was a Double Dragon port was a spit-take kind of a moment. Even though it was said to be bad, I had to have it. I wanted to see. So I bought one in the AtariAge marketplace last week from a helpful member. I've had it for about two days, and I'm getting my butt kicked by Abobo. But that means I'm making it through the first screen, the second screen with the beefy guys (one with a stick), the back alley full of ladies (I use the term loosely... they're mean!), and another screen or two of baddies before a pair of Abobii kill me.

 

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And I STINK. I'm a casual gamer at best. I love the games, but comparing myself to the lists in the HSC almost makes me embarrassed. I can't even play Asteroids. It's my secret shame. Sometimes *gasp*, I even play games in Teddy Bear mode for a while when I get a new game. I've never beat the NES Double Dragon, either. But if a gorilla like me can make this game work on a worn-out joystick, it means it can't be as impossible as everybody says. I haven't even figured out how to use the reverse elbow yet.

 

I say it's the the audacity of even porting the game to such limited technology and the relatively high profile of the Double Dragon name has led to the game being the pariah of 2600 fighting games, much like the infamous landfill has made E.T. the perfect target for scorn of other kinds, some of which it probably doesn't deserve (though I still haven't figured out how to get very far myself). But seriously, what's the competition among 2600 beat 'em ups? People say good things about Kung-Fu Master, but I'm hard pressed to come up with many other side-"scrolling" beat 'em ups for the 2600 at all, much less ones that are any easier to navigate than Double Dragon. And I can't get ANYWHERE in Chuck Norris' Superkicks.

 

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(Sadly the one joystick button is not just "roundhouse kick". That might help.)

 

Ranting and raving about how Double Dragon stinks also opens up the "There was a Double Dragon on the 2600?" conversation. (And let's face it, there are some people love to show off like that.) People wouldn't care about some random really hard game called "Street Punch" on the 2600. People care that this game's "bad" because it's a Double Dragon game that's supposedly bad. An easy punching bag, ironically.

 

But yeah, it's still "stupid tough". And flawed. And I don't blame people for not liking it. I'm just saying I don't think it deserves the hate it gets.

 

Share your love, share your hate. You're not gonna sway me. It's flawed, but I like it. I'll probably never make that short list of people that have finished the game, but even though I went into it as a Double Dragon fan wanting to find a reason to like a bad game, it's proven to be much more enjoyable than expected.

 

(My high score... so far.)

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(And I know all this has been discussed before, in threads that pop up every few years. Well, that was then, this is now. I was thinking of it as "tabula rasa" for Double Dragon opinions. And I didn't want to get griped at for gravedigging an old thread. Sorry either way. Go nuts.)

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I've said this before, but I think games like Double Dragon and Rampage are absolute abominations on the Atari 2600 that have no business being on the system. A kid in 1989 who was in love with the arcade game (or heck, even one of the other console ports) goes to the store, sees this box on the shelves, and shells out 3 months worth of newspaper money to buy the game, only to learn that the game is a smoldering pile of ass that doesn't remotely resemble the game that they love in any way whatsoever.

 

The very presence of the game on the platform implies (at least, to the uninformed) that a reasonable facsimile of the game is actually possible on platform, and in the case of Double Dragon, clearly this is not the case. Seems almost... disingenuous. But business is business... whatever you need to do to move cartridges and make revenue.

 

Retro nerds like us on sites like this have a pretty good feel for why late 80's arcade games are difficult to do on the Atari 2600, so when see look back on such attempts in the present day, we're more inclined to take the academic perspective, as in "hey, that's a solid accomplishment considering the constraints the programmer was facing, but the game is bad just as I would have expected". Then, the "soft spot" factor for the beloved Atari 2600 kicks in and it's like "awww, this isn't so bad... the good ol' 2600 that could..." But we're a niche group. Very few objective critics would find this game acceptable as Double Dragon.

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As long as you are ok with the "punch and run" method of fighting, I think DD on the VCS is just fine. I enjoy it quite a bit.

