By ShellShock
Revised on 09/17/10
   

 

 

Double Dragon Advance

Players: 2
About: Beat'em-up remake
Courtesy of: Million
Back in: 2003
Originally on: GBA
Also on: N/A

 
           
 

First rule of Double Dragon is: Elbow Smash is your only friend. This classic beat'em-up properly introduced us to a new arcade genre full of lawless run-down neighborhoods, cooperative 2-player martial arts crowd control, and street gangs that could only afford one firearm. And how did we thanked it? By turning our backs to it and retaliate with Punch + Jump. But did we really have any other choice? We might have been too young and innocent to realize it, but looking back, Bimmy Billy and Jimmy must have been skipping dojo training a lot because their full self-defense repertoire just didn't cut it. Button combinations felt awkward and hard to time correctly, their "combos" kept getting foiled by the most lowly of thugs, and their jumping kick (Martial Arts 101 for any street fighter, really) was outright terrible. Guiding the palette-swapped brothers to their final destination and eventual family feud without sooner or later resorting to Elbow Smash abuse was, therefore, a mission a few chosen ones could successfully pull off. Unless, of course, you were comfortable with having a hole in your pocket full of quarters.

U.S. cover

In spite of its shortcomings and rough edges, a clear path to the end of the game was laid out by this infamous two-button move and Double Dragon enjoyed a very successful 1987 debut, most players feeling like they were getting their money's worth of play time back when ridiculously unfair difficulty levels and maximized quarter input were staple industry standards. As we know, a myriad of loose adaptations of varying quality flooded the computer and console markets in the following years. And while few turned out to be good standalone "Double Dragon-inspired" titles, all of them fell victims to their inferior hardware hosts by showing different or missing stages, lack of co-op mode or decent controls, or severely deficient graphics and/or sound.

Perhaps because of the game's undisputed classic status, it is especially intriguing that the definitive version remained, for many years to come, the original cabinet. This was true not only right after its street debut (when home hardware was nowhere near as advanced as arcade boards), but also a full decade after, even if PC technology and 32-bit consoles were more than suited to handle the job. 1996 came along and Technos filed for bankruptcy, rendering all of its intellectual property unusable for the next 5 years until newcomer Million (who is rumored to actually be Technos' new front) decided to buy it in 2001. Two years later, Double Dragon Advance would finally allow GBA owners to experience the only official Double Dragon remake released to date and the ultimate, definitive version of this long-classic beat'em-up. Devised with the purpose of re-telling and reinstating the series' original plot (the Japanese one, not the western mess), eliminate all of its well-known technical issues, and borrow the best bits from the rest of the series for a last hurrah dedicated to all fans disappointed over the years by mediocre sequels and spin-offs.

Japanese cover

Fervent fans are aware that tips and bits of the original arcade game's story were modified and/or left out for Double Dragon's worldwide release. The "Shadow Warriors" gang was dubbed the "Black Warriors", Marian lost her identity and became a random "kidnapped lady", and Billy and Jimmy beefed up their kindergarten names to Hammer and Spike. Not that anyone cares about such minor trivialities, but plot discrepancies between Japanese and western games quickly started infecting the series' ports, eventually even daring to make the brothers mortal enemies by casting Jimmy as Billy's ultimate nemesis, the "Shadow Boss", in the western NES version of the game.

Million's remake finally straightens out the script by reinstating the original Japanese plot, with brief and to-the-point cutscenes that show off Seiji UDA's very fitting raw and aggressive art style, giving further context to the brother's rescue operation:

"A global nuclear war has left the world in ruins. [...] On the outskirts of town, twin brothers Jimmy Lee and Billy Lee contemplate their future in the aftermath of the war. But one day, Billy's girlfriend Marian is kidnapped [...]. And the brothers receive a letter. It reads, "We have Marian. If you want to see her again, bring us the secret book of Sou-Setsu-Ken by 10 a.m. tomorrow morning." Billy is both angry and confused by the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend. Little does he know that his own brother also has feelings for Marian..." www.atlus.com, Double Dragon Advance.

Double Dragon Advance ad
Way Of The Dragon cover
As stated by Ebinuma, much of Double Dragon's feel and looks comes from Bruce Lee movies.

