Double Dragon Strikes Back (again!)
by Tibe (2017)
Rage of the Dragons is one of these obscure fighting games that was made in the last years of the Neo Geo life, and that almost no one has heard about. Released in 2002 within the latest titles on the sacrosanct SNK system, it was sold only a few hundred copies in the world back then. ROTD is nonetheless a VS fighting game of very good quality, offering a realization and gameplay worth of the machine on which it was conceived. We couldn't tell the same for most of the titles released on the 16-bit after 2001, and the Neo Geo lovers know what I'm talking about... The "Playmore" era has not been a kick in terms of quality on the console. So for the purpose of this review, imagine a mix of Garou's animation and gameplay, with the delirious and fun side of Matrimelee (plus a few of its characters), a combo system and furies reminiscent of KOF, and a tag-team system borrowed from Kizuna Encounter... all this with the characters of the Double Dragon series.
In addition to the classic combo system using timing for chaining moves, the game also features a simplified combination system: you can initiate combos with C+D, which performs a strong attack that can be followed by a combination of buttons indicated on screen. The juggles are also an important part of the gameplay, thanks to the destructible elements in the backgrounds: if the opponent hits them, he's thrown in the air and can be hit again. This allows some degenerate combinations and other infinite combos which are not quite easy to perform, and in fact doesn't really improve the gameplay, but adds some fun (for the one who makes the combo). There's also A+B dodges like in KOF, with escape roll and recovery roll, air block, counter throw, and so on. The icing on the cake is the ability to chain the opponent when switching the fighter (B+C), which still adds more combinations and makes the game even more fun. Fun and well crafted, ROTD gaming mechanics borrows some ideas here and there and makes a synthesis of good quality.
Another funny detail, you also can "surrender" during the fight! Indeed, just hold a few seconds A+B+C+D, and the active fighter gives up. The survivor is then rewarded with what was left of his life as well as two power charges. This can be useful, depending on the configuration of the fight... Of course, Power gauges are used to perform Desperation and Super Desperation Moves. The team battle allows a few interesting strategies, such as performing powerful combinations with the two characters while making a change, as well as the ability to let the unactive warrior recover some health. Of course, depending on the opponent you are facing, this or that character will be more likely to win, so it's up to the player to estimate the forces involved and make the right choice. Offering sixteen + two fighters (the Bosses can be selected via codes or universe bios), ROTD offers a quite decent and interesting roster, even if it's a little smaller than the competition in this era (Kof 02 '44, Samurai V 24, Matrimelee 20).
On the aesthetic side, Rage of the Dragons does pretty good, particularly regarding the animation. The programmers were clearly inspired by Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and if you have to admit they've done a little less perfect, the result is still not light years away from it. The fluidity is very good and the playing speed is perfectly set, making the games enjoyable and not too difficult, with combos any players could master after some hours of training. Graphics are a mix of pixel art and digits, with original stages and especially beautiful and detailed fighters. The soundtrack borrows some sounds and tunes from previous Double Dragon opuses. Sound effects and digitized voices are banal for the Neo Geo, but in the end everything sounds fine. If you've already been around the classics VS fighting games on the machine, I would recommend ROTD and its well-crafted concepts and beautiful realization. It will bring the player a little off the beaten tracks and will offer the pleasure of discovery to whoever will take the time to tame it ...
|Backgrounds are ok but clearly not the most beautiful ever seen on the system, while the characters are very well drawn and well detailed.|
|A lot of animation steps and a nice game speed, so that even beginner players can try their luck. It's overall excellent!|
|It is more sober than Matrimelee, but the musical atmosphere is of substantially the same quality, with effects and digits of good level.|
|Sixteen characters, the tag battles, and a relatively accessible difficulty once you have the game in hand. As often when two players clash, the games are fun and engaging, with an interesting technical depth.|
|ROTD offers interesting game mechanics, with plenty of combos including a few infinite, for a properly adjusted gameplay.|
|An interesting roster, a good realization, a fun and comprehensive gameplay, ROTD will satisfy the fans of versus fighting eager for a little change on the Neo Geo.|
VALUE FOR MONEY (2017)
ROTD AES is going for slightly more than 2000 euros both in japanese and us versions. It's a bit expensive, even for some fresh blood on the Neo Geo! Instead go for a KOF if your budget is low, especially the 95 or the 96.