Revenge of the Wounded Dragons? More like Revenge of Double Dragon. Artificial Mind & Movement's new side-scrolling beat-'em-up is a love letter to the original kung-fu fighter from 1987, right down to the Karate Kid-style brother protagonists in cheesy red and blue fighting togs. And like all good mash notes, this one includes a little bit of creativity: the developers have added some platform jumping, minigames, and basic puzzles to all of the punching-people-out stuff. So even though this downloadable game may be aimed straight at your nostalgia gene, it mixes in enough innovation to hold your interest through the moments that your brain tells you that you've done all this before. And for just $10, that's a good deal.
The fundamentals haven't budged an inch, though. This is a straight reworking of Double Dragon and its dozens of imitators. You take on the role of one of two kung-fu-fighting brothers who are off on a quest in the breezy, six-chapter Story mode, which is playable alone or cooperatively with a buddy on the same system (there is no online support for multiplayer). The goal of your wandering-around beatdowns--drumroll please--is to rescue a pretty girl and avenge the murder of your sensei. It's hard to tell who's who at the start--whether the girl is your sister or some sort of love interest, or whether the old guy is your grandpa or some kind of martial arts master--because there is no narration, and the cheesy comic-book cutscenes fly by too fast to figure everything out. But you don't really need to know any of the finer details beyond the time-honored beat-'em-up cliches. There are bad guys. They have your girl. You need to beat the hell out of them while grooving to awesome '70s-style kung-fu funk to get her back.
The action is fast and furious, although brawling is on the simple side. You can kill most enemy goons with basic button-mashing punches, messing around only occasionally with kicking or ducking to wallop the heck out of the groins of guys who know how to protect their faces but not the more tender portions of their anatomy. While you can pull off combos, most are simple punch and kick variations that come up routinely in the course of button mashing. Scraps are just long enough to get your blood pumping without stretching into boring, please-die-soon territory. Controls are good and fluid for the most part, only feeling a touch stiff in spots when climbing ladders or leaping to grab ledges. The only minor irritation when punching it out is the lengthy pause when you get knocked down. This delay is long enough to allow baddies to get in close and then hammer you again as soon as you stagger to your feet, unless you immediately leap out of harm's way.
A few frills spice up the fisticuffs. Levels are littered with all sorts of cool ways to create mayhem, from the genre-standard baseball bats, knives, and shotguns, to more esoteric options like kendo sticks and sacks of rice. Basic attacks and power-ups also charge your chi bar, which can be used to activate a Dragon Rage freak-out that ups your speed and damage for a limited time. Stunned enemies can be finished off with special attacks, like the Iron Fist head-butt you can deliver to foes on the ground. Enemies don't vary much, aside from cosmetic changes to outfits, so you don't have to alter your tactics. Bad guys include fat slobs with cleavers and leaping karate masters in satin jumpsuits, but you can cut them down to size with some fast punching and kicking. Even the level bosses don't mix things up. Most are just bigger and tougher variations on the standard thugs, equipped with a goofy name and some sort of special weapon, like a chain or throwing knives. If you ever do get into a tough spot against a gang of thugs or a boss, you can usually grab a nearby weapon to help even the odds.
The dreary, straight-on level design of side-scrolling brawlers back in the day has been amped up with detailed 3D backdrops. This provides for some great-looking scenery in Story mode's six chapters, which are set in completely different locales, including small towns, cherry-blossom-strewn forests, and a sinister underground lair. A lot seems to be going on around you all the time. Majestic mountains towering in the distance and leafy bushes dotting the foreground place you in realistic, wraparound locations, so it seems like you're actually venturing into areas, not just running around in front of flat stage scenery like you were part of an exceptionally violent reworking of Hamlet. You can easily get caught gawking at the sights like a tourist and wind up taking a few punches to the face before you clue back in to what you're really supposed to be doing.
Even better, the backdrop does more than just sit there like a painting. Much of it is interactive. Instead of just walking straight left to right across levels, you go up and down via ladders and various jumping challenges and puzzles, explore hidden areas, collect special items like golden statues, and even occasionally deal with 3D threats like a spiked log that swings out of the background at you. Minigames are also unlocked as you proceed through the story, allowing you to take on various challenges, like avoiding fire traps while jumping around to grab hanging green lanterns. With that said, there isn't anything revolutionary here. It's tough to finish some of the minigames once, even when going up against a friend, let alone contemplate going back for seconds. But the little platform concepts add up and do a great job of livening up the standard side-scrolling action.
If you are at a "been there, done that" stage with side-scrolling fighters, you don't want to bother with Revenge of the Wounded Dragons. But if you have even the tiniest bit of room in your life for a new game that seems a lot like an old friend all snazzied up for a night on the town, this is a good way to get reacquainted with the many fine points of the old-fashioned button-mash beatdown.