There was a point in time when side-scrollers were huge. Every other game you would see in an arcade or on a home system was some sort of side-scrolling, button-mashing action game. They ranged from the generic to the exceptional, some featuring great storylines, others with excellent power-ups and fantastically fun bosses. Of course, for every game that featured a wonderfully fun idea, there was one that felt like a complete and total cash-in. Lying somewhere near the upper end of the range is the game Final Fight. Now, together with Magic Sword, it is being released for download on PSN and Xbox Live as Final Fight: Double Impact.
Before anyone throws up their hands and starts screaming at their machine for my daring to suggest that Final Fight is not the single greatest side-scroller ever created, just remember I did say that it was really very good. Though the story was never hugely original – a guy's daughter gets kidnapped by a gang lord and he sets about freeing her vigilante-style – the game was great fun in the arcades. The levels were littered with destroyable things, roast turkeys were lying about to replenish health, the bosses were amusing, and Mike Haggar would eventually become a video game legend.
Today though, while the entire idea remains consistently amusing, all of the fun in the game is linked back to the nostalgia for it. From the moment you first open Double Impact you get the feeling that Capcom is celebrating the original arcade release and the memory of the game, not what it may be today. The Double Impact menu screen is actually a fully rendered area depicting two different arcade machines set back-to-back, one with Final Fight and the other with Magic Sword. You can even watch the opening story for Final Fight via the frame of the arcade machine (and play the game using the cabinet view as well). It was, as Capcom reminds you, a great game back in the day.
Then, you get the opportunity to actually play, selecting one of the three characters. While it's fun, it is fun in a retro way, and less fun than it would be if you were playing the game with the original arcade joystick and buttons. The main problem is that the controls, as they kind of always did, feel a little sluggish. You need to anticipate when you're going to want to hit someone and turn around to strike the guy behind you far more in advance than you're used to these days. It's not that the gameplay is slow, it's much more that it's not as fluid as you're used to if you play games released in the last 10 years.
Magic Sword is a more fantasy-based title in which you'll vanquish all manner of enemies with a sword, shield, and various characters you can free along the way (though you only get to keep one at a time). It responds more quickly to commands as well. There are far more levels to Magic Sword, but they're also shorter. Magic Sword isn't really worse than Final Fight, it just doesn't have the same cachet the former does.
To be clear, I'm in no way arguing against anyone purchasing the title. It is a mere $9.99 for two video games, and it accomplishes its task – to give you, the gamer, a fun retro gaming experience. If you like retro, you're going to have a good time. And, the folks at Capcom have one other trick up their sleeve with Double Impact, a trick which could easily sway tons of people into purchasing the download — they've included online multiplayer. That's right, while you can still play with a second person who is sitting on your couch with you, now you can join a game with someone somewhere else in the world, smashing things as Cody and Haggar or that guy from Magic Sword. It's a pretty smart addition to the title, and certainly adds to the value.
I personally was always more of a Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and, though it was slightly different, Karateka guy. However, as the themes and gameplay aren't massively different, I still get a jolt of amusement from picking up these two titles. Side-scrollers, with their pick-up-and-play ability, required little knowledge of in-depth maneuvers and strategy. It is still pretty easy to appreciate what these games once stood for, and makes you hanker to see what could be done with the title if they made it today but stuck to the 2D side-scroller style.
In short, these are two fun little titles and if you're jonesing for another chance to see where Mike Haggar started you're not going to be disappointed with this port of the title.
Final Fight: Double Impact is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.