Double Dragon

Double Dragon (Famicom) - Title Screen
04/08/1988 (Japan), 06/1988 (US), 1990 (PAL)
双截龍 (ダブルドラゴン)
Yoshihisa Kishimoto and his team significantly evolved the beat-em-genre with Nekketsu Kouha Kunio kun/Renegade in 1986. Technos Japan naturally wanted them to make more of these games, so they were tasked with just that. June 1987 would be the arcade birth of not only an even bigger success for Technos Japan than Kunio kun, but also the birth of another beat-em-up franchise and further evolution of the genre: Double Dragon. Originally envisioned as a direct sequel to Kunio kun, Kishimoto was given two mandates: This game should allow for 2 players simultaneously and have a bigger international appeal. Given that Kunio kun had to be visually gutted in order to sell it overseas as Renegade, a direct sequel was pretty much out of the question. So instead of taking inspiration from the Tsuppari genre and his own high school fighting experiences, Kishimoto pulled from another source that was dear to him: Bruce Lee. He particularly loved "Enter the Dragon", and so he came up with not only the title of the game but also the names of the protagonists (Billy and Jimmy Lee) from these sources. Continue Reading

Nioh Beta Surprises

Nioh Beta - Onryoki
After missing out completely on the alpha demo, I decided to give the beta demo of Nioh (Team Ninja's divisive Dark Souls-like title) a try before it expired. I was very into the aesthetics and general idea of the game (I'm interested in this period of Japanese history) from the time I first saw footage of it, but I was a bit dubious as whether or not the game would actually feel good. Souls-likes in general don't have a very good reputation for feeling very good, and the Nioh alpha produced some very mixed feedback. I fully expected to pick it up for a little while and then put it down after spending enough time with it to figure out I just didn't like the way it felt. Well it turns out that I was wrong, because I played it all weekend! Admittedly I'd been feeling hungry for a new Dark Souls experience (I need to get to playing Dark Souls 2 and 3, but won't have time for them for awhile due to a few big games I've been wanting to play coming out soon), and while it took care of that it also did some very different and interesting things. Be warned though: If you found Dark Souls too obtuse or frustrating, you'll probably think the same thing about Nioh. The atmosphere may be different, but ultimately you get satisfaction the same you do in Dark Souls: By overcoming what seems to be a very high level of difficulty through actually getting better at the game and a little perseverance. Continue Reading


Vanquish - Title Screen
PlayStation 3/XBox 360
10/21/2010 (Japan), 10/19/2010 (US), 10/22/2010 (PAL)
Both PlatinumGames and Shinji Mikami had a lot of eyes on them in 2010. Platinum was still a young studio with only three releases to their name, and were already showing a trend of developing games that were critical darlings but commercial failures. Famed Director Shinji Mikami (primarily of Resident Evil fame) had been out of the spotlight for awhile, the last game he directed being the 2006 PlayStation 2 beat-em-up God Hand with Capcom funded Clover Studios (whose staff largely became PlatinumGames after they were shut down). He had left Capcom completely after that, announcing that he was opening his own small studio called Straight Story. This studio would prove to be nothing more than one established to work with Platinum (as a contract employee) on a single game though, that game being Vanquish. There were many who were very curious as to how Platinum's next title, and Mikami's first non-Capcom affiliated title, would turn out. Continue Reading

Drag-On Dragoon

Drag-On Dragoon - Title Screen
PlayStation 2
09/11/2003 (Japan), 03/02/2004 (US), 04/21/2004 (PAL)
A few months into the merger between Square and Enix, Square had not yet begun to fall out of the good graces of many of its loyal fans. While they weren't the highly experimental Square of the 1990s, their catalog hardly consisted only of releases from flagship series Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Traditional JRPGs still reigned, but Square Enix had some notable action RPGs in their back catalog: Parasite Eve, Vagrant Story, and the Seiken Densetsu/Mana series (of which a remake of the first entry in the franchise had just released on the Game Boy Advance). 2003 would also see a new series added to that list: Drag-On Dragoon/Drakengard. Drag-On Dragoon was developed by the Tokyo-based (and now disbanded) Cavia. They were a very young studio, and while this was not Cavia's first RPG (that honor belonged to a One Piece licensed game on the Game Boy Advance, "nanatsu shima no daihihou"), it was their first action game of any kind. So why would Square Enix publish a new action RPG property when they had plenty of other franchises they could pull from? This was meant from the start to be a dark RPG, unlike most of Square Enix's other properties. The story was written by Yoko Taro (who was also the game's director) and Natori Sawako, and is easily the highlight here despite being presented in a fairly bland manner for large chunks of time. The game's Japanese slogan was "抗え、最後まで" or "Resist until the very end". Continue Reading

The Kung Fu

The Kung Fu - Title Screen
PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16
11/21/1987 (Japan), 1989 (US)
THE 功夫
China Warrior
Most of the beat-em-up games we've seen so far has been arcade ports (with the exception of the first three Hokuto no Ken games). The Kung Fu was obviously meant to be an arcade game in spirit, with Spartan X's DNA flowing strongly through it. The PC Engine was marketed as the next evolution of current consoles after all, so it needed something to set a fairly standard game like this apart from its contemporaries on the Famicom/NES and Mark III/Master System. That something would be giant character sprites, standing nearly the entire height of the screen. The story is about as standard as it gets: An assassin by the name of Wang (who looks remarkably like Bruce Lee) sets out to defeat the Dark Emperor and save the country that he has overtaken. To do this he must of course use his own kung fu to defeat other martial artists, and eventually the Dark Emperor himself (who turns out to be nothing more than a stereotypical practitioner of drunken kung fu). There are four stages (along with a bonus stage in which you stop a cursor on a power gauge in order to break a large pot), each divided into 3 separate parts that contain a boss at the end. You get three lives and up to two health meters to make your way through these stages, though it is possible to earn more through score and oolong tea power-ups (in the case of health). Continue Reading