You Guys Wanna Fight?
Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls
In the world of arcade melee games, there are tournament fighters (the kinds that we'd called "street fighters" based on Capcom's series that basically has defined the market) and there are belt-scrolling brawlers. Technos essentially created both kinds of games with their Kunio-kunStarting as a fighting game befoe spinning out in sports titles (and other adventures) of all shapes and sizes, the Kunio-kun series is one of the most diverse, and hilarious, to ever grace both sides of the Pacific. franchise as the first game in that series, Renegade played a little like both. When it came to fighting games, Technos was, for a little while there, the company to watch.
Of course it was the spiritual sequel series, Double Dragon that came to truly define the belt-scrolling brawlers in the NES heyday. Other games tries to play in the brawling pond but them Dragons had a lock on the market (at least until the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies., and then Capcom's own Final Fight series arrived on the scene). Suddenly the Dragons (that Doubled) didn't seem nearly as interesting. Some of that was the furor around Street Fighter II, which was absolutely the arcade game of the mid-1990s. At the same time, though, Technos has mismanaged their franchise to the point that these lustrous gems were no longer nearly as interesting to their parent company.
Eventually, then, Technos licensed out the Dragon boys to another company, Tradewest, and washed their hands of the whole thing for a time. Tradewest saw where the winds were blowing (especially as their licensed brawling animal franchise, BattletoadsRare's mutants with attitude came out in a massive popular, and very difficult, first game, which also marked the high point for the series., was hitting the skids as well). Everyone wanted to play Street Fighter II so if you wanted to compete you had to be just like the competition. Enter, then, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls.
The first thing we need to mention here is that, technically, this is the sixth game in the Double Dragon franchise, meaning that either Super Double Dragon or the Tradewest published Battletoads & Double Dragon would have been considered the official fourth entry at the time. As Technos made Super Double Dragon that would seem to be the correct answer. Amusingly, officially it's neither as, in 2017, Double Dragon IV came out (and it was, technically, the 10th entry in the series because... reasons).
I have a feeling that any kid picking up Double Dragon V back in the day would have been supremely disappointed. This would have been for multiple reasons, just about all of them related to just how sublimely terrible this game is, but the first and most obvious reason is that this game is, in no way, shape, or form, a belt-scrolling brawler. Maybe if this had been more obviously listed as a tournament fighter, calling it like Double Dragon: Dojo Battles, that could have been okay. But to label it the fifth official game in the series and then to not have it play like the other games in the series, that feels like a real bait-and-switch.
Worse, on a basic aesthetic level this game hardly looks or feels like a Double Dragon game. The art style, as well as all the characters in the game, were taken from the short-lived cartoon series released in 1993 and 1994. Yes, that show went for two seasons but it only managed a total of 26 episodes, a short run that pretty well illustrated how little kids seemed to care about that cartoon at the time. I guess I can see tying a game into the cartoon to get that cross synergy but, again, don't number it "V" so that fans expect something anywhere near the traditional experience they wanted.
if we're being fair here, the Technos-produced games had been sliding pretty far into the shit pile with the last two titles (not just Super but also Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone both being pretty bland affairs). It's pretty bad when the off-brand cross over with the 'Toads was the best Dragon game of the last few releases, but that was where the franchise stood. I absolutely understand wanting to shake the franchise up, but a shady bait-and-switch title based on a cartoon no one was watching seems like a terrible way to do it.
Not helping matters is that the actual game is crap. It is a bald-faced Street Fighter clone (which many people were released at the time, true; Konami did the same with TMNT Tournament Fighters, for example). Being a clone of a popular game isn't bad on its own (even if it does lack originality), but this game needed to play better if it wanted to succeed at all. Instead we have a tilted, sloppy affair no one wants to touch.
Graphically the game featured pretty awful, chunky characters based on their counterparts in the cartoon. The characters lack a lot of animation, feeling like they're running at 12 frames per second in a 30fps game. The action does move fairly quickly but the game still feels like its straining, skipping animation and getting choppy at times despite its stripped down style. The presentation of the game, in short, needed a lot more polish if it was going to look goo compared to Capcom's masterpiece.
Worse, the game plays like crap. Most characters only have a small selection of moves and it's hard to tell what moves are good in what situations. Characters can seemingly block a power move with a simple punch while other moves seem to be completely devastating, unblockable and powerful. There's no rhyme or reason to what works and what doesn't, showing a serious lack of balance. That, coupled with an engine straining to track inputs, means that the game plays in a stuttering, choppy style where you're not even sure if a failed fight is your fault or the game's. I'm bad at games, yes, but I'm not this bad.
It is a pity that the game plays so poorly, and looks so bad, as Tradewest and developer Leland Interactive Media actually had some interesting twists they put into the basic formula of genre. Along with the standard two-player mode and a normal tournament mode there was also "Quest Mode" which gave each character a plot through the game. The plots are basic, with the Dragons trying ti stop the Shadow Master while the master's minions are all fighting to be his new second-in-command, but at least stories were included. Even more interesting, Quest Mode gave each character actual stats and you could actually tweak the stat point of whoever you chose to customize your experience some. I really like the idea behind that.
Sadly the few good ideas, and the noble intentions, of the game are mired in an otherwise awful mess. There are bad games in the Double Dragon series, and then there's Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls which easily the worst, and most misguided, game in the entire franchise. We'd only get one more Dragon game after this mess, a Technos-made fighting game for the Neo Geo, before the franchise would take a much needed, near-decade break.