Million was also able to refine and improve the controls, in the process introducing a few new combos, moves, and weapons while still making a conscious effort not to deviate from how the original felt. According to project planner Muneki Ebinuma (former Technos employee and director for Super Double Dragon, fight choreographer for Shadow Force, and assistant director for Double Dragon on Neo-Geo), the idea was to combine the best aspects of the previous four games' "fighting systems" into one. In an interview for Japanese site Game Kommander, Ebinuma explains:

"Although we had several requests, such as putting in Street Fighter II-style special moves or making the game more like Final Fight, I wanted to stick as close as possible to the original premise [...], so I rejected suggestions that strayed too far from the original concept." Muneki Ebinuma

This way, special emphasis was given to include some of Technos' subtle but trademark beat'em-up characteristics. The traditional "left-right" punch combo (with matching head reaction by the enemy), as well as animation frames for characters walking with their backs towards their screen, were included. You might also notice the Shadow Warriors are less likely to break loose from holds or use countering techniques when their health is low. This was also a Technos trademark that was retained.

The new "sit-on punch" was borrowed from NES Double Dragon and Renegade, the latter also contributing the "running punch". The "stomping" technique came from The Combatribes; and the special techniques "Hyper Knee", "Hyper Uppercut", and "Cyclone Kick" were taken from NES Double Dragon II. Ebinuma decided to revise these 3 powerful moves' commands input method, in the process creating the "kneeling" command. Conversely, Ebinuma didn't like the original "flying kick" and "roundhouse kick" that is automatically performed on stunned enemies, so they were redesigned. But perhaps most welcomed, the famous "hair grab" was modified to allow players to finally grab a hold of previously unyielding thugs like Abobo, Linda, Burnov, and Chin.

Concept art by Seiji UDA
 

The brothers' new skills also pack a few new combos. It is possible to briefly juggle enemies in the air with headbutts, Hyper Uppercuts, and Hyper Knees, for example. Although difficult to pull off in single player mode, playing with a friend can lead to funny yet deadly juggling matches of bouncing enemies.
Other new moves include an off-the-wall jump, running, a quick diving aerial kick for enemies in lower platforms, a brief block with optional timed parry, the ability to drop all weapons or throw certain ones, and the original game's entire martial arts repository (check the Lee brothers' moves table). As far as weapons are concerned, the original stock made the transition with just a few minor improvements (the whip now has slightly better reach and the amount of dynamite dropped by the enemy has been increased), while an axe, morning star, nunchuks, and fighting sticks are new additions.

 

 

 

 
 
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
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Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Billy and Jimmy's repertoire:
   
Back Kick
Block
Cyclone Kick
Elbow Smash
Headbutt
   
 
The jumping back kick looks like its original version, except its button input is much friendlier and it can be performed during any type of jump.
Billy and Jimmy have blocking animation frames for both low and high hits.
The Cyclone Kick from NES Double Dragon II, can be performed during any type of jump, including a running one.
Good-old Elbow Smash is still here. Previously a one way ticket to Willy's lair, it is now demoted to near useless.
The headbutt is promoted to number one move for juggling Shadow Warriors in mid air.
   
   
   
 
Low Kick
Parry
Hyper Knee
Running Kick
Running Punch
 
 
 
 
A low kick with limited use. Its main purpose is to quickly disable enemies to follow up with a headlock.
Parry enemy punches by blocking at the exact moment you think you are going to get hit. The parry is followed by an automatic throw.
The Hyper Knee, borrowed from NES Double Dragon II, launches foes high into the air and across the screen. Perfect for feeding those hungry spike pits.
The running kick is slower than the running punch, but still effective.
A great, fast-delivered running punch.
   
   
   
 
Sit-On Punch
Stomp
Running
Throw
Jumping Kick
 
 
 
 
The "sit-on punch" was borrowed from arcade title Renegade, as well as the NES version of Double Dragon.
This stomp was taken from Technos' The Combatribes. Specially useful when followed by the "sit-on punch".
The ability to run was long overdue. You can execute various moves while running.
This is the normal throw that follows a headlock combo or a successful parry.
The redesigned jumping kick was based on a photograph of Bruce Lee delivering a jump kick to Abdul-Jabbar from my favorite movie, "The Game of Death".
   