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I hope to learn to play Double Dragon on the 2600 someday. It was one of my favorite arcade games and I still haven't been able to get past the first two enemies.

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I like it too.

I take it for what it is.

There's a version of Halo on the VCS now for pity's sake.

If this game wasn't released in 1989 and was a homebrew from 1999-2001-ish, it would instead be praised for what some programmer accomplished rather than being considered an "abomination", I believe.

 

And, not to insult, but anybody who saved up their allowance/paperboy money/whatever and bought this in 1989 EXPECTING something even close to the arcade game was only deluding themselves. It'd be like someone buying the Halo VCS port and griping that it's "nothing like the original!". What the heck did you expect??? The VCS couldn't do accurate arcade ports in 1983, what made you think it was suddenly capable of doing accurate arcade ports of games 5+ years advanced in technology??? However in that respect, it's amazing what it DID pull off considering how bad some some MUCH earlier arcade ports were handled!

 

As for the game's difficulty; it IS difficult, but once you get the timing down of being able to pull off different moves at will it gets much easier. It would be nicer if it had the "C-64" control style of HOLD fire button and then press a direction to pull of an attack rather than having to push a direction and the fire button simultaneously, but, oh well.

You also have to play it like TMNT II: The Arcade Game on NES, by which I mean the enemies seem to have a momentary invincibility after being hit so you CAN'T really string together multiple moves, you gotta hit and run (and apparently everyone LOVES that game so I guess that mechanic can't be bitched about, now can it!) OR, if you're clever, knock 'em down and then hit them JUST as they get up (which you may have noticed is a strategy the CPU likes to use against you!)

 

Also, like many other iterations of Double Dragon the ELBOW is your best friend. To pull it off in this version you push the joystick in the opposite direction your facing and the fire button at the same time. If you're smart and good at pulling it off it's the ONLY move you'll use. It always knocks 'em down and you can hit them with it again as soon as they stand up; basically elbowing them to death from the first contact. That may make it sound like it gets easy, but it doesn't. You have to have your timing down to a tee to hit them as they get up and NEVER screw up and NOT pull off the elbow. However, that's not the only strategy. A quick punch or kick followed up with a jump kick is a good method of attack too, just remember their momentary invincibilty. The baseball bat is your friend as well, and while it can be tricky to get the knife from an enemy, it's a one-hit kill if you CAN get it from them! The barrel is a little tricky to use, because it tends to land right next to your target resulting in them having it now to throw at you and it CAN be tricky to dodge. You wanna throw it when you REAL close to them so it'll land far away from them.

 

That's all I can think of for now...

Edited by Torr
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As long as you are ok with the "punch and run" method of fighting, I think DD on the VCS is just fine. I enjoy it quite a bit.

 

This.

 

Sure, you can't really dive into it right away like so many other versions of DD (and I've got just about all of them, including original full-size machines of the first three games), there's a definite steep learning curve, but the fact is that it's playable (albeit with practice), they crammed a bunch of moves in, a lot of the enemies, great, non-flickering graphics, weapons, two-player simultaneous action, and music that is recognizable as Double Dragon. Not too shabby.

 

My only real complaints? Using a joystick with this one is, for me, not gonna happen. There are just too many moves/combos, and those in conjunction with one button and the joystick, well, you're really gonna need to bust out the Genesis gamepad for 2600 DD. Also, the sprites: they look great and are animated well, but they're just too small. I know, I know, making them bigger may have meant sacrificing something else, maybe even the two-player mode, but the fact is, they're just too tiny; there are times when you really aren't sure just what move you're pulling off. I'd have gladly taken some flicker if it meant making 'em bigger.

 

Frankly, had the sprites been enlarged, and the list of attacks cut down (which would in turn simplify the control scheme), I don't think this game would garner the amount of hatred it so often does.

 

Like Torr above said, it is what it is, and I for one am glad that DD made it to the 2600 at all. But hey, the mileage of others will undoubtedly vary, so, you know, different strokes and all that. As for me, I dig it.

Edited by King Atari
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Torr is spot-on, you simply have to take it for what it is.

