Hey guys, welcome back! This week on Ramblings, I’m taking a look at three entries in the Arcade Archives series on the PlayStation 4. What is Arcade Archives? Well, a company called Hamster has been taking old arcade games from various companies and porting them to the PS4. Or, at the very least, emulating them with a custom emulator (likely a modified MAME). I covered an older Arcade Archives game a while back (Super Dodge Ball), and it was pretty good. This time around I have Contra, Double Dragon, and Double Dragon II: The Revenge for you guys. Many of you have no doubt played the NES versions of these games, but I’m here to cover the arcade versions. So let’s get on with it.
First up is Contra. That title screen sure looks familiar, doesn’t it? The Arcade Archives version comes with the Western release, shown above, as well as the original Japanese version. There are two more modes, as well: Hi-Score Mode and Caravan Mode. Hi Score Mode has you play the game with the default settings (more on those in a bit) for the chance to save your best score on the online leaderboards. Caravan Mode is more or less the same thing, only you have only five minutes to get the best score you can. You can’t pause the game, nor can you use saves (again, more on that in a bit) in these two modes. Also, both Hi Score and Caravan use the Japanese version. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is between the Japanese and Western versions of Contra are, but they’re apparently enough to warrant having both in this game.
After you select which mode you want to play, you probably want to tweak the game settings. You hit the touchpad on the PS4 controller to bring up the options menu. You can set an “Interrupt Save Data,” which is kind of like the feature in Nintendo’s Virtual Console that lets you resume the game at the point where you left off. Though I’m not exactly sure how it works in Arcade Archives. You also have Display Settings, which lets you choose the size, orientation, and position of the screen, as well as an option to add or remove scanlines. Game Settings include the typical things like the amount of lives, how many points until a free life, difficulty, and so on. Oddly, the arcade version of Contra limits the amount of times you can continue by default. You can turn the limit off, thankfully, but I found it weird.
Then you have Button Settings, and I suggest you change the default for this game. By default, X is shoot and Circle is jump, which may make sense over in Japan, but Western gamers like myself have been conditioned to the bottom button (in this case X) being the jump button and the left button (Square) being to shoot. I’m so glad they have that option. It would be maddening without it. Of course you can also check out the online rankings, reset the game, or go back to the mode select screen. All pretty standard.
Most of those options are universal to the Arcade Archives series, so I wanted to get those out of the way. Anyway, Contra is a game where two action heroes, Lance and Bill, fight through jungles, enemy bases, arctic forests, a factory, and even an alien hive in order to destroy bad guys and aliens. There really is no plot in the arcade game, and for 95% of the game you fight human enemies. It isn’t until literally the last three or four screens that you encounter aliens. I’m serious, the alien hive is incredibly short in the arcade version, and aliens are seen nowhere else. There’s like, no explanation for this. At least the NES version had an instruction manual where they presumably gave some plot exposition. (I honestly don’t remember if they did or not.)
There are only two base levels in the arcade version (the stages where the camera is behind the player(s) and you shoot toward targets in the background). After the second base level, the last four areas of the game are actually one long stage. You go from the snow-covered tundra to the purple-colored exterior of a factory, to inside the factory, which then transitions to the alien hive. Those four areas are condensed to three separate, fully fleshed out stages in the NES port. (The tundra and purple zone are still one stage in the NES game.)
For someone used to the NES version, it’s kind of a shock to see the game rush so quickly toward the end as if they ran out of time or budget. It’s really odd. That said, the game plays like you’d expect. You run, jump, shoot, and die on your way through the stages. And you will die, because just like the NES version, you die in one single hit. No health bars. Good luck trying to win with limited continues. I sure as hell can’t.
Next up is the Arcade Archives version of Double Dragon. Basically, your girlfriend has been kidnapped, and it’s up to you to rescue her while beating up a ton of baddies. It’s one of the most iconic side-scrolling beat-em-ups in existence. I haven’t played the NES version in a very long time, so I can’t really compare it to that port. You have three buttons: Punch, Kick, and Jump. There aren’t a whole lot of moves you can do, but really most of the time you’re just going to be mashing your favorite attack button anyway.
This is one of the earlier Arcade Archives games, and as such it has the same silly issue that Super Dodge Ball had (I don’t know if I mentioned it in that review), which is the trophies. There are only nine trophies, and seven of them are tied to the user-interface. To get these trophies, you have to do arduous tasks like read the manual, change the display options, change the game options, and so on. Things you may have done regardless. The last two trophies are for recording a high score and uploading it to the leaderboard. So that’s pretty pathetic. It may help bolster the theory that these games run on a modified version of MAME, though Hamster doesn’t seem to credit MAME anywhere in the game, so who knows. Contra and Double Dragon II: The Revenge have trophies tied to getting x number of points, so they seem to have figured out how to hook trophy triggers into the game itself rather than the UI wrap-around.
Anyway, Double Dragon is a hard game. Anyone who played the NES version can attest to that. This version is actually more difficult, due to the fact that the NES port could only handle two enemies on screen at once. In this version you can get swamped with four or five enemies at a time. Double Dragon is a classic and deserves to be played, regardless. There is an easy mode if you can’t handle the default difficulty, and there are higher difficulty settings for the masochists out there. Go give it a shot.
Finally, Double Dragon II: The Revenge. This game has one of the strangest gameplay choices for the genre I’ve ever seen. One button is for Left Attack, the other is for Right Attack. That’s right, you can’t just press Attack and punch or kick in the direction you’re facing. You have to decide which direction you want to attack. For some people that may be no big deal, but I found it nearly impossible in the heat of battle, at first. It’s frustrating. If I’m facing left, I want to attack to the left. If I’m facing right, I want to attack to the right. If I want to attack an enemy behind me, I’ll push the D-Pad in that direction so that I’m facing them and then attack. It’s just plain stupid to have one button attack only to the left and one only to the right.
So right there, the controls make the game incredibly more difficult for me. But I was able to get used to them after a little while. The enemies are just as unforgiving in this as in the first game. I’d say they’re even more difficult. Especially the larger baddies. They’re just awful. When you die and respawn, you have a second or two of invincibility. I was unable to land any shots while invincible, and the bad guys knew exactly when to attack me so it would hit the very instant my invincibility ran out. That’s just plain cheap.
The game doesn’t have much in terms of plot. Instead of kidnapping her, the bad guy (apparently the same one from the first game) straight up murders your girlfriend. The story is about you being out for revenge. That’s about it. The ending of the game is crap, and the final boss has two insanely cheap attacks. But the game is fine once you get used to the stupid controls.
Much like Contra, the Arcade Archives version of Double Dragon II has a Hi Score mode and a Caravan mode, with the same restrictions as in Contra. No Japanese version of this game, though. But that’s really all I have to say about this game. Dumb control scheme, okay plot, cheap final boss, crap ending. I know arcade games aren’t known for plot or endings, but they still could have done a little better.
That will do it for me this week. Find me on Twitter at @vgramblings. Until next time, see ya!