   
   
 
Fighting Stance
Tae-Kwon-Do Kick
Kneeling
Launch Kick
Hyper Uppercut
 
 
 
 
The new Bruce Lee-style fighting stance has two versions: back and front.
A somewhat-hidden quick succesion of kicks performed only on stunned foes. Press Down + B at the exact same time in front of a stunned victim.
The kneeling command was introduced while looking for an easier button input method for the Hyper Uppercut and Hyper Knee. It dodges high hits.
This obscure kick is performed only after a successful grab by pressing Up + B at the exact same time. Another move that launches foes in the air for juggling.
The Hyper Uppercut, also taken from NES Double Dragon II, launches enemies into the air. Ideal for juggling.
   
 
 

Million's emphasis on refining all of these skills, balancing weapons, and polishing the fighting system before Double Dragon Advance hit the streets is probably the game's biggest accomplishment. It's no secret hand-to-hand combat in the 1987 classic left a lot to be desired, so the Quality Assurance department was given extra time to make sure the end results were as close to perfect as possible, while also establishing the necessary degree of consistent fun any beat'em-up needs to keep the player's attention all the way to the end. Very few 90's brawlers, as we know, can brag about not becoming repetitive after the mid-game mark.

Still, I couldn't help but notice some minor annoyances. The one that bothered me the most is the lack of an adecuate amount of animation frames for certain characters and/or moves, particularly evident when the Lee brothers run, which obviously stems from the 32 Mb limit imposed by the budget.
Control-wise, players' characters get stuck facing a certain direction while punching repeatedly, being unable to react to back attackers on the fly until the punch animation is over; and foes are slowly "bumped away" while on the receiving end of a beating, which can push them out of a character's reach mid combo. Note that these are just finicky issues that can quickly be avoided and forgotten once you get used to the otherwise solid fighting system. A system that in the end is quite a feat in itself considering a good portion of it had to be scaled down due to budget constraints.

Concept art by Seiji UDA
 

Stage design was key in Double Dragon's success. While latter Konami and Capcom brawlers focused on being able to accommodate the increasingly larger crowds of enemies into the screen by providing wider open spaces and keeping the terrain comfortably flat, Technos offered narrower corridors, some platform jumping, a little bit of ladder climbing, and a pinch of booby traps and instant-kill pits. By sprinkling a bit of these throughout the game, stages gained a character and personality of their own and became a more integral part of the fun, not just pretty landscapes to look at. Besides, let's be honest, half of Double Dragon's allure was seeing how many members of the Shadow Warriors gang would take to fill up the occasional pit, how none of them could swim, or how their inability to run slowly delivered them to their doom on the conveyor belt in Mission 2.

In staying faithful to the original, Double Dragon Advance keeps all of the classic stages and their respective hazards, as well as its distinct art style influenced particularly by Bruce Lee movies and the classic manga "Fist Of The North Star", almost completely intact. Yet another effort by the old Technos team to make the Double Dragon world more believable was the decision to link all stages together, connecting each of their final sections to the beginning of the following through seamless, smooth transitions. Interrupting the camera's single take of the entire game only upon arrival to Willy's lair. Unfortunately, Million had to scrap this fancy camera feat. But it was for a good reason: the addition of new stages either loosely based on or explicitly remade from previous installments. In addition to the four arcade levels, four new ones were interleaved inbetween them and paired with arrangements of some of the best examples of the series' soundtrack (which, you'll be glad to know, sound quite good considering the GBA's infamous audio capabilities).

     
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
 
The Brasilian dragon:

Million's remake later inspired a very different version of the game for the Zeebo console, a platform targeted to countries like Russia, China, Mexico, Brasil, and India, whose general population can't afford the latest videogame technologies. From the hands of Japanese cellphone game developer Brizo Interactive Corporation and released in 2009 under license from Million, this downloadable Double Dragon is available only in Portuguese and features a completely different, sleeker graphic style and much more fluid animation. Reworked adaptations of Mission 1, 2, and 4 from the 1987 classic are included (even if they don't look anything like they should), as well as three completely new ones for a total of six. Plenty of new bad guys, bosses, and a total of 18 unlockable members of the Shadow Warriors to play as in Extra Battle Mode too. Because it's only available in Brasil, was developed by a mobile phone gaming company, and boasts such a radical look, it's hard to take Brizo's Double Dragon seriously, let alone consider it another entry in the series or a remake. However, a quick look at its end credits indicate Hiroto Ikuta (The King Of Fighters '94) is the main planner, Hiroto Kittaka (The King Of Fighters '94 / '95 / '97 / '98) and Yuji Watanabe (Shenmue, Tekken 3, Super Smash Bros. Brawl) are the graphic designers, and Hideki Asanaka (Half-Minute Hero, The King Of Fighters '98, Samurai Shodown IV) is the sound composer. With all this talent behind it, it's got to be worth looking into if you ever have the means to.

 

 

Rounding it all up are some nice yet predictable self-explanatory extras. Survival Game, Sound Test, and Expert Mode become available upon beating the game or entering secret codes. There's also the questionable option to play a single player game with both Lee brothers, alternating between them in the middle of the action but without the CPU controlling the other one. I still haven't figured out what that's about. But don't worry, two-player co-op is really the only mode you should be playing anyways. And even in the likely scenario that you lack the hardware setup to do so, the very respectable single player mode will keep your attention throughout the whole game thanks to its expertly sized stages, measured enemy quantities, abundant moves stock, and the opportunity of gearing up the pace offered by the many pits and traps in the form of quick dispatches.
Some reviewers consider Double Dragon Advance a short game, but I couldn't disagree more. Even with double the amount of stages of the arcade, this remake manages to end just at the right time, somewhere in between leaving you wanting more and becoming repetitive. Leading to many replay sessions that never turn boring.

Double Dragon Advance was initially released in North America in November of 2003, while the Japanese version followed 5 months later. As is often the case when there's a such a time gap between official release dates for different territories, latter versions are often revised and minor adjustments made. In this case, Japanese players get the Sound Test and Option Mode available by default, as well as an art gallery after completing the game on the Expert setting. The Special Thanks section of the end credits now mentions Bruce Lee as well as Yoshihisa Kishimoto (the director of the original arcade), and the instruction manual includes additional character profiles as well as a list of combos.

Double Dragon EX
 


A Java-based version for cellphones followed up in 2005 by the name of Double Dragon EX. Unlike the mediocre, horrible-looking HD version that hit the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace in 2007, this one was developed by Eolith (of The King Of Fighters 2001 / 2002 fame) under license from Million and features only three stages: loose adaptations of Mission 1, 3, and 8 from the GBA title. It is reportedly a very competent port for cellphone platforms, but as we all know, that doesn't really mean much.
Million also licensed development of yet another version of Double Dragon to Brizo Interactive Corporation, which hit Brasilian Zeebo consoles in 2009 as a downloadable title. Just like the Xbox Live Arcade version, it is completely unrelated to Double Dragon Advance.

By never straying from its roots and always having a clear idea of exactly what made Technos' brawler so special, this remake managed to retain the unrefined, raw violence and primitive feel of the game it's based on without letting the improvements take over and make it feel like yet another sequel or even a more modern beat'em-up. It is, therefore, one of those rare and lucky instances in which the guys in charge not only have genuine love and appreciation for the source material, but also the skills and knowledge to give the series' fans an excellent reproduction of this classic and the best Double Dragon title ever made. Add the fact that Atlus and Million did not make much of a profit from it due to the limited target audience and restrained budget, nor did they expect to, and you can't help but feel the outmost respect for these few companies that still truly care about both their niche audience and dusty but good games from decades ago.
So give it a go. Elbow Smash abuse is now completely optional.

Excess trimmings?
The Double Dragon Dojo did an excellent job of translating Japanese website Game Kommander's interview with Muneki Ebinuma, planner of Double Dragon Advance as well as other Technos titles. It's a highly recommended read for fans of the series as it offers a detailed insight into how the game was made. After reading it myself, though, I felt quite disappointed when I found out exactly how many cool ideas and features had to be scrapped from the final version of the game because of ROM size limitations or in favor of not deviating too much from the roots. So consider this a warning. If you already love Double Dragon Advance for what it is, you might want to skip the following list of features that, according to Ebinuma, had to be left out of the final product.

1 - Unused sprites: above you see the original sprite designs for Billy and Marian drawn as a test in 2002. They were scrapped because of the decision to stick to a graphic style closer to Double Dragon arcade.
2 - Marian's Escape Mode: perhaps the biggest disappointment is the inability to play as Marian once the game was beaten. This mode would feature Marian breaking loose from her captors and making her way back to the dojo.
3 - Annoying enemy A.I.: Double Dragon arcade featured sneaky foes that would continuously dodge our hits by constantly retreating out of the way at the last second. No more of this.
4 - Extra weapons: according to Ebinuma, lots of other Chinese weapons didn't make the cut, and he really wanted to include poison gas and guns. The ability to stock up on knives, as well as wielding double nunchuks, was also left out.
5 - Techniques: character-specific techniques for Billy and Jimmy, enemies that fight in pairs, and taunts, were at one point considered. Special moves that would disable opponents by breaking legs and arms, too.
6 - Attack patterns: enemy attack patterns would change according to which part of their body the player hurt the most, preventing them from running or using kicks if their legs were punished enough, for example.
7 - Extended plot: a playable prologue and additional cutscenes detailing the events previous to the kidnapping of Marian were planned. In it, the player would defend the brothers' dojo from invading Shadow Warriors, followed by an escape from a city under nuclear attack, and ending with the Double Dragon title screen and kidnapping of Marian.
8 - Additional characters: Renegade Abobo Mode, yet another playing mode, had everyone's favorite brute go rogue and help Marian escape (probably by taking up the task of escorting her home). The Combatribes' Berserker, Blitz, and Bullova were at one point considered as selectable characters.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

-http://www.atlus.com/dda/ is the official website.

-http://doubledragon.kontek.net has a translation of Game Kommander's interview with Muneki Ebinuma, and is also an impressively well-written Double Dragon fan site.

- MobyGames.com has information about Double Dragon EX, the cellphone game, as well as Double Dragon for Zeebo.

-Belial's and Zac’s sprite rips are the only ones I could find. Thanks!

 

     
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Double Dragon Advance - GBA
 
 
Level breakdown and comparison:

Mission 1

A couple of landmarks make this level THE Double Dragon level everybody remembers, namely the Lee brothers' garage, the Volkswagen billboard, and the freakishly big cat on the trash can (which is now a more moderate size). Mission 1 has no structure or soundtrack changes, except for an arrangement of the latter.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon - Arcade

Mission 2

This classic stage keeps almost the exact layout as the arcade version, except it ends with a boss fight against Burnov at the bottom of the elevator past the conveyor belt. This area, initially the beginning of Mission 3 in Double Dragon, is closed off by huge steel beams and a new steel curtain door is where Shadow Warriors spawn from. It's also worth noting that the green chain link fence at the beginning of this mission cannot be climbed anymore, leaving the top catwalk completely unaccessible. The music track is an arrangement of the original.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
 

Mission 3

Mission 3 looks like the beginning of Super Double Dragon's third stage, a sort-of China Town street. Here's your opportunity to get a hold of a pair of nunchucks or fighting sticks. An arranged version of "Escape to the Forest", the track from the fifth mission in NES Double Dragon II, plays in the background.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Super Double Dragon - SNES
 
 

Mission 4

Mission 4 is also borrowed from Super Double Dragon, and is carried out on top of a moving truck. However, there's a different boss, the wind doesn't push you back anymore, and the invisible barriers that previously prevented both players and foes from falling of the truck have been removed. The music track from the original version of this stage has been replaced by an arrangement of "Advancing Towards Sunset", a piece from mission 4 in Double Dragon II NES.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Super Double Dragon - SNES
 
 

Mission 5

This stage's structure remained the same. Because of the steel beam barricade at the end of Mission 2, Mission 5 starts a couple of screens after that area. This was obviously due to the incorporation of the extra stages. As expected, an arrangement of Double Dragon arcade's Mission 3 theme plays during this level.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon - Arcade
 
 

Mission 6

Stage 6 is a reinterpretation of Double Dragon's cave stage on the NES, with various jumps over bodies of water replacing bottomless pits. It's sort of a loose one though, without any falling stalactites or boulders to dodge. Mission 5's music track also plays during this stage.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon - NES
 
 

Mission 7

Stage 7 is based on what looks like Mission 4 from the arcade version of Double Dragon II. Ladders, booby traps, and an overall Chinese theme lead to a narrow spike-lined corridor that ends at a big room where you'll face the “Five Emperors” (the five Masters of Gen-Setsu-Ken, known as the “Five Tiger Generals” in the Japanese version) led by Raymond. This level features the music from the final stage of the arcade version of Double Dragon II.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon II - Arcade
 
 

Mission 8

The last mission is, of course, none other than a great remake of the original's last stage. The spear statues and pushing blocks on the wall have been adjusted to be more fair and easier to dodge, but the party only gets started once you hear the Double Dragon theme start playing and tons of bad guys start pouring into Willy's arena.

Double Dragon Advance - GBA
Double Dragon - Arcade