Rage of the Dragons
After trying several different angles, I've decided not to start this out with a reflection on the Double Dragon games. Rage of the Dragons may have been intended as a successor to the classic beat the crap out of cloned street gangs simulator, but it's pretty much an entirely unrelated game in terms of play and most of the story. It's probably for the best as Evoga couldn't get the rights to the Double Dragon name for this tag-team brawler. So Billy and Jimmy Lee are renamed Billy and Jimmy Lewis, and for some reason they could get away with 'Abubo' instead of Abobo.
The spirits of dragons live on in certain fighters, which gives them a certain sense of duty to protect the innocent (or show off, or even oppress the hell out of them.) So Billy and Jimmy (the red and blue dragons) try to put their fued over the death of Marian to the side and enter the fray of Sunshine City along with their partners and some other random fighters. Billy is paired with the late Master Lee's daughter Lynn, and Jimmy joins forces with former foxy bad girl Sonia. There's a pair of displaced orphans, the gentle Cassandra and the violent Oni. The possessed little girl Alice Carroll, and her caregiver, the priest Elias. Retro-funky B-movie star Mr. Jones, and his buddy, a Korean wrestler named Kang. Spunky Brazillians Pepe and Pupa make up my personal favorite team, combining the electric fury of Quetzocoatl... with wrench chucking.
The tag system is implemented pretty nicely and you can't tag in and out endlessly like the infuriating Marvel vs Capcom 2 system (quoth one of my friends: "It's like chopping wood.") Instead, once you tag out, you have to wait for a tag meter to recharge. Tag system also allows some two on one supers, which I'm still trying to get the hang of. With a simple command (qcf+BC), you can launch a lengthy automatic combo that ends with a tag-out, which you can follow up on however you like.
Rage is a bit of a juggle-happy game. Most levels have objects on either side of the ring for you to bounce an opponent off of to continue a cheese-a-riffic combination. The First Impact takes the place of the usual SNK CD knockdown attack, and it basically knocks the opponent off their feet, spinning wildly. A series of commands then appear over your super meter, specific to that character, that lets you follow up with basically a free combo. First Impact combos aren't that strong, but the fact you're helpless until it ends can be pretty damn frustrating if you're unlucky enough to be caught by one. It also runs the timer down even if you're up against someone not coordinated enough to push the buttons in time, which bites since each match only gives you 60 seconds in which to beat the other team. A lot of matches end in time overs, which is always a letdown.
The mid-boss Abubo is a massively pumped mutant with a protruding forehead and apparently some kind of political career. I guess anything's better than how he appeared in Double Dragon the Movie as some kind of frog-headed fleshball. I had a hell of a time trying to beat him, until I realized that if I hugged the edge of the screen and kicked him as he jumped at me, I could basically have my way with him.
The real final boss, however is a different story altogether. Johann. He's a magenta-haired prettyboy with a pointy beard and a uniform stolen from an old Japanese robot show villain. I hate him. I hate him more than Rugal. He takes cheapness to brave new worlds with his manuever that combines the projectile and the sweep kick. He tosses tons of Oversized Hard To Jump Fireballs. He has an unbreable command throw, and every time he some much as breathes, his meter goes up a half bar. Unless you hit AB after tagging out, your partner will automatically run straight into said choke hold, which is almost inavriably followed by a projectile juggle. In fact, that only thing I've never seen him pull is a First Impact combo. Still playing on the easiest setting, I can so far only whittle him down to about 2/3rds of his health. That's pretty hardcore cheap. And staring at his smug femmey face on the game over screen doesn't really raise my opinion of him either.
One thing that gets me in particular is the uneven character designs. It's almost as if the project artists spent most of their time drawing the females as cute as possible, then realized they had an hour to design the male cast, so we get characters who look like Radel. Radel looks frighteningly like Captain Murphy from Sealab 2021 in a vacuum-sealed orange bodysuit. As he flips and twirls through his moves, I catch myself trying not to cringe at the fact that every strip of sinew on this man's body is clenching and bulging. Ugh. I suppose that's supposed to count as something for the ladies. Elias is wearing some sort of sleeveless, backless priest's outfit and the face of that guy with the glasses from Ghost in the Shell. And the ever-stylish Abubo sports a wifebeater with a pink heart on the front. God I love that Japanese version of 'tough' that includes bikers who carry huge banners and generally gad about town.
It's a nice simple game system, a lot like KOF's basic feel with the tag element added in*. The controls are nice and responsive, and most of the characters have pretty basic move lists, so there's more of a need for strategy. Kind of like Mark of the Wolves, come to think of it.
RotD vs. MotW