Due to the simplistic and, let's be honest, archaic nature of the gameplay, the humble brawler is a rarity these days. Once they were the overlords of the arcade scene, their button-mashing controls and quarter-gobbling difficulty making a winning formula. Nowadays, they simply aren't refined enough for the modern gamer.
Fortunately, we have handhelds and digital platforms, where such titles have enjoyed a resurgence. Games like Castle Crashers and Unbound Saga made old school beat 'em ups cool again, while the mobile gaming realm has given old classics a place to call home.
Then there's the middle ground -- the classic brawler with a modern twist -- like Double Dragon for iOS.
Double Dragon (iOS)
Developer: Brizo Interactive/Aksys Games
Publisher: Bow Mobile Corp.
Released: March 03, 2011
If you don't know the premise for Double Dragon, then you know nothing of games. Two brothers, Jimmy and Billy, must beat up an army of thugs to save a girl who will later make them fight for her affections like some coldhearted strumpet. It's one of the most famous games of all time, and you'll be surprised to learn that Aksys has given it due respect.
Double Dragon iOS is no straight port. It's been remade from the ground up, with a sleek visual overhaul, a more involved combat system and a fresh set of enemies, bosses and unlockable playable characters. Despite a few issues, it's also a really fun game that manages to control rather well on a touch screen.
Funnily enough, the game isn't completely remade for the iPhone. If you ever had a Zeebo (and you probably didn't), you might have played a less flashy version of this game there. Since that particular machine only appeared Latin America, there's a good chance this is all new.
Players can choose between Auto or Manual controls. Auto simplifies the buttons so you can button-mash and get the job done without hassle, but it will lock you out of certain special moves. Manual gives the player full control, but naturally fills the screen with more buttons in order to pull of complex attacks.
To be fair, it doesn't matter which control scheme you pick, as standard punches are still the way to go. More complex moves, such as aerial attacks and stomps, often miss their target and just leave the player open to cheap shots from enemies. While the depth and range of attacks is nice -- you can even bounce off walls for no good reason -- the practical application of 95% of your abilities is simply non-existent.
Nevertheless, the game still feels like a richer experience than one is typically used to from a distinctly old fashioned genre. The animations are superb, the action is fast-paced, and the combat feels like it has a solid impact to it.
Of course, touch controls are rarely perfect, and Double Dragon is no exception. Double-tapping to run regularly screws up, and the buttons are small enough to make hitting the right icon difficult, especially in a heated fight. It is impressive that the game works as well it does, however, as it works without providing too much stress most of the time.
Another downside is that there seems to be no way to save one's progress. The game isn't all that long, and it's not all that difficult either, but the inability to stop playing without having to start again is a little silly on a mobile platform. I'm also disappointed that the co-op feature doesn't extend to an online mode. Only Bluetooth is supported, unfortunately.
The graphics carry a delightful mixture of the modern and the eighties-cheese, with bright colors and ludicrous depictions of "tough" gang members juxtaposed against a darker, dystopian background. The music, while not the most memorable of soundtracks, does a great job of setting a silly-yet-badass atmosphere.
Despite the fact that it's depth is mostly an illusion, Double Dragon for iOS is a well produced, fun little beat 'em up that might not give you the classic retro experience you remember, but does present some kickass brawling action. With multiple characters and Achievements to unlock, there's plenty of action to keep dedicated gamers interested.
At $3.99, it may be a little too expensive for some, but fans of brawlers will find fewer portable experiences that satisfy quite so readily.