 

I've raged hard on Gamestm before, for wasting 2-pages in certain issues for mocking 2600 games like:Rampage, Double Dragon and Tempest and coming across at times as suggesting far better results should of been achived, get real.....

 

 

Simple facts are there's a huge, technological gulf between systems when dealing with conversions like this.

 

If anyone expected the C64 for example to deliver perfectly reasonable conversions of: Stun Runner, Hard Drivin, Street Fighter 2, Final Fight etc, then please, pass that frack pipe over here...

 

I take my proverbial hat off to anyone attempting to get anything that even briefly resembled Double Dragon on the VCS and they should be praised for what they achived, not ridiculed by some hack in Gamestm.

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I like Double Dragon, but it IS hard as hell. The only way to make an honest run at this game is to master the elbow move. You probably won't get past the second level otherwise, and that's the only thing about it that bothers me. You should be able to progress in the game without having to master a specific move and use it ad infinitum. Said move should make it easier to progress, but it shouldn't be the only means by which progress is possible.

I've gotten within one enemy group of beating this game; I was taken out by the last group before the end boss with the machine gun. :mad: :)

 

And I never understand the hate for Rampage, either. Aside from the weird-looking characters (of which there are three; even the NES version only had two) and the fact you can't really climb up damaged buildings where sections have been punched away (remember to start at the top and work your way down!), I think it's a great game. It's even got the Dateline screens between levels. It only suffers from what every version of Rampage suffers from: getting really monotonous after a dozen or so levels.

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If this game wasn't released in 1989 and was a homebrew from 1999-2001-ish, it would instead be praised for what some programmer accomplished rather than being considered an "abomination", I believe.

Of course. But that is a big part of what the homebrew scene is all about--little hobbyist projects to see what can be achieved with known IP's on retro hardware. This is not nearly the same thing as commercially releasing a title--right in the midst of a time period when that title is hot--and charging $40 (or whatever) to buy it.

 

And, not to insult, but anybody who saved up their allowance/paperboy money/whatever and bought this in 1989 EXPECTING something even close to the arcade game was only deluding themselves. It'd be like someone buying the Halo VCS port and griping that it's "nothing like the original!". What the heck did you expect??? The VCS couldn't do accurate arcade ports in 1983, what made you think it was suddenly capable of doing accurate arcade ports of games 5+ years advanced in technology??? However in that respect, it's amazing what it DID pull off considering how bad some some MUCH earlier arcade ports were handled!

Of course anybody with a clue would know that the 2600 was not capable of playing a decent Double Dragon, but the philosophical question I'm raising is, just how bad does the game have to be for it to cross over from being "a solid effort, considering the constraints" to a "complete ripoff"? As you said, it should have been obvious that the platform would struggle with the game... so presumably the publisher should know this as well, and not do it.

 

After all, it's not just kids-in-the-know who buy games. What about clueless moms and grandmas, for example? "I've heard Johnny talk about Double Dragon a lot lately... I'll buy this for him so he can play at home!"

 

In retrospect, it's neat for people like us to look back and say "hey cool, Atari 2600 Double Dragon... very clever programming right here... imaginative use of the hardware sprites... that guy is totally racing the beam... amazing that he was able to get the result he did out of a pong machine." But if you're a consumer in 1989 who just bought Atari 2600 Double Dragon, none of that techno-babble means shit, nor is it any consolation--you're just somebody who bought something that sucks and that doesn't live up to the name on the cover.

 

And nobody said that the game needs to be "accurate". There are lots of Double Dragon ports out there, and I can't think of a single one that I'd call "accurate". But many of them are still good, fun games because they're running on hardware that is appropriate for the task.

 

If you enjoy the game, great, have at 'er. I tend to get kind of ruthless on these latter-day arcade ports on the 2600 because I was majorly disappointed by a few of them at the time, and I think they kind of sully the legacy of the system. Kind of like that star athlete who decides to come out of retirement, but ends up making an ass of himself. :D

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I think I would love this game, it has so many cool things, like health bar, simultaneous two player, music, an ending, and it's double Dragon, but every time I tried it, I was beaten to a pulp. I think the control scheme is too hard to master (or it's just I suck at this game)...

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I loved it, pretty good music and some nice backgrounds. Never able to finish it, still I must've put some decent hours in this little "cash grabbing port" of the legendary arcade classic. For me it was a nice end of a gaming era.

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I decided to give the modified version with invincibility a go. I still managed to die a bunch of times because of the timer running out, but it was interesting to see the whole game. Other than the tough control scheme I think they did a great job capturing the arcade game.

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Retro nerds like us on sites like this have a pretty good feel for why late 80's arcade games are difficult to do on the Atari 2600, so when see look back on such attempts in the present day, we're more inclined to take the academic perspective, as in "hey, that's a solid accomplishment considering the constraints the programmer was facing, but the game is bad just as I would have expected". Then, the "soft spot" factor for the beloved Atari 2600 kicks in and it's like "awww, this isn't so bad... the good ol' 2600 that could..." But we're a niche group. Very few objective critics would find this game acceptable as Double Dragon.

 

I think this is a valid point. I was never really impressed with DD on the 2600 as a game, but was actually pretty impressed with it on a technical level in terms of what they pulled off on the machine. It definitely didn't capture the magic of the arcade for me, but was surprised at the graphics and depth.

 

Those enemies really knew how to kick you when you were already down ...

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Back in the day, I feel like my friends and I expected games to be inferior to their arcade counterparts and the versions on more powerful systems. We knew the home version would be a step down from the arcade, and rated things on sort of a "How much (X) does this give me on the console I have?" How much Street Fighter II could the SNES provide? Even as kids we knew we weren't gonna get everything in the home port. I agree that now that many of us are older and savvier to the technological side, we tend to have some rose-colored safety goggles on when it comes to hardware. But for myself, at least, I think that had I played the 2600 Double Dragon port, I'd have thought "Wow, this is pretty good... for an Atari." And then likely would have moved on to something more immediately fun to play. Just like I'd evaluate the NES version or whatever. Though my at-the-time love of DD would probably lead to more rounds than most people would try. But I definitely concur that hardware limitations lead to much more forgiving opinions all these years down the road. It's just that I think it was something my pals and I considered as kids, too -- even if it was in a different kind of language.

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Admittedly I never had 2600 Double Dragon or Rampage back in the 80s; the “sour taste” in my mouth from the latter day era of “overly ambitious” 2600 titles comes from a small batch of games, but two in particular: Title Match Pro Wrestling and Kung Fu Master.

 

After playing Mat Mania (aka Exciting Hour) in the arcade and then the SMS and NES Pro Wrestling games on friends’ systems, I absolutely loved them, so I just had to get a wrestling game for myself to play at home. Since I only had a 2600 at the time, Title Match was the ticket. It might be one of the biggest letdowns ever for me in gaming; I thought the game absolutely stunk.

 

I loved, loved, loved Kung Fu Master in the arcade (still do), and I was excited to get a copy of it to play at home. I know the 2600 version has its fans here, and to be fair it’s not nearly as bad as some other ports on the system, but for me it still has the unenviable distinction of being the proverbial “last nail in the coffin” for me as a 2600 owner; it was the game that convinced me that the 2600 had become pretty much irrelevant as a platform. It’s the last new title I got for the system before checking out and moving on to the 7800.

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See, I prefer the VCS Kung-Fu Master over the NES port.

 

Takes all kinds

:spidey:

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I had this game and it kicked my ass. I loved it though, it was truly a great effort. Yeah, the controlls were a bit off....always thought of hacking a 6 button pad to make the fire + direction thing the console wants. Got a few extra genny pads laying around.

 

My only complaint about it was the size of the sprites. I know why they are the size they are (from the tech standpoint) to keep them from running in front of the sprites from the wall, or each other. But I think they would have looked better if they just doubled every other scan line or something.

 

And don't hate on rampage, I had a TON of fun on that game, and you can play as the wolf (which you couldn't do on the NES version :P (Ok, yeah, it was terrible, but I still liked it)

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How does the 2600 version compare to the 7800 version? Does anybody know? People say the 7800 version sucks but I like it. For instance I feel like the 2600 version of Kung Fu Master plays pretty much the same as the 7800 version.

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How does the 2600 version compare to the 7800 version? Does anybody know? People say the 7800 version sucks but I like it. For instance I feel like the 2600 version of Kung Fu Master plays pretty much the same as the 7800 version.

 

Unlike the 2600 and 7800 ports of Kung-Fu Master, where the only real difference between the two is graphical, the 2600 and 7800 ports of Double Dragon are different beasts (in other words, one isn't just a graphically-inferior version of the other). Whereas the 7800 version took advantage of both available controller buttons (sadly, unlike 7800 Kung-Fu Master), the 2600 port mapped several moves to a single button and different directional pushes on the joystick.

 

Through a combination of that, smaller sprites, and pretty relentless enemy AI, 2600 Double Dragon is quite a bit harder than 7800 Double Dragon.

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Unlike the 2600 and 7800 ports of Kung-Fu Master, where the only real difference between the two is graphical, the 2600 and 7800 ports of Double Dragon are different beasts (in other words, one isn't just a graphically-inferior version of the other). Whereas the 7800 version took advantage of both available controller buttons (sadly, unlike 7800 Kung-Fu Master), the 2600 port mapped several moves to a single button and different directional pushes on the joystick.

 

Through a combination of that, smaller sprites, and pretty relentless enemy AI, 2600 Double Dragon is quite a bit harder than 7800 Double Dragon.

My curiosity for the best of me and I bought it off eBay so I'll be trying it out soon. Perhaps Kung Fu Master wasn't the best example. Commando, Ikari Warriors and Desert Falcon are different and at times harder but the feel of the game is similar. Does 2600 DD have the same flavor of the 7800? In the 7800 you rely on the reverse kick almost entirely once you master that the game is way easier. Does the 2600 version get much easier once you master the elbow punch? Or is the 2600 version just brutal beyond belief?

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My curiosity for the best of me and I bought it off eBay so I'll be trying it out soon. Perhaps Kung Fu Master wasn't the best example. Commando, Ikari Warriors and Desert Falcon are different and at times harder but the feel of the game is similar. Does 2600 DD have the same flavor of the 7800? In the 7800 you rely on the reverse kick almost entirely once you master that the game is way easier. Does the 2600 version get much easier once you master the elbow punch? Or is the 2600 version just brutal beyond belief?

In my experience, the best moves on the 2600 are a simple kick (used when coming in from *under* an enemy, specifically), and the jump kick, used for a quick knockdown and getaway.

 

I wouldn't say the 2600 version really retains the flavor of the 7800 version; they're both pretty different in all aspects (but sound.)

 

I will say, however, that the fact they got something even remotely approximating the arcade on the 2600 is in and of itself a wonder. It's definitely tough, but not insurmountable. It just takes patience and perseverance.

Edited by King Atari

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I have had this for a bit now. It is definitely not as bad as people say. Its kind of fun once you get the hang of it. That being said I only rarely get past the Abobos in mission 2 and have never gotten to the third mission yet. If I only had a 2600 back in the day, I would have been very happy to have this. I

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opening it up to 2 button control saves this game, 30 years later. now you can actually play it, practically for the very first time

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I'm amazed that they got anywhere porting Double Dragon, but I'd still rank it as not-good. Though, I'd also point out that many versions of Double Dragon for more sophisticated consoles also had serious gameplay issues. I really tried to like those Master System and Genesis ports...

 

Commando is similar for me. I think it's a nice port for the time, but it fails to capture what's good about the arcade game and also doesn't make for the most engaging 2600 game. If I only had a 2600 in the late 80s, I'm sure I would've played it quite a bit as a cart that let me have just a taste of the arcade game at home. But, in 2019, it's a bit hard to recommend as anything but a curiosity